My friend once gave me the perfect analogy for self love:
‘Shayde – there’s a reason they tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first when you’re on an airplane. You can’t help the people around you if you haven’t first helped yourself.’
How nice it is, to have friends that point out the glaringly obvious, when you can’t see it for yourself.
Some days are incredibly hard. That’s just life. Sometimes we forget about ourselves, on our journey through life. We give and give and give, until we have nothing left for us to fall back on. But it’s inherently important to take time to slow down and look after yourself.
But loving yourself is not an easy task. It never has been and never will be.
But why don’t we love ourselves?
‘You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.’
We are surrounded by things that say we shouldn’t love ourselves, day in and day out. Of course, you all know what I’m talking about: magazines, social-media, advertisements, unrealistic ‘reality’ shows on television, sales professionals, sometimes even our bosses or our loved ones… wherever we turn, we seem to constantly be being told we are not quite good enough.
We’re told we need to be thinner. We need to have clearer skin. We should be more tan. We need less cellulite on our thighs. We need higher sales figures. We should have a house and kids by now. We should be getting better grades. We shouldn’t talk about our mental illnesses. We need a newer car, a bigger house and a six figure salary. We need to have prettier clothes, taller shoes and more make-up.
Everywhere we look, there is something to compare ourselves to. But the problem is – we shouldn’t have to. We need to realise that society has an unrealistic expectation of what ‘perfect’ is.
And it is really none of their business!
Perfect for you may look completely different to my idea of perfect. You may hate your curly hair, but another may envy you for it. Your friend eats whatever she wants and stays as thin as a rake – and yet she wants the curves you have.
Someone you know may like dating younger people, another may prefer someone more mature. Perhaps your friend may find someone who is strong and muscly preferable over someone who is academically gifted.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
And I’m here to tell you that no matter what you look like, where you’re from, what your age or preference, who you are – you are worthy of love – just as much as the next person.
And so we come to our first obstacle on the road to self-love:
ACCEPTING YOU ARE WORTHY.
‘Your problem is you’re… too busy holding onto your unworthiness.’
– Ram Dass
Before we can even think about giving ourselves the love we so desperately need, we need to believe we are deserving of it. And that’s where a lot of our problems start. We sow seeds of doubt in our mind that we aren’t good enough, we don’t deserve anything, and we end up feeling guilty at the very thought of looking after ourselves.
There is so much hate and pain and suffering in this world to simply act like it doesn’t exist, that is the plain and simple truth of it. But that does not mean we need to neglect ourselves out of some desperate attempt to help the people around us.
We must press on, or else be swallowed up by our insecurities, our pain and our problems.
‘You cannot pour from an empty vessel.’
Self-love is harder than what you see at surface value. It’s easy to have a bath, get a massage or a manicure, or spend a day in bed. What’s not easy is convincing yourself you truly deserve such things. It’s not easy to see past the action itself and into the ‘why am I doing this for myself?’.
There is an art to self-love. An art of really appreciating and understanding the love you give to yourself is in fact just that: LOVE. Love is something that needs to have room for growth – or else it wilts like a pruned rose in a lonely vase.
One of the greatest wonders in life is love. We simply cannot live without it. It’s proven time and time again in various forms – living beings that receive love and nourishment thrive next to their neglected counterparts. So it only makes sense that in order to spread that love, to truly thrive in the world around us, we must first know what it feels like to be loved.
So the first thing we must do on our journey to self-love, is to accept our flaws and to understand we are deserving of love in spite of them.
Treat yourself with respect and dignity, and never feel as though you aren’t worthy. If you don’t feel you are worthy of being loved, you will wilt. You may receive love, but it will be clouded by guilt.
It takes time and patience and won’t always seem right, but once you realise you are worthy of love, you can start to find yourself – which brings us to the next step in learning to love yourself:
‘Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.’
– Carl Gustav Jung
Someone once said something to me that made me stop and think for a really long time:
‘Every single person you meet has a different version of you in their mind. No two people know and remember you in the same way.’
It’s true. The way I think or feel about some of my friends will be completely different to how the person next to me perceives them. So the real question then, is this:
Who do you think you are?
How would you describe yourself? What are your favourite things to do? Who do you think about before you fall asleep? What are your aspirations? Your values?
