What Does it Mean to Love Yourself
A Personal Account
How many times this past week have you seen a quote about self-love, heard someone nonchalantly mention it or seen its ego-appealing quality gracing the front of a popular marketing piece? Probably more times than you can remember. It’s a trendy topic these days and an even trendier word in our society
At first glance it might appear selfish, sort of silly, and slightly immature – another catchy idea with little use in the modern world and little, if any at all, practical application. Upon deeper inspection however, we actually see a thriving sub-culture, a group that oozes joy, confidence, excitement and vitality.
Learning what it means to love yourself and how to embrace it personally in your own life, holds more power, possibility and prosperity than any other single attribute, skill or concept.
I’m so often asked what exactly loving yourself means and how to make this concept a living, breathing addition in life. Knowing firsthand what life can look and feel like without self-love has made this topic very dear to my heart.
When I was 26 I had a sudden and unexpected shift in my relationship with myself. Prior to that, the idea of self-love was something I understood intellectually but was actually clueless to experientially. I said all the right things; I had the lingo down-pat. I asserted myself in ways that superficially appeared like a person who loved themselves and I had even learned to carry myself in a way that gave that impression.
The reality however, was that I expected complete perfection of myself in every possible way and anything less than that was simply unacceptable.
Imagine your closest friend, turning to you in her darkest hour, spilling her guts, weeping softly; her face stricken with a mixture of fright and sadness. Imagine her looking to you for understanding, for encouragement, for compassion. Imagine in that moment, you looked at her, narrowed your gaze, contorted your face with disgust, snickered at her and almost loathingly turned your back to her.
I doubt you’d ever do that. I would never do that. But it is exactly what I did to myself on countless occasions; regularly, unconsciously, viciously, again and again. It was my response to myself when I was anything other than perfect. Imagine how often that was.
Unconsciously, perfection was the goal. I needed to look the part, speak the part, be the part. I needed to make it, I needed to have it and I needed to get there. And I needed to do it all with an ease and effortlessness that only perfection embodied could do.
It breaks my heart seeing how many people have a similar goal. Sadly, it’s become a part of our culture; imbibed in us from a young age the notion that it is perfectly plausible to have an impeccable image, a champion career and an unblemished body. We learn quickly and painfully that there is no room for emotions that don’t support that or create that.
Vulnerability? Weakness? Softness? Toughen up.
Hurt? Anger? Rejection? Get over it.
Jealousy? Confusion? Fear? Grow up.
None of those things should be felt, ever.
That is often the way treat ourselves, what we expect of ourselves and how we try to live our lives.
I remember the very first time I spoke to myself the way I would speak to a friend. I remember specifically the conversation in which I gently and hesitantly told myself that it was ok to cry; it was ok to be weak; it was ok to not have it figured out. Instead of tolerating myself, I was kind to myself. Instead of kicking myself when I was down, I attempted to pull myself back up. Instead of frowning at my sensitivities, I became sensitive to myself. A tension I hadn’t realized existed, left my body and a profound sense of peace came over me. Nothing had changed, but in that instant I knew me, myself and I would get me through this. I had new tools in my tool-belt – I would accept however I was feeling, treat myself like a close friend, and refuse to turn my back on myself.
My internal dialogue changed then. I began noticing how often I very quickly and harshly judged myself. I noticed the thoughts behind the thoughts. I started fervently, almost urgently, being kind to myself. I had always been a positive person, motivated to overcome what stood in my way, but this was different. I wasn’t encouraging myself to continue the pursuit of perfection, instead I was encouraging myself to accept my lack of perfection.
It was as though I suddenly met myself. I was introduced to me; not the person I was striving to be.
Loving yourself means you treat yourself the way you would treat someone you love. It doesn’t mean that you love your image, the masks you’ve created and wear so well, or who you’re becoming; it means that you love the person you are now, the person who is striving for that particular image, the person who feels the need to create those masks.
Loving yourself does not mean you develop a barrier in front of your heart and learn to defend yourself through feigned indifference. It means you no longer feel the need to defend. It doesn’t mean you become hardened and cynical in attempt to prevent yourself from being hurt; it means you're not so afraid to be hurt anymore.
Loving yourself begins with a choice to realize that despite your faults, weaknesses and shortcomings, you are still innocent and worthy of your own love. Think of yourself like your own child. You are learning. You are trying. You aren’t perfect and guess what? You never ever will be. You’re going to make mistakes and lots of them. Sometimes, the same ones over and over and over again. You’re going to mess up and embarrass yourself. You’re going to cry. You’re going to fall. You’re going to feel like you’ve failed. Take care of yourself like you would your own child in those moments; still being cognizant of the mistake and the room for growth but practicing compassion and understanding towards yourself. The innocent you who was given no manual on how to be a perfect adult needs that.
Had I received a manual, I might have realized it was my own approval I needed; my own kindness and my own friendship. I might have realized at a far younger age, that I’d never ever be able to change what other people thought; I’d never be able to please everyone. I could however, change what I thought.
I could stop the barrage of judgments towards myself and do the only thing possible in any given moment – accept myself. Accept who I was and where I was on this journey.
The fruits from that period in my life are immeasurable. It is certain; learning to love yourself will have a radical and exponential impact in your life. To try and predict what your world might look like with your own love in your life would be similar to trying to predict what your world would look like if you won the lottery. A new sense of freedom will abound – who knows what that freedom might afford you? Your options will increase; who knows which route you will choose? Your ability to experience life will increase dramatically – who knows where your passion might wander.
Look in the mirror and see yourself in a different light. See you. See your beauty, your uniqueness. and your innocence. Get to know yourself intimately. Start accepting yourself unconditionally. Learn to trust yourself wholeheartedly. Choose to honour yourself loyally.
The result will be you deliberately living a magnificently fulfilling life.