Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

What the F*ck is Self-Love Anyway?

We can’t practice something if we don’t know what it is

Over the past decade, a social media-fueled movement has gathered steam: one in the art of self-love. Proponents of the movement claim by learning to love ourselves, we’ll create a societal shift toward peace and caring.

But most of us don’t have a clue what self-love is.

Says you. After a bad week of enduring my boss screaming at me, I go home, pour myself a bottle of wine and drink it in the tub. With a large bar of chocolate.

That’s love! I deserve that.

That isn’t love. That’s wallowing in self-pity.

This looks lovely, but that doesn’t make it love. Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

Wine and chocolate are not doing anything to help you. You might think your sleep isn’t affected by all that sugar and that your mood isn’t changed by that wine, but it is. You’re just so used to having sugar and alcohol in your system that you don’t notice their effects.

Yes, we all need to wallow and throw ourselves a pity party from time to time. I’d argue that society makes us feel far too guilty about wanting to feel some pity for ourselves. You had a bad week, cool. Pity yourself for the night every now and again. Have a glass of wine and a piece of chocolate. Make it two. But if you’re doing this every week, month-in and month-out, then you’re not practicing love. At best, you’re coddling yourself. Wallowing at worst.

Practicing self-love doesn’t mean living the fantasy of every eight-year-old by giving yourself what you want when you want it. Doing that turns you into a self-loathing obese alcoholic.

Loving yourself means being kind while recognizing that frequent and overindulgence are not a recipe for long term pleasure. Self-love is recognizing what is best for future you while not tearing down present you.

So you want me to suffer now for the sake of potential future happiness? But isn’t that what society already preaches?

Let me explain differently. Your twelve-year-old child comes home from school after a long and hard week of exams, certain they failed. Would you suggest they drink a gallon of chocolate milk, eat half a package of cookies, and play video games all weekend?

Well, of course, I wouldn’t do that…

Oooh…I see.

Exactly. You’re their parent — you recognize that in the long run, such behavior would do them zero favors. You wouldn’t even do them favors beyond the next hour. They’d soon be writhing on the floor in pain followed by projectile vomiting all over your living room.

Instead, you’d encourage your child to talk about their day. You’d let them off the hook for a few of their chores as a reward for how hard they worked that week.

Self-love is much like that.

You are your own parent, taking care of your aching inner child. Your child who desperately wants to make terrible choices because she thinks they will make her feel amazing in the here and now. You have to be her voice of reason. Her kind and compassionate voice of reason.

But let me be clear. Self-love is not easy, nor is it always full of sunshine and rainbows.

So what does self-love look like?

  • Self-love looks like putting on your damn pants and going to yoga class when you don’t feel like it. Because going to yoga makes you feel good for a few days, until the next class. And those positive vibes compound. (I promise that changing your clothes is the hardest part of going to yoga when you feel bleh. If you can manage to put on those pants, you’ll be golden.)
  • Self-love looks like sitting with your own thoughts, questioning the choices you’re making. Do the people and activities in your life bring you energy and happiness? Or do you merely feel obligation? Or maybe they bring good feelings for a fleeting moment despite bringing long term stress?
  • Self-love is saying, “No” instead of people-pleasing. Refusing to over-schedule or do things you don’t want to. We do these things out of fear that others will not love us. But you can have the love of thousands and you will still be unhappy if you don’t love yourself.
  • Self-love looks like speaking kindly to yourself when you don’t succeed. “Not yet, but good job for trying. You’ve made a lot of progress.” When you tell yourself you’re stupid or a failure, you are telling yourself that you are unworthy of love.
  • Self-love looks like a widow allowing herself to grieve the loss of her husband so that she can move forward. Remembering him with fondness and gratitude for the time she had with him, but accepting that her story must continue without him. This doesn’t mean she can’t weep for him from time to time, it merely means she allows herself to explore life without him.

Self-love looks like not tolerating your boss yelling at you but instead confronting him with calm dignity. Put the fear of losing your job aside and have a conversation with him. Tell him you don’t appreciate the screaming reprimands. You are more motivated by kindness and understanding.

Yea, like that will change anything. Someone who yells at their employees has a lot more to unpack than can be achieved by one confrontation.

But at least effort was made. So that when nothing changes, you can find a new job. You can leave with your head held high, knowing you did everything in your power to resolve the situation before taking drastic action. And you’ll feel good about standing up for yourself and loving yourself enough to make a change.

Sassy+Loving. Scientific+Spiritual. Nomadic. Always sincere, often wry. Hopefully romantic. Polymath.

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