You wanna know something kind of scandalous? I love myself. (Or maybe I should say that I have self-love so it doesn’t sound so douchey.) Not only do I love myself; I actually like myself. I feel like this needs to be talked about because as a woman, that’s not really something I’m supposed to say out loud. Even re-reading that now makes me cringe. Now don’t get me wrong, this self-love isn’t narcissistic. There are days when I feel like I can’t do anything right. I absolutely have countless areas in my life that need to be improved. I could stand to lose a good 65 lbs and to start getting better with my money. I can think of about 782 ways that I can better myself. Self-deprecating humor is some of my favorite in my repertoire. BUT. I love myself. I am more comfortable in my skin – and in my mind – than I ever have been.
Why is this so scandalous? I think it’s mainly because we are constantly getting fed the message that we aren’t good enough by commercials and ads and billboards and magazines. We need to be thinner, thicker, richer, smarter, blah blah blah before we have permission to like who we are. And quite frankly, that’s some bullshit. That message has nothing to do with who we are or how we truly can improve ourselves. That message is using our self-doubts against us so that some jack hole (who
probably definitely hates himself) in a high rise can make money off of us by making us believe we need his product. I’m not going to go into consumerism in this post, but I do think it’s worth mentioning that the next time you feel that self-hate and shame creeping up your sternum because of the commercial with the perfect family or the Victoria’s Secret ad, try to catch yourself and remind yourself that none of that is real life. None of it.
So. I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of self-love and I want to talk about it with you in as much of an authentic way as possible. I’ll try my best to steer clear of anything that sounds too woo-woo or self-helpey, because I know that we’ve all heard it before.
I think one of the reasons self-love gets tossed around (and then tossed in the garbage) is because none of us know what the hell that actually means. The term love is one of the hardest words to define, so the concept of self-love sounds practically Greek. Self-love isn’t a feeling or a lovey-dovey infatuation with oneself, and I think that needs to be understood. I’ll say it again. Self-love isn’t a feeling. Psychologist Deborah Khoshaba states, “Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth. Self-love is dynamic; it grows by actions that mature us.” Or, in other words, self-love is a muscle. The more we work that muscle, the stronger it grows. And we don’t just practice it by taking bubble baths and getting our nails done (though that can be a part of it); we have to get our hands dirty. Some of it will be uncomfortable, and some of it will go against our nature. Do it anyway. This self-love stuff isn’t for the weak.
I think that one of the first steps to self-love is getting to know yourself. Date yourself. A little bit of insight goes a long way. I’ve had to do the hard work of gaining insight into myself since I was a kid with a whole lot of anxiety. I entered therapy as a teenager and have been noting my triggers and patterns and calming techniques and warning signs ever since. I have journaled and done habit trackers and mood trackers. I’ve soul-searched and found the root of issues and called out my own bullshit. It’s not a whole lot of fun. It can be interesting, though.
One way you can become more self-aware is by asking people you love and trust (and who you know loves you back) some things about yourself. What would you say is a strength of mine? A weakness? Is there anything you’ve noticed about me that is unhealthy? What type of mood am I usually in? They have a different perspective than you do, and they can see patterns and actions that you don’t even notice. You can also look up questions to ask on a date and then answer them yourself. Get to know you. Also, if we’re friends on social media, you know I’ve recently been obsessed with the Enneagram. I encourage you to find out your Enneagram personality type and read about it. I will tell you, though, that gaining insight into yourself isn’t going to be very pretty. You will be peeling back layers of defense mechanisms and taking off masks that you’ve worn. Go see a therapist for the ultimate dose of insight (and to have someone to talk to you if you feel overwhelmed by this).
A non-negotiable for self-love is setting and maintaining boundaries. Gah, this has been a HARD one for me. I have a deep need (found this out through gaining insight, btw) for people to like me. So much so that I have a tendency to say yes to everything. I have had to intentionally set boundaries to keep myself healthy and to give myself some respect. If you’re new to setting boundaries, it can be scary. I know. But I found out that the world actually does go on if you tell someone no. They usually respect your answer, and if they don’t, screw them. You don’t need someone like that in your life anyway. Maintaining boundaries is also like a muscle; the more you say no to things that don’t warrant your time, knowledge, energy, etc., the easier it is. And it’s so. damn. empowering. My new motto is “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.”
Give yourself some grace. I think this is one of the most difficult ones, because so many of us have this constant voice in our heads pointing out all the shitty things about ourselves. We get in a bad mood and then give ourselves hell for being in a bad mood. We have a first world problem and then feel guilty for not having the right perspective. We yell at our husband and our kids. We break our diet. We drink too much. All the while this little asshole in our mind is calling us out and condemning us. What’s even worse is that a lot of us who love Jesus believe that it’s the Holy Spirit when really it’s the enemy. The Holy Spirit gently redirects; he doesn’t harshly condemn. I digress.
As a therapist, I know the negative effect these thoughts have on our spirit. Our body believes what our mind tells it. The more you talk down and harshly to yourself, the more shame you pile on your head. It’s impossible for self-love to take root if shame is choking the life out of you. Start by forgiving yourself for messing up. We all make mistakes. We all have regrets and areas that we need to work on. All of us. Notice when that inner bitch is making a fuss and realize that most of what that voice says is a lie. You’re an amazing human. The same God who made the universe and stars and puppies and oceans and waterfalls made you. You have the fingerprint of the Creator on you. Nothing you do can make that go away.
Keep practicing. Keep in mind that what you water will grow. Self-love is a life-long journey, not something that happens overnight. You are worth knowing and worth loving.