Self-Love: What the Heck Does That Mean Anyway?

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Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

– Mahatma Gandhi

Looking at myself in the mirror, I realized how far I’ve come. Once I was a young, insecure girl waiting for the world to tell me who to be, looking up to others and wishing I could be like them, instead of just working on being me. I had heard about that self-love, but I wasn’t exactly sure about what it meant. Did I have to reach perfection before I could love myself? Did I have to transform into someone else? Or was self-love just a saying, not something that could actually be obtained by real people?

I was well aware of the things I didn’t like about myself—the things I concentrated on and wanted to change. Why was I so shy? Why couldn’t I just be outgoing and comfortable in social situations? Why did I love dessert, fries, and pizza so much? Why couldn’t I just live off of a handful of almonds and lean protein shakes like a normal gym rat? Ahhh! Why couldn’t my memory just be photogenic, so I wouldn’t have to study for so long? Why couldn’t my hair be thicker, my boobs bigger, my legs thinner? If I could change all these things, then others would love me, and I’d finally be able to love myself. I think most people can relate to coming up with lists of things they don’t like about themselves. If you can’t relate, congratulations! This blog post probably isn’t for you.

I realized I’d changed when I was no longer wishing that the reflection in the mirror would be someone else. It might sound conceited or self-important, but I love that I’ve come to realize the only person I want to be is me. You see, that’s what I believe self-love is: knowing your imperfections, shortcomings, and flaws and still wanting to be exactly who you are. Think about how you love the people in your life, like your husband, wife, child, friend, or family member. They all have traits you could live without, but to truly love and accept them, at some point, you have to accept every part of them.

You have three options: 1) Change the things you don’t like about yourself; 2) Accept the things you don’t like about yourself; or 3) Don’t do either of the first two options and just complain. I made a choice to accept most of the attributes I didn’t think I could change about myself. I thought, “Okay, maybe I’m shy, but at least I don’t talk too much. Maybe my hair could be thicker, but that would take longer to style in the morning anyway.” For me, self-love is about looking at the upside to your not-so-endearing qualities. I’m not the most elegant eater—especially when I’m hungry—and my friends have always laughed at me about it. But over the years, lots of people have told me that’s one of the things they love about me. People don’t like you because you’re perfect; they like you for who you are, flaws included. So why not give yourself that same love?

Ways to Practice Self-Love

“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.”

–Carl Jung

1.    Know The Definition of Self-Love: Google’s dictionary defines self-love as, “regard for one’s own well-being and happiness (chiefly considered as a desirable rather than narcissistic characteristic).” That makes a lot of sense. If you love yourself, you’ll ultimately care about your own well-being and happiness. Loving yourself isn’t conceited or narcissistic; it’s actually knowing your self-worth. It’s love. Love means acceptance, and caring about yourself doesn’t mean thinking you’re better than other people. Actually, by loving yourself you can help others love themselves and discover their own possibilities, which is a wonderful thing.
2.    Practice Authenticity: This is the practice of letting go of thinking you need to be someone else and actually embracing who you are. You must truly accept who and what you really are in order to be authentically you. You practice authenticity by doing what’s best for you, putting yourself first, and really understanding about what’s good for you.
3.    Stop Hating on Yourself: Stop wishing you looked like someone else or were more liked by others. Stop trying to get love from those who don’t have love to offer you. It’s time to put a stop to hating your body, personality, and imperfections. Instead, try to love—or, at least, accept—them. Without all your quirks, you wouldn’t be you. If anyone dislikes you for who you are, they don’t have to be part of your life. Your happiness and self-love shouldn’t depend on others’ approval of you. You become happy when you love who you are. You’re pretty amazing. Don’t hide any of that.
4.    Feeling Loving-Kindness: I recently read about a healing intervention you can use whenever you’re stressed or upset. It involves gently placing one hand over your heart or cheek, as you might do to a beloved child, and saying, “I understand.” In that moment, you extend loving-kindness toward yourself. The truth is that if we don’t feel loving-kindness and compassion for ourselves, we can never really know what those feelings are. It’s almost impossible to offer others loving-kindness if we don’t offer it to ourselves.
5.    Make Mistakes: As the saying goes, “To become our best selves, we first have to be our worst selves.” So make mistakes and understand that they’re just part of the map leading you to the person you always wished you could be. Also, don’t forget to forgive yourself. We tend to be harder on ourselves than anyone else. It’s important to take responsibility for your actions, but don’t punish yourself too much. Accept that you aren’t perfect. And remember that there’s really no such thing as mistakes if you learn from them.
6.    Take Care of Yourself: Take care of your needs, health, and well-being. When you love yourself, you do things to remain healthy, like eating well, working out, sleeping enough, and making time for yourself.
7.    Place Boundaries: You’ll be practicing self-love when you set proper boundaries in your relationships. You need to set boundaries by saying “no” to work, love, or activities that you don’t want to do or that harm you emotionally.
8.    Know Your Purpose: You accept yourself at a deeper level when you live closer to your true purpose and passions. You may not always know your true purpose right away, but if you live a meaningful life, you make decisions that support your true self. If you start making goals and accomplishing tasks, you’ll have more love for yourself. Live with more intention.
9.    Let It Go: Use a painful experience from your past to help make you who you are. Use it to give you strength, empathy, and character. We all have something that has hurt us. Don’t let it define who you are. Instead, use it to build a stronger you—a you that you can be proud of.

Self-love means something different to everyone. And everyone will walk a different path toward loving themselves. Even when you finally love yourself, there will be times that you don’t like yourself very much. During those times, just acknowledge what you didn’t like, and try not to repeat those behaviors again. Like any form of love, self-love comes with respect, admiration, acceptance, comfort, and the ability to be yourself. It comes about through the intention of being who you are, making choices, taking action, and thinking in ways that fit with who you want to be. There is a type of wisdom that comes only from knowing yourself and what makes you happy. As Bob says in Lost in Translation, “The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.” Please, let me know what self-love means to you. What daily steps you take to let yourself know you care about yourself?

Talk soon,

Dr. Ilene.

Article edited by Dr. Denise Fournier

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