Relationships. Situationships—forget about those. If you were to log all the thoughts in your head every day, how many of those would be mean, condescending or accusatory versus statements that are kind and full of self-love? Do you treat and talk to yourself like you would a best friend? Are your actions self-sabotaging and neglectful of your needs?
Loving ourselves is easier said than done, at least on paper. From memes to t-shirts to journal covers, we’re fed inspirational messages of self-love. But it can be even more baffling for those with no framework of what ‘loving yourself’ actually means. After all, how can we internalise the message of self-love if we rarely see it modelled in the people around us?
Why is self-love so hard?
Loving yourself is hard work. To borrow a line from fan favourite, Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City, “The most exciting, challenging, and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself.”
“Not only do we lack the basic information on what ‘love yourself’ means or how to do it, but many of us have grown up living life by a script that is not our own, which often results in us actively (consciously or subconsciously) disliking who we are,” says Dr Oberdan Marianetti.
“To start on the path of loving oneself I recommend learning to ‘listen’,” explains Dr Marianetti who has a doctorate in human psychology from the Institute of Advanced Studies of Human Sexuality and a MSc in occupational and organisational psychology from the University of East London. “Our mind, our body and our heart are constantly sending signals to our awareness, pointing the way to something that needs to be attended to. Far too often we ignore such signals and continue on with our daily grind. The result is a form of self-neglect that impacts us negatively; far from the ‘love yourself’ we aim for.”
Why is self-love important?
“The beautiful, alive organism that we are, operates at its absolute best when it is maintained healthy, strong and happy. It is when we are balanced and at peace with ourselves that we can more easily be at peace with the world. It is when we are centred in our own innate talents and potential that we have the best opportunities to skilfully serve our loved ones and the communities we belong to,” says Dr Marianetti.
“If I were born a peach tree, I would have the innate capacity to produce juicy, sweet peaches that anyone could enjoy. However, if I spent my life trying to be a pear tree, because the world told me that the only way to be loved, accepted and successful was to produce pears, I would likely negate my innate nature or perhaps even despise it for not equipping me with the ability to produce pears and therefore be unsuccessful.”
Living life as our own cheerleaders and loving who we inherently are not only benefits us, but the world around us. “Our partners, children, bosses, employees, friends and/or communities benefit greatly when we act from a place of alignment and integrity,” says Dr Marianetti.
“Loving oneself and operating from our innate nature, not only makes us feel safe, satisfied and connected, it also adds great value to the endeavours and people we choose to support.”
For Stephanie Leong, somatic depth therapist and founder of Soma Psyche Alchemy, self-love includes creating strong boundaries to prioritise time and space to care for oneself, while engaging in activities that bring deep joy. “It is to understand that by doing the things that nourish me, I get to fill my own cup to the brim, and share it with others from this abundant space of overflow.”
Best habits to cultivate self-love
“While not fully illustrative of who we are, I like to describe human beings as made up of four bodies: mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. A good place to start loving oneself would be to attend to each of these bodies in small and consistent ways,” says Marianetti, who recommends the following:
Rebalance your intellect with:
- Reducing exposure to the highly toxic social media
- Watching less TV
- Leaving your phone at home for a few hours… reconnect to self and nature
- Slowing down the pace of learning new topics
- Changing your reading materials to something fun, rather than dutiful
Connect with and cater to your heart with:
- Psychotherapy for self-awareness, growth and healing
- Healing retreats such as OM-ICE
- Strengthening and leveraging your social support network (reconnect with family or friends)
- Acts of kindness
Soothe the physical body with:
- More sleep, better sleep
- Hugs and cuddles
- Less alcohol
- A cleaner diet
- Less caffeine
- A full medical check-up
Open up to your higher power with:
- Explore nature
- Visits to your religious venue of choice
- Attending philosophy or theology seminars/conversations
To awaken self-love, Leong recommends “doing the things that excites and bring every cell in our body the deepest sense of aliveness, joy and pleasure.” As a yoga instructor, Leong uses exercise her body is leading her to that day, as well as “eating natural and yummy foods, great music, a lot of nature baths, and also most importantly, space to slow down to listen to what the body wants.”
How do we turn turn the care or loving-kindness we have for others inward?
“When something emerges that challenges my own loving-kindness, I sit with the discomfort and examine what are some core emotions (energy in motion) that are bubbling up. As unpleasant as it is, I allow myself to feel these