To truly be able to take care of yourself, you need to know yourself. You need to know what you stand for, what you believe in, what you would fight for.
What use is it, trying to care and stand up for yourself, if you do not truly know what you actually stand for in the first place? Self-care loses meaning without knowing who you are. You may as well buy yourself a present from the Kris Kringle variety isle and be done with it.
So again: who do you think you are? It’s a question worth asking again and again until you’re sure. The stronger your foundations, the stronger the structure on top – fundamentally speaking.
This isn’t always easy. Especially when you start thinking about societal norms, expectations, religion, sexual preference, gender, war, history etc., etc., etc.. But not to worry – there are plenty of ways for you to begin to pick yourself apart – so to speak. Here are some interesting ideas for helping to find your true self and values:
- Keep a journal
- Keep up-to-date with current affairs
- Find a creative outlet
- Ask your friends what they think you’re good at
- Take a personality/ strength quiz
- Talk to people you normally wouldn’t
- Learn to meditate
- Keep a note of what and who you say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to
- Read your horoscopes
- Acknowledge your fears
- Accept your shortcomings
- Apologize when you’re wrong
- Research your heritage
There are so many ways to explore who you are as a person – it is all about keeping an open mind and finding what makes you ‘tick’ as a person. No two people are going to be exactly alike. Just like no two people are going to see you in the same way. So who do you think you are?
Once you have an idea of who you are, you can start exploring the next step on your self-love journey, which is:
WHAT DOES SELF-CARE LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
‘When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits – anything that kept me small. My judgment called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving.’
– Kim McMillen
Everyone’s idea of self-care is going to be different, based on their loves, values and personal ideas.
For one person, that might mean going and getting a pedicure. For another, a pedicure is an absolutely horrid ordeal.
Another person may want to buy tickets to a much-loved band, whereas someone else may cringe at the idea of a crowded venue being anyone’s idea of ‘self-care’.
It is all about you.
That’s why it’s called self-care and not other’s-care. And why it’s so important to know who you are, and what you love. And sometimes, certain situations call for different types of self-care.
For example, when I’m feeling at my worst, emotionally speaking, I’ll hide under my blanket for a few hours and block out the world, or I message my friend and ask him how he is and whether he wants to get coffee. And I feel better for it.
Other times, I might wake up and decide the definition of ‘self-care’ for that particular day is to not worry about the dishes on the sink, and watch a good Ted Talk or a documentary.
On the contrary, my partner’s idea of ‘self-care’ may be time with his friends, or going for a motorbike ride, or heading to the gym. Everyone is different, and every day is different.
It’s about recognizing how you’re feeling, and adjusting accordingly.
There is nothing wrong with learning to love yourself, understand yourself, and deciding to look after yourself. And there is certainly no shame in admitting you may not look after yourself as well as you perhaps should. It’s easy to lose sight of ourselves when the world is so loud, busy and consumer focused.
And so it makes sense then, in such a busy world, that the last (and probably the most important) step in our self-love journey is:
‘Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.’
– M. Scott Peck
It’s all well and good to think about self-care, and what it looks like and how deserving you are of it. But how many of you are thinking:
‘I don’t have time.’
Well I’m going to break it to you hard and fast. I won’t apologize for it, either. You do have time. We all have time. You just need to prioritize yourself.
What do you do that takes up so much time that you aren’t looking after yourself? Are you working too much? Taking on too much? Saying ‘yes’ too much, and ‘no’ too little?
Are you giving too much, and receiving little in return?
The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.
Take the time to look at your life, your schedule, your priorities, and truly evaluate. What is taking up so much time and energy that you have decided you aren’t important enough to look after?
And then make some adjustments. Perhaps you decide to take the train to work, so you can read for an hour rather than be stuck in traffic. Maybe you wake up an hour earlier so you can do some yoga, or make a healthy breakfast. You could start a self-care tradition to go get a massage on a Thursday night after work.
Whatever self-care looks like for you, you need to make it a priority. Because at the end of the day, you are all you have – and that can be scary or comforting, depending solely on how you treat yourself.
And always remember you are worthy, you are unique and self-care is important in order to grow:
‘Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one’s own sunshine.’
– Ralph Waldo Emerson