What does it really mean to love and care for yourself?
Self-love is a common term that gets brought up in everyday conversation: “Maybe you need to love yourself more.” “Don’t you love yourself?” “It’s impossible to truly love another until you love yourself.”
The self-love prescription is often filled with vague terms and suggestions that direct us to appreciate and honor the self.
Self-love helps us live authentically. It shapes how we see ourselves and influences how we deal with and perceive life’s struggles.
How can we increase our self-love quotient? Is it something we can acquire through inspirational readings?
Or something we obtain with a new haircut or a pair of shoes? Can the perfect relationship make you love yourself more? Despite the influence of society, tangible purchases or relationships don't lead to or create lasting self-love.
Self-love is deep gratitude for ourselves that grows from behaviors that facilitate our personal growth and development. Additionally, self-love is fostered through a deep appreciation of our entire self, strengths, and weaknesses.
When I began exploring the concept of self-love, I had several questions. What does self-love mean? How can we practice the essential art of self-love without becoming egotistical or prideful?
It turns out the essential art of self-love has nothing to do with ego or pride. It has everything to do with the relinquishing of people, places, and experiences that are not good for us. It’s the opposite of conceit; rather, it is more in line with compassion, harmony, and self-congruence. In it’s truest form, self-love is nurturing.
This definition is just one, crafted from years of experience and building self-awareness.
And for most of my life, I had no idea what self-love was.
It wasn’t until my health began to decline that I stopped to question my way of being. When I lost the ability to do many of the things that I loved, I knew something had to change, but what?
When my fast-paced life came to an abrupt halt, there were many elements of my life that temporarily substituted for self-love, including a good job, education, vacations, and opportunities.
But when my health became a very serious matter, and I was forced to slow down, and I became, unfortunately, my harshest critic. Finding a new sense of normal was difficult, and it took years to establish new routines and find peace. Ultimately I had to get honest with myself and think about what a more authentic way of being would look like.
Through this formative experience, I realized that my self-love was purely based upon a set of conditions and that working hard, achieving success, and living a life for others was only making me happy on a superficial level.
This led me on a decade-long journey of healing, hope, and repair — healing of my body and spirit, hope for the future, and repair at the level of the soul.
Through this deep introspection, I realized that much of what causes pain and suffering is linked to perception. How we see our world concretely impacts our existence.
If we look at life in a negative way, our self-love evaporates along with self-compassion.
This is where I came across a noble truth: that self-love is purely unconditional.
In a former life, I was unnecessarily hard on myself and pushed myself too hard, too often. Eventually, this lack of self-love manifested in a multitude of unpleasant scenarios and symptoms, not limited to body aches and internal suffering. It also led to a two-decade-long struggle with chronic pain.
I had to change. It was inevitable and healthier.
Just as self-love is the nest from which love originates, the practice of self-love is about true appreciation and support for the soul. It’s about acting in a compassionate way and not punishing ourselves for perceived weaknesses. Self-love expands who we are and makes space for increased fulfillment in who we are and what we bring to the world.
We all crave self-love on a deeply intrinsic level, and yet loving ourselves will always be a conscious exercise in self-acceptance and self-recognition. It’s a choice to hold fast to the essential anchor of positive thinking, which both grounds and enlivens our spirit. But it’s also about maintaining an internal dialogue of respect, actions that reflect this viewpoint, and boundless compassion for ourselves and others.
Here are four ways to build self-love:
1. Practice self-compassion.
Self-compassion means that you view yourself with an empathetic heart, even more so when faced with hardship.
Notice how you speak to yourself. Our internal monologue can be a harsh and arduous critic. We tend to beat ourselves up with demanding and unloving language, all under the guise of self-directed “tough love”.
Make it a practice to treat yourself like a friend or loved one. View your inner-self as someone you love and offer unconditional compassion. Encourage yourself and bring out your inner positivity coach, especially in the tough moments.
To put this into practice, start by writing yourself a self-compassion letter describing what you are doing well and where you need more support. Begin with a current situation with which you are dealing. Write out the event and your feelings about it, noting how things usually look less insurmountable on paper.
