“If you can’t love yourself no one will,” my mum has said over and over again. I didn’t realise how important her advice was till well into my 20s when I questioned why guys I liked didn’t treat me the way mum said I deserved to be. Why would they, when I shush anyone who pays me anything even remotely close to a compliment? I didn’t believe I was awesome, so why would some random guy think so?
Things have changed a lot since I turned 30. With the big 3-OH you learn to just accept yourself for who you are. Better yet, you learn to celebrate all those chunks, kinks and lumps that add up to perfection, AKA YOU! Before you go looking for Mr Right, stop for a second and take my word (cliché but true) – the only person whose opinion matters, is yours. So if you don’t yet, learn to love you first. Madeeha Afridi, Counselling Pyschologist at The LightHouse Wellbeing Center, tells you what self-love is, why it’s important and how to get started showering yourself with hearts now:
How would you define self-love?
The term self-love has been at the forefront of mainstream psychology in the past few years, and there are a myriad of ways to define it. It’s a level of care, understanding, support, empathy and respect we have for ourselves, especially during times that are challenging and painful. For some people, it is easy and comfortable to love their strengths and achievements; however, how is the individual able to acknowledge with sensitivity, grace, and kindness when they have done something regrettable or made a mistake? Are they able to still hold themselves with high regard and care through the lows in their life, or just when it is convenient and positive?
It’s important to note that most of us speak of self-love in a narrow way, as experiencing the emotion of love. However, if we can expand our view of it by including the terms self-compassion, self-soothing, self-nurture, self-respect, and self-forgiveness, which are practices that lead to self-love, we can begin to create a broader experience of what it really means to love and accept ourselves unconditionally.
How do you practice self-love?
Take self-responsibility: When most of us think of self-love, we usually don't think of the words self-responsibility, yet they are correlated and cannot exist without the other. When we are children, we are naturally dependent on others to take responsibility of us, we require them to fulfil our basic needs, physical, emotional and nurture us with love. However, as we grow, and individuate into ourselves beyond the connection with our primary caretakers, ideally we learn to take responsibility of our own wants and needs by providing ourselves with what we desire, beginning with the basic human need of love, and prioritising ourselves, our needs and wants.
Unfortunately, for many people, self-love and prioritising oneself is undoable or they feel completely helpless in how to implement it in their everyday life, either because they were not taught or modelled the expression or emotion of love and care by their parents or primary caretakers, or because they don't know where to begin the practice.
Make a self-love plan: A healthy and practical place to begin self-love is to take responsibility of oneself by reflecting (and journaling) on what makes you feel loved, what and how you feel self-nurtured and self-soothed, and being specific about your needs and wants. The next step is to begin to schedule these activities in your everyday life; this way, instead of being passive and relying on others to give you love, you take the empowered approach and begin the practice of nurturing yourself what evokes the emotion of love and compassion within.
Have a great relationship with yourself: Loving oneself and feeling loved is a multi-layered process and lifelong journey, and one that begins with becoming open and curious, while reflecting on one's personal beliefs and vision, strengths, habits, aspirations, and patterns among other things. Self-awareness is instrumental in feeling loved because if one has not taken the time to know, understand, and heal from one's own past life experiences, it will feel like a daunting task.
Be open to love: After the steps of self-exploration, an essential step to feeling loved is letting love into your life. Often times, consciously or subconsciously, due to one's past hurts, pains, and heartbreaks in relationships, they block love out, when intrinsically, all humans yearn and desire it. In my work with clients in therapy, I tell them to begin to set intentions of letting love in; a simple, yet powerful, intention can be, "I give myself permission to love and feel loved unconditionally."
Spend time with yourself: We live in a fast-paced, over-stimulated, society where alone time may be mocked or shunned upon; however, it is one of the key ways one can begin to become comfortable and reconnect with themselves, and begin to see and feel their intrinsic worth as a human being. Being intentional of taking alone time for self-reflection and self-care does not lead to feelings of loneliness, and often lead to self-love and deeper connection to oneself.
Learn to self-reflect: Writing is a tool that can be a powerful practice for self-exploration, which leads to valuing oneself and their life. A few ways to use it in the journey of self-love is writing down regularly personal achievements, experiences of gratitude, and/or ways of recording how one was kind and nurturing to themselves on a particular day. Some of my clients journal about their "A-Ha" moments of personal realizations which make them feel good about themselves and excited about the ways they are evolving into their fullest potential.
Believe in the power of words: Another step towards self-love and valuing oneself is to be mindful about the words you use, not only with regards to how you speak about yourself, but about life as well. Sometimes people can fall into a habit of speaking negatively and sarcastically about themselves or their life, which can then lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy of living up to those negative labels. Words are powerful, so it is important to use them to uplift and encourage oneself.
Signs You Don’t Love You
- You’re burned out: When you’re neglecting yourself, it’s natural to feel irritable, frustrated, restless, anxious, depressed, and other strong uncomfortable emotions, which then begin to effect different areas of one's life such as self-care, work, and relationships.
- You don’t self-care: Another indicator of knowing when one has stop prioritising oneself is their daily self-care habits such as showering, eating nurturing meals, sleeping well, exercising, investing in social activities and hobbies. When one neglects themselves and their needs, the effects of this can be seen and felt not only by the individual, but by those around them.
So, if there's anything to take away from this exhaustive list of to-dos, start with the basics -- putting yourself on the list!