Sometimes I can’t help it. I hear ‘self-love’ and my eyes roll. You too?
What does ‘self-love’ even mean? Half the time it sounds like a entitled excuse to be stubborn and the other half like I’m overhearing a magical unicorn conversation. It’s EVERYWHERE.
It’s also something I teach about regularly… because it is actually very important.
I roll my eyes because it’s misunderstood and misused and that is annoying. Here I’ll share with you what self-love is NOT as a means to help you understand what self-love IS.
1) Self-Love is NOT an excuse to never grow, change or evolve.
Does this sound familiar?
“I’ve learnt to love myself and I’ve accepted that’s just the way I am. I’m just ________________ and if that hurts or upsets you, I’m sorry but that’s just the way I am”. (Insert: short tempered, uncommunicative, cold, dismissive, impatient, intolerant, defensive, rude, manipulative, unfriendly, judgmental, sexist, racist, indifferent, bitchy etc )
Lol. It has me chuckle. That’s just narcissism wrapped in a new package.
Denying your weaknesses, defending your limitations and simple bad behaviour is what it’s always been - immature and annoying.
Self-love IS a compassionate commitment to personal growth. It’s honesty, acceptance and ownership of your weaknesses and limitations.
It is one of the most difficult, raw and courageous journeys you can ever be on. It’s also the most healing and rewarding - if you are committed to growing.
For me it meant accepting I was insecure, jealous and defensive (gulp) and doing a great job of pretending that I wasn’t. A break up in my late 20’s had me for the first time see who I was in intimate relationships. I was passive aggressive and had been blaming my partners in not so obvious ways. Moody-ness, coldness and basically a whole lot of attitude whenever I was unhappy. Here’s the kicker – I didn’t wrap it in a cozy blanket of self-love and demand that all my partners accept my moodiness and habit of detaching – I saw these things and made a commitment to self growth.
We do ourselves a huge disservice and ensure stuck-ness when we declare “That’s just the way I am and I’m going to be that way forever.”
Catch yourself anytime you hear yourself saying “That’s just the way I am” (I think we are all guilty of that sometimes!) ask yourself if that ‘way’ is helping or hurting, both you and others and if that ‘way’ is aligned with your ultimate values and the life you are trying to create. If not, then growth is on the horizon and you have some uncomfortable accepting to do.
2) Self-Love is NOT selfish.
It appears selfish because of the above example: people using self-love as an excuse to be or do anything they want regardless of the impact on others. True-self-love is the furthest thing from selfish. Read the example below to see why self-love is indeed essential.
Debbie is a client I’ve been working with for a few months. She’s a lovely 62 year old woman, single, with 3 children and 5 grandchildren. She’s been divorced twice, deeply hurt and single for the last 20 years or so. Only now - in her early 60’s - is she wrapping her mind around the idea of being kind to herself! She learnt at a young age that squashing her feelings and needs in favour of others was what she “should” do. Debbie was never there for herself.
When she felt hurt, she told herself to get over it.
When she felt down, she forced herself to ignore it and be positive.
When she felt insecure, she pretended she was indifferent and untouchable.
When she felt lonely, she built up walls to protect herself.
When she felt sad, she wore masks of who she thought she should be.
Let’s look at how that played out for her:
In her marriages and relationship she never took the time to acknowledge how she really felt and therefore could never genuinely express her feelings to her partner. Her partners therefore were never able to meet her needs and Debbie often ended up frustrated and hurt. Understandably, she concluded that men would only disappoint her and she’d rather be single.
In friendships, Debbie rarely let her true feelings be known. She was sensitive and easily hurt but would feign indifference and casually brush it off. Her friends came to know her a as strong, easy going, always ok, shoulder to lean on kind of friend. She wasn’t able to forge deep connections with anyone though, socializing felt like work and she eventually concluded that she was anti-social and preferred being by herself. She was lonely however and always felt like an outsider.
Thankfully, Debbie is now realizing that her feelings matter too! She deserves kindness, empathy and compassion also! She’s learning to be honest with how she’s really feeling and to take care of her needs. Years of stuffing down her emotions and lying to herself in effort to be selfless has caused her to suffer from mild depression; she is hardened to life, shut down and numb inside. By becoming her own best friend the little Debbie inside is learning that she can trust big Debbie to take care of her. She’s working her way out of depression and feeling better everyday!
Self-love IS awareness of our value and understanding of our humanness.
Does any of this sound selfish to you? I hope there was a resounding no! It is only through seeing ourselves in the same light as we see others that we begin to take care of our self. Just as we would comfort and console a friend in need, we need to comfort and console ourselves. Recognizing our sameness with the world at large helps us to see that we too are deserving of our own kindness and compassion.