One example: Maybe you judge your appearance in a harsh way and compare yourself to others in physical terms. It could be that this judgment or preoccupation is limiting and depressing. While doing this exercise, think of a few ways that you love yourself and your appearance. Your supportive self might say: My long-legs make hikes easy or I love the skin that I’m in, so how can I improve how I feel about myself? If I woke up 40 minutes earlier, I could exercise and do things that make me feel good about myself as a person, inside and out. Conversely, it’s also OK if I need to sleep-in to practice self-care and feel energetic.
As you write, picture a supportive and loving friend. Now imagine what advice this person would bestow upon you.
The key is to talk to yourself with a voice of loving compassion, understanding, and support. Talking to yourself as a kind friend or supportive coach helps us to focus on strengths and catalog ideas for development and growth.
Remember, we all have attributes that can be viewed as positive or negative depending on one’s perspective, and choosing to view ourselves from a place of gentle guidance and understanding helps us get where we are going without the shame, judgment, or criticism that we sometimes inflict upon ourselves.
Taking moments to connect with our inherent value paves the way for more positive experiences and more self-love. Be kind and embrace yourself just as you are.
2. Practice self-care.
The act of self-care isn’t always natural, and it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day hustle and bustle. Finding time for ourselves can be a challenge in the beginning. But as a self-care routine is established, you may find that you look forward to it. I feel this way about certain meditations that enhance the quality of my life but take time. The key is to stick with it.
Other ways that we can practice self-care include sleep, exercise, and a healthy diet. Whatever works for you and leaves you feeling better than when you started can be categorized as self-care.
In particular, adequate sleep is crucial for mental and physical health. Paradoxically sleep is often one of the first things we cut back on when stressed or pressed for time. Try not to do this, because sleep is especially important for healing the body and mind, and for memory consolidation.
Another important part of self-care is exercise. It doesn’t have to be intense or strenuous; a walk or yoga class has significant mood-boosting properties and aids in an overall sense of health.
An overlooked component of self-care is taking the time to eat foods that contribute to feelings of vitality. In a best-case scenario, food makes you feel good and contributes to good health. Eating in a way that is uniquely self-supportive is a powerful form of self-care and self-love. An optimal diet keeps us working at our very best, with room for occasional indulgences.
Self-care may seem like a trendy buzzword, but it’s one of the best ways to heal and maintain your mind, body, and spirit, no matter how hectic life is.
Try out these short 5-minute self-care rituals:
Meditate or sit in silence.
Enjoy a warm beverage, focusing only on the senses.
Walk outside, quickly or leisurely.
Practice yoga or other relaxing stretches.
Pet or play with a beloved companion animal.
3. Act authentically. Be yourself.
Everything about you is unique and the world needs your special gifts and talents. Resist the temptation to blend in and know that there is great power in simply being yourself. Give yourself permission to experience life authentically, without any pretense or expectations.
Authenticity can also make it easier to attain genuine happiness. This is because when we behave in ways that are in accordance with our values and goals, there is less room for doubt, hesitation, and wondering what if?
The building blocks of authenticity are deeply rooted in growth and development. To build authenticity, follow your intuition, make conscious decisions, increase self-awareness, master mindfulness, and keep an open mind.
Be brave and allow your authentic self to shine. The world needs you.
4. Don’t resist emotions.
Understand that feelings are natural and can indicate whether something is beneficial or potentially harmful. If you feel irritated or triggered, investigate where the feeling came from and observe how it makes you feel. Angry? Sad? Annoyed? Then understand that, while feelings can be a valid compass in life, they are not “who we are”, and often fade with time, distraction, or rest.
Allow feelings to exist without judgment or negative thinking. If you find yourself getting pulled back into a negative emotion, gently remind yourself that your inner-self is separate from emotionally-charged feelings.
Feel. Listen. Breathe.
Remember that we all have insecurities and make mistakes as we learn about the world around us. The key is to continue to grow and nurture yourself. We are in this together.
You are worth it.