Lately, I’ve been thinking about self-love and what it means to love ourselves unconditionally. What does this really look like on a day-to-day basis?
I think of loving ourselves unconditionally as loving others unconditionally, such as our parents, partners, kids and close friends.
When we get into arguments, we resolve them. When they make mistakes, we forgive them. When they forget how beautiful they are, we remind them. I think this is what unconditional love looks like for us.
Here are other aspects of unconditional self-love:
- Not having conditions or rules or prerequisites for loving ourselves. That is, we don’t wait to love ourselves until we’ve lost 10 lbs., fit into old jeans, run a marathon, penned a bestseller, earned a certain salary or bought a house. We don’t place restrictions on how and when we can love ourselves. We just do. Whether we’ve accomplished our goals or not. Whether we look a certain way or not.
- Being honest with ourselves about what’s going on in our lives, in our bodies, in our minds; about what we need and yearn for. (Mara calls it “ferocious truth,” which I love.) We don’t condemn ourselves for our thoughts or feelings. We get curious. We explore them.
- Forgiving ourselves for being imperfect, for making mistakes, for failing. I think this is a huge piece of unconditional self-love. Forgiveness is really hard. It’s hard to be patient and kind with yourself when you’ve screwed up or disappointed yourself. It’s hard not to ruminate about it and insult yourself. Over and over and over. But we can learn to navigate disappointments with self-compassion. And, of course, it’s a process we learn and explore every day.
- Taking good care of ourselves, even when we think we don’t deserve it. Because even on the days we don’t like ourselves very much, we still know, deep down, that we are inherently worthy. And we take steps to tend to ourselves. We get enough sleep. We eat when we’re hungry. We say no when we need to. We fill our body with nutrient-rich foods. We feel our feelings. We do fun things.
- Accepting our thoughts and feelings, without judgment. This is a big one, too. Because so many of us bash ourselves on a regular basis. We bash our feelings, only peaking our pain: I can’t believe I’m upset about something so stupid. No one gets anxious about this! Come on! (In this piece I spoke with a psychotherapist who shared key suggestions for coping with painful emotions. I think her insights extend far beyond feeling our feelings.)
- Surrounding ourselves with people and things that encourage, inspire and uplift us. I recently came across this Rumi quote (an excerpt from this poem): “Be with those who help your being.” Now that’s a good reminder.
Our relationship with ourselves is similar to other relationships: It has ups and downs. There are misunderstandings, bad moods, irritations.
Self-love is a process, because we are a process. It is human, real, imperfect. Which is great because it leaves room for growth, for checking in, for flexibility, for understanding, for exploring.
It’s a process we can begin at any time, regardless of our past. We might start the process by letting go of a rule we’ve created for loving ourselves (such as relinquishing the rule of looking a certain way).
We might start by listing all the ways we can take care of ourselves (and thinking about what we need mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually).
We might start by seeking support from a therapist or life coach; by taking an e-course or reading a book.
The key is to let ourselves begin. And to remember that our relationship with ourselves naturally ebbs and flows. But like the ocean, the love is deep, and always present. We just have to dip beneath the surface to retrieve it.
** The Alan Cohen quote is from Christina Hibbert’s new book Who Am I Without You? 52 Ways to Rebuild Self-Esteem After A Breakup.
P.S., Check out this follow-up piece on 20 questions we can ask ourselves to explore unconditional self-love.