I find it really helpful to think of the little me inside. A little 6 or 7 year old that sometimes feels hurt, rejected and scared and needs me to take care of her. Over the last ten years, I’ve developed a relationship with myself where I feel the freedom to be totally honest with myself because I know that I’ll be there when it’s rough. Try it out. Write a letter to yourself today making a commitment to little you that you will always be there for her.
3) Self Love is NOT an excuse to make bad decisions.
I get why self-love can be regarded as silly, woo-woo or hippy dippy. I can relate to the high achieving, type ‘A’ personalities, the go-getters and the more traditional people out there who for the life of them can’t understand people quitting their job without a plan. Or the people who say no to hard-work in favour of an opportunity dropping in their lap. Or the people who sit around doing nothing but thinking about a large cheque miraculously making it’s way into their mailbox. I’m with you – those are the unicorn conversations that have me rolling my eyes.
It’s not about taking the easy way out!
Self-Love IS knowing that your decisions don’t need to be accepted by or pleasing to everyone around you.
The only person you owe an explanation to is yourself. Outside of marriage or other long term committed partnerships, your decisions don’t need a stamp of approval - not by well meaning family members or friends, not by society and not even by your own inner-critic. When you are ready to make changes in your life it may not make sense to the people around you. Sometimes you’ll be accused of making bad decisions because others don’t understand or agree with your thought process - that’s ok! They don’t need to understand. As long as it makes sense to YOU.
That’s not the same as making impulsive decisions that put you or the people you love in harms way. At it’s root, self love is taking care of yourself - that means thinking about your choices and attempting to make good ones!
Sometimes that means choosing one discomfort over another - choosing the discomfort of a less than ideal job over the discomfort of being homeless. Or the discomfort of not buying what you want over the discomfort of not being able to pay our bills.
Don’t make decisions that ultimately hurt you. Do make decisions that support your highest good. Even if other people don’t understand and even if that means accepting that life isn’t always going to be peachy.
4) Self Love is NOT sugar coating everything so that you feel good.
It’s not throwing around positive affirmations.
It’s not pretending there isn’t a problem.
It’s not denying how you’re really feeling in favour of something that seems more desirable.
It’s not knowingly doing a half-assed job and then saying "Well, I did the best I could do”.
It’s not ‘Icing on top of a mud-pie’.
It’s not lying to yourself.
It’s also not being hard on yourself.
It’s not focusing on everything you’ve done wrong, or still can’t do.
It’s not never seeing your accomplishments.
It’s not never allowing yourself to feel good just for the sake of feeling good.
It’s not never giving yourself a pass.
Self-love IS realizing it’s your job to genuinely encourage and speak kindly to yourself regardless of the reality you’re facing.
The whip is never better than the carrot.
The relationship you have with your Self is the most important relationship you will ever have in your life.
Like all relationships, kindness, compassion and honesty are essential.
Sugar coating the uncomfortable truths in your life means they’ll never go away.
Happiness, however, won’t come if you’re unkind to the person you spend the most time with in life – You!
• Start a daily practice of encouraging yourself and noticing your accomplishments, no matter how small!
• Ask yourself how you’re really feeling and don’t be afraid to feel bad. Emotions are temporary and soften with our acceptance of them. From that place of honesty, you can take real and effective action and create the life you want.
5) Self-Love is NOT Manicures, Pedicures and Massages
Manicures, pedicures, bubble baths and weekends away are lovely and I hope everyone gets to do that at least semi regularly. Self-pampering is NOT an essential part of loving ourselves though!
Not everyone is in a position where they can afford such things; some people can’t take care of their basic needs! Sometimes life is really hard and financial stress seems never-ending. Sometimes time constraints have us not able to exercise regularly or cook healthy meals. What matters most is how we treat ourselves through this journey of ups and downs.
Self-Love IS knowing that you deserve to take care of yourself and to be taken care of.
Self-pampering without self love is just a person fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of the more luxurious parts of life. Many people pamper themselves in replace of self love and wonder why it doesn’t really help them feel better.
If you’re already winning the pampering game but not too sure about self-love, check in with inner dialogue when you’re not meeting your own standards in life. How do you respond to your perceived failures? Do you take care of your emotional needs even if you don’t like what they are? Always always try to be kind and gentle with yourself.
Self-love is important. Super important. Like it can change the world kind of important. Please share this and spread the word! Let’s be an example for others and show the world that real self-love is the furthest thing from selfish and annoying and in fact, takes a tremendous amount of courage, wisdom and determination.