What is self-love?
You may have heard this term popping up a lot lately & wondered why it is so important? Perhaps you were told growing up that you have to love yourself before you can love others or even discovered through self-healing or through therapy that you don’t have a very healthy relationship with yourself.
So first of all what even is self-love?
To me, self-love is the appreciation, acceptance and commitment to oneself; to take care of our own human needs, to celebrate our uniqueness, to be compassionate with our shortcomings and to show up in the world as authentic as we can be.
Perhaps this definition resonates with you as something you have or would like to have? Or perhaps self-love means something different to you altogether, and that is okay. Exploring what self-love is to you, would likely be an informative and helpful part of your journey towards stronger mental health.
Self-love sounds narcissistic.
I hear that. I thought that too; for a long time. I don’t want to assume but perhaps you were raised to put everyone else’s needs before your own, based on family values, religious practices or through experiences of watching those around you only ever caring about themselves and vowing to never be like that. Or perhaps it came from somewhere else altogether. Irrespective of where it comes from, I think it is important for you to reflect and acknowledge where it comes from and then let yourself explore the possibility that perhaps it is no longer serving you? For what I have learned in my experiences and through my work with individuals is that when we neglect our relationship with ourselves, our mental health suffers, our relationships suffer, and it can feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall in terms of trying to make changes to improve your life. Let alone, trying to cultivate a life that fulfills you or relationships that are secure and connected. How can we show up in the world and for our family, and community, if we are not taking care of ourselves?
How do I practice self-love?
Essentially you are in a relationship with yourself.
Relationships take work. Sorry if this is a spoiler for you, but I suspect you have heard this before. Ultimately when we are in relationships with someone romantically, or a friendship, or maintaining relationships with family, we have to be willing to invest time and effort in order for those connections to be sustained and nourishing. Otherwise, they fizzle out, or conflict occurs. Our relationship with ourselves is no different, we must take radical responsibility for the relationship because we are the only ones in it. Who else is going to take the time and energy to heal, and strengthen this relationship, if it isn’t you, NO ONE?
“Talk to yourself like someone you love” – Brene Brown
We all have inner mind chatter that can be harsh, critical or has relenting expectations and standards that keep us feeling pretty awful and over time when left unchecked can be very detrimental to our relationship with ourselves. Much like when in a relationship with someone who is verbally abusive, over time it tears away at our self-worth. So one of the things we can do when we observe that this mind chatter is being hurtful rather than helpful, is to ask ourselves what would we say to someone we love in a similar situation?
Learning how to self-care for real was one of the biggest learning curves in my journey. I mean, I knew the basics, and I knew how to look like I was doing self-care on the surface but for a long time I neglected my own personal needs like so many of us do. As human beings our needs extend far further than bubble baths, although I know for some people it might be a good place to start, or perhaps you don’t even like bubble baths, and that’s great too! Getting real with yourself about what you need can be hard when you have been programmed to think that it is selfish and discouraged to put yourself first. But you aren’t saying you are more important, by learning what your needs are and taking care of them, you are saying I am just as important, and I am the only person responsible for taking care of them so I am going to do that. Because you deserve to feel good. If you are not sure where to start, pick one small thing (achievable, and realistic) that you can do today that would help to refill your cup. Then make it a little experiment, did it feel good to you, before, during after? Is there something you can change about it to make it even more recharging? Would you like to try something different instead? Give yourself permission to find what recharges your batteries.
Each time you consciously and deliberately choose to nurture yourself and your needs you are taking a step in the direction of deepening self-love. Then over time as you remain (mostly) consistent with these intentions and actions the flow-on effect is abundant and effortlessly present. You will miss a day or something happens that puts you a little off course but it doesn’t have to be the end, as you can just gently direct yourself towards nurturance and compassion and choose to continue coming from a place of love. This is what I am passionate about. This is how I have healed myself and This is what I teach others to do too.
Why is self-love so important?
Why? Because it literally can impact so many different areas of your mental health but also your relationships and work, if you have an unhealthy relationship with yourself. If you struggle with (to name a few) stress, anxiety, depression, low confidence, perfectionism, feeling defensive and disconnected in relationships then chances are you could benefit from working on the relationship you have with yourself.
Who wouldn’t benefit from some more appreciation for themselves, from being able to be more honestly and uniquely themselves, from celebrating their wins and gracefully learning from and growing from their losses, from taking care of their own needs so they can show up in the world as the person they want to be, to show up in their roles and relationships as their best selves.
Why is this self-love stuff so hard?
It doesn’t change overnight, and it isn’t something that you achieve and then it stays with you for life. It is challenging for most to work on this, particularly if they are struggling with their mental health, have experienced trauma in their life and/or have never been able to make themselves a priority. You are not alone. Remember, you are reprogramming years of experiences, and without guidance, it can be challenging. Therapy has played a big part in healing my own relationship with myself and is ongoing as I navigate current and future situations where I continue to protect this relationship and further nourish it. If you are finding it particularly challenging I recommend speaking to your mental health professional about addressing this in therapy, or book an appointment with me and we can work on your genuine self-love together.
Author: Samantha Sheppard, B Psych (Hons).
Samantha is a registered psychologist with experience working with children and adolescents (and their families), young adults and adults. Samantha empowers others with their mental health using a non-judgemental, compassionate approach and particularly resonates with a social and emotional wellbeing framework.
To make an appointment with Samantha Sheppard try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129.