What would your life be like if you loved yourself unconditionally? Take a moment to think about it.
Would you live in accordance with your values? Would you feel totally comfortable in your mind and body? Would you hold compassion for yourself when you made mistakes? Would you believe, undoubtedly, that you are a good person?
Would you rely on others to validate and accept you? Would you overextend yourself to please others, or would you honour your needs and politely decline? Would you feel confident in accepting a request, knowing that you would be helping others solely out of love for them? Would you feel good about yourself, either way, no matter what you chose?
Self-love is the amalgamation of all the things we have talked about in the past few weeks: self-forgiveness, self-acceptance, self-worth, & self-care. By practicing all of these regularly, we can develop a sense that we are undoubtedly deserving of unconditional love for ourselves. It means that we can move beyond shame, accept our whole selves, meet our own needs, and love ourselves for who we are, as we are.
How we practice self-love will be different for each person and each context. For some, it might mean making an effort to be more social and get out of the house for our health. For others, it might mean enforcing stronger boundaries in order to have much-needed alone time to rest and recover. One person's practice of self-love might be entirely different than another's.
Self-love is also the practice of not feeling guilty for meeting our own needs, because we know that we are deserving of having our needs met. We can feel sure of ourselves and feel empowered to make decisions in our own best interest. When we stop depending on others for love and know we can give it to ourselves, we can actually free ourselves to do things for others out of love (instead of the expectation of receiving it).
Coming to a place of self-love is not an easy process. We might have to cycle through practicing self-forgiveness, self-acceptance, self-worth, and self-care at various times, repeatedly, in order to move towards a strong sense of self-love. We might find ourselves in a place of self-love, only to doubt ourselves and build ourselves back up again. It is hard work to truly love ourselves, especially in a world that preys on our insecurities.
Here are a few ways that we can practice self-love:
Introspection is the practice of tuning into our internal thought pattern and being curious about what is happening "on the inside". Yoga and meditation are great ways to practice this.
Prioritize Needs Over Wants
Our wants are always short-sighted and empty; our needs are what really fill us up over the long term. Asking "what do I really need right now to support my overall physical/mental/emotional health?" versus, "what do I want to do to feel better right now" can help is to make choices in our best interest.
Challenging Limiting Beliefs
Try to make a habit of challenging your inner critic. The first step is noticing when thoughts of self-doubt creep in and being curious about them. The next step is to challenge if this thought (which is usually rooted in fear) is helpful or harmful to you. Usually, your inner critic wants to keep you feeling small and safe - but it also limits you from experiencing new things and growing as a person.
Talking kindly and lovingly to ourselves doesn't necessarily equate with "positive thinking". Like a parent caring for a child, sometimes love means honesty and difficult conversations. We can ask ourselves why we behaved in a certain way, offer understanding as to why we acted that way, think of alternatives for next time this situation arises, and promise ourselves to do better next time.
For example "I know you were triggered by what your friend said to you because of your own past experiences. But our friend did not deserve the angry reaction that happened, and you felt guilty about it after, too. Next time, let's take a moment to pause and collect ourselves before we react. It's okay to feel angry, but it isn't okay to take our anger out on those who don't deserve it."
Don't forget to celebrate! We often tend to minimize our accomplishments and successes, because we either focus on our past failures or are already looking ahead to future problems. You have worked hard to get to where you are today, so don't forget to give yourself a little love for that, too!