There are many misconceptions about self-love. Some people assume that loving yourself is a cop-out or an excuse to do whatever you want—as in miss work just because, or spend money on some big purchase that’s going to set you back (i.e., spending money you don’t have). Some people assume it means not taking responsibility for your actions, or slipping into excess, or obsessive behaviors. Some people assume self-love is a synonym for hedonism.
I totally understand why these myths abound. After all, we’re more used to punishing and berating ourselves than we are to leading with self-kindness. It’s hard to comprehend approaching ourselves with love. Because doesn’t that mean we’ll get out of line? Doesn’t that mean we’ll be lazy, and inefficient, and careless?
We’re afraid of putting down the whip and removing our shackles. It’s similar to the fears we have about giving up dieting: Left to our own devices, will we just eat everything in sight? Will we sit on the couch allllll day long eating ice cream and stuffing our faces? (“Health” publications and diet ads create the assumption that we will…)
We worry that somehow self-love equals a lack of self-control. We’ll go wild. So we need to restrain ourselves with clear-cut rules and consequences (e.g., you eat dessert, you pay the price with an extra 30 minutes at the gym).
But self-love is more about having our own best interests at heart. It’s about being supportive and intentional. It is about respecting and honoring ourselves and making decisions that fulfill us on a deeper level. It might be about seeking pleasure sometimes (because that’s a good thing). But overall it’s about doing what serves our health and well-being. For instance, drinking a glass of wine might feel pleasurable. However, over time, you realize that your drinking has actually become an escape, a way to numb yourself from emotional pain. The loving action is to find a healthier way to cope with your heartache.
Below is what self-love means to me. These are my personal views and examples. Your perspective will likely look slightly different.
Self-love is getting quiet and contemplating my needs and wishes regularly (though, of course, I’ll forget and need reminding).
It is prioritizing my health, such as going to the dentist several times a year, and having an annual skin exam.
It is letting others be kind to me. It is letting others love me.
It is staying in bed longer when I need the rest.
It is not spending time with people who bring me down or are dishonest or thrive on gossip.
Self-love is using the present as an anchor when the inner-critic gets too loud, when my thoughts turn too dark.
It is taking a walk, not because I need to burn calories or punish myself for a big meal. But because it’s beautiful out, and it feels good, and it awakens my senses.
It is being honest about my dreams and my feelings and my thoughts.
It is being OK with being sad or anxious, instead of bashing myself for these feelings, instead of saying that I am weak.
It is acknowledging that I don’t have to be like anyone else—I don’t need to be as productive as she is. I don’t need to adopt her dreams. My dreams don’t need to be “big” or anything other than what they are. I don’t need to hold the same opinions or priorities as he does. I don’t need to look like them. I don’t need to go along with something I dislike or don’t believe in. I don’t need to try the latest social media app if I’d rather devote that time to something else—like being with my loved ones, or relaxing, or sleeping.
Self-love is forgiving myself for making a mistake or a bad decision (as hard as this is). It is exploring what went wrong and trying to learn from it. It is wondering how I can move on and how I can make the next decision more helpful.
Sometimes, this comes naturally. Most times, I fumble and feel a bit lost. Sometimes, I feel like years of progress have been erased in a few moments. But that’s just because self-love is a process. And this is natural, too. We will disconnect from ourselves, and we will reconnect. The key, I think, is to be open. To be open to beginning and trying.
What does loving yourself mean to you? What does it look like day-to-day? In certain situations? What does it feel like?