Googling self-love reveals that it has "often been seen as a moral flaw, akin to vanity and selfishness." This baffles me because regard for oneself and one's own happiness and wellbeing is far from a flaw in my eyes.
So, what is self-love?
Self-love is an important part of living a fulfilling life. Self-love is dynamic. Self-love is not narcissism. Self-love is extending kindness, care and concern towards yourself, as you do for your loved ones. We say things about ourselves that we would never say to someone we cared about. So why are we so much harsher on ourselves? Why not extend that same kindness towards yourself? That’s something you deserve!
Acting in ways that extend our self-love helps us to understand our strengths, as well as weaknesses. It doesn't mean that we think we're the prettiest, smartest, most talented or best person in existence. It means that we can accept and understand our so-called shortcomings with a compassionate mindset, while embracing our strengths. To love yourself is to have compassion for yourself. This includes showing yourself understanding, respect, and forgiveness.
Thinking about self-love led me to realize that maybe the people viewing self-love as vanity were confused between self-love that stems from high self-esteem, and that from developing self-compassion. Therefore, I thought it was important to make the distinction between self-compassion and self-esteem.
Self-Compassion VS Self-Esteem
Self-compassion offers all the benefits (and more) of self-esteem, minus the downsides. This is because self-esteem is based on one’s evaluations of their worth, which is often gained from downward social comparisons, and is conditional. Such beliefs do not set us up to deal with disappointments in a healthy manner, and usually involves putting others down, in order to puff ourselves up. Thus, high self-esteem is also correlated with negative outcomes, such as self-centredness, and even narcissism. On the other hand, self-compassion is unconditional, as it is non-evaluative and interconnected in nature. We do not have to be better than others, or never fail in order to have high self-compassion.
Self-compassion includes three domains: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. This includes being kind towards oneself in times of failure or pain, understanding experiences as a part of the larger human experience, and dealing with painful feelings with balanced awareness.
Some Tips to Develop Self-Compassion and Healthy Self-Love
1. Be understanding and kind towards yourself in times of adversity.
When things go wrong, when we fail or someone rejects us, many of us are extra tough on ourselves. We beat ourselves down when, what we really need is some love and support. You wouldn’t put down your best friend who is already feeling terrible, so why do that to yourself? Extend kindness towards yourself when you need it most.
2. Remember that all your feelings are valid.
Being self-compassionate entails being willing to experience and acknowledge all feelings as valid, even those that might be difficult at times. We don’t always need to immediately get rid of and replace negative feelings in order to feel good about ourselves. Instead, positive emotions can be simultaneously created, by embracing those tough feelings with care and thoughtfulness.
3. Use acceptance and neutrality when love seems too far.
Some days self-love may seem like an unattainable state. It’s important to remember and recognize that it’s okay to settle for acceptance and neutrality at times. For instance, it can be difficult to suddenly go from loathing your body to completely loving every inch of it. Particularly with the ideal images that are fed to us through the media on a daily basis. It is important to remember that self-love is dynamic, and it is a journey. On the way to self-love we may have to settle for neutrality, and that is completely alright. For example, on the days we aren’t completely loving our bodies we can remind ourselves of all the good our bodies do to keep us healthy and help us survive, rather than focusing on the physicality.
You do not need to love every single thing about yourself to develop self-love. It is about accepting yourself and recognizing that it is a journey.
4. There’s no single right way to practice self-care.
The important thing here is to take care of your basic needs and nourish yourself. Self-care looks different for different people, and usually even varies depending on the day. Therefore, it is important to stay in tune with yourself, and act on what you really need in that moment. On some days good self-care may be doing a facemask, or making effort to have healthy social interactions. On others days what you might really need as self-care may be a morning lie in or making the effort to go for that 20 minute walk. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to self-care.