What is Self-Love, Anyway?
Are you a little skeptical about self-love? We get it.
At this time of year, it sometimes seems like there are two camps: the people who are madly in love with someone else and want to tell the whole world about it, and the people who (whether they’re in love with someone else or not) talk about self-love and why it’s so important.
We do it too — the notion of self-love has been a hot topic at Meditate.Awake for the last couple of weeks. But for those of you out there who are thinking yeah, but is self-love even a thing?, we want to go a bit deeper and share where we’re coming from with all of this.
Let’s start with our own definition:
When we talk about self-love, we’re talking about:
- Appreciating yourself. It’s not about thinking you’re better than anyone else; it’s about recognizing the value in you
- Not settling. Not underselling yourself, or accepting situations in life that don’t work for you
- Taking action. Self-love isn’t something you just decide to have/feel/be. It takes work to cultivate this kind of appreciation for everything that you are — and we’re all about helping you do that work.
- Growth. Instead of a vague concept with vague benefits, self-love has a point. It is a crucial experience in our personal growth, and something that helps us move in the direction we want to go — in work, in relationships, and in every other area of our lives.
We’re all faced with a bit of a paradox when we get down to the nitty gritty of self-love. Because most of us have grown up with mixed messages. Don’t be selfish, don’t be arrogant, put others first; but be confident, believe in yourself, you can do anything you want to do.
Part of the challenge when we start working on our relationship with ourselves is to make sense of those conflicting angles on life, and figure out how to care for ourselves while also being ‘good’ people.
As with most things, balance is at the core of the matter. We have to find that sweet spot where we’re able to love ourselves, make decisions that re right for us, and make time for self-love practices without feeling guilty; and where we’re also able to offer empathy, patience, and support to others.
Looking after others is great. Looking after YOU is great, too. And it’s much easier to look after others if you’re feeling strong and grounded in your own self.
Self-love and selfishness are not the same thing
In 2002, psychologists Keith Campbell, Eric Rudich and Constantine Sedikides published a paper on self-love. They approached the paradox head-on, asking how we can differentiate between self-esteem and narcissism.
“Both narcissists and high-self-esteem individuals have a high self-opinion,” they write; “they are said to like — and even love — themselves.”
However, they pointed out that high self-esteem and narcissism have a ‘critical difference’.
One of them is bad for your relationships with other people, and the other is very, very good for those interpersonal relationships. You can guess which is which. In fact, narcissism isn’t a personality trait you can cultivate, and although people tend to throw the word ‘narcissist’ around very easily, it’s more than an adjective: it’s a clinically recognized psychological disorder. Although you might assume a narcissist has very high self-esteem, clinical examination usually shows that those who have a narcissistic disorder actually demonstrate low self-esteem, and have a low level of positive interaction with other human beings.
Contrast that with people who genuinely have high self-esteem — who view themselves with kindness, respect and love — and we see that these individuals are much more likely to have positive, mutually fulfilling relationships with others. Far from their self-love manifesting as selfishness, they have a far more uplifting impact on those around them.
In other words, Rudich and co’s paper found that people with high self-esteem have overcome the paradox. They:
“…have positive self-views in domains reflecting agency (e.g., extraversion, openness, intellectance) as well as those reflecting a communal orientation (e.g., agreeableness, conscientiousness, morality).”
Prioritizing self-love doesn’t turn you into someone who believes they’re better than anyone else. It allows you to appreciate yourself fully and accept that you are good, in your whole and messy humanness, while also appreciating other people and caring about your place in the wider world.
But it’s OK if you’re not feeling it right now — that’s what self-love practices are for
All that being said, not feeling love for yourself doesn’t mean you’re not doing well. It’s easier said than done, isn’t it? And often, the moment we start to feel a glimmer of appreciation for ourselves, a voice in our heads tells us we’re being arrogant or deluded; that we’re not doing well enough, or that we don’t deserve to do well.
That’s what self-love practices are for. Because nobody decides to love themselves and then wakes up the next morning feeling perfectly comfortable and confident in their own mind, body and soul.
Self-love might look like saying something kind to yourself, or allowing yourself five minutes first thing in the morning to look out of the window before you do anything for anyone else. It might look like meditating — and meditating might look like drinking a cup of tea without look at your phone. On the really good days, self-love could be saying no to something that you know will be bad for your mental health, or saying yes to something you know will make you feel good.
For you, a self-love practice could look like adding one very simple positive habit to your day. Or choosing to go out for a walk instead of surrendering to Netflix for the rest of the night. Or asking a partner or a friend to listen — really listen — while you tell them how you feel.
What we’re getting at is this: self-love (or a lack of feeling it) is not another thing to make you feel pressured, inadequate, or guilty. It’s just something to practice, a little each day; because when you do, it becomes easier to see what’s brilliant about you, and your journey towards positive relationships and a positive impact on the world becomes smoother.
3 (Quick) Ways to Practice Self-Love Today
Take a breath. And another. How are you feeling?
There — you’re already practicing a little self-love.
It doesn’t have to be complicated or vague. It can be straightforward, easy to do, and it can make you feel better in a matter of moments.
So we’ll leave you with three more ways to practice self-love today:
- Read a poem.
Inspired by someone who’s taking the world by storm right now, and who speaks loud and clear about the crucial power of love in the world. In her world-shaking inaugural poem, Amanda Gorman wrote:
“If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.…”
So find a poem that makes you feel hopeful and powerful. Save it on your phone or print it out and stick it on your wall. Read it now. The act of reading something that makes you feel your own potential? That’s an act of self-love.
- Choose not to join an argument.
This can apply to any area of your life, with work and close relationships being prime grounds for painful arguments. But one of the places we all argue the most these days is on social media. We argue over news stories and global events; we argue about illness, wellness, and vaccines; we argue about what kind of treatment people do and don’t deserve — we argue about anything that has space for polarized opinions.
But opinions don’t have to be polarized. You don’t have to be only one thing.
And sometimes (maybe today?) choosing simply not to enter into an argument and to protect your own state of mind instead can be a self-love practice.
- Do something imperfectly, and ‘just because’
Perfectionism can be a huge block to self-love. And today perfectionism has filtered into professionalizing everything we’re good at; we’re conditioned to look for every opportunity to turn our hobbies into careers.
So think of something you like doing, but that you’re not highly skilled at. Painting? Gymnastics? Paper-cutting? Cooking?
And then make time to do that thing, for no reason other than because you enjoy doing it. If you’re short on time, writing is a good one; give yourself ten minutes to write a story (without taking any time to plot and plan) and immerse yourself in the process.
Teaching yourself to let go of perfectionism, and to enjoy doing things that aren’t in your professional skill set, will remind you what it feels like to strip away expectations, be curious, and be who you are.
Have you seen? We’re in the flow of a 10 day Self Love Challenge over on Instagram. Head over there to get involved, and find more inspiration for loving yourself this month.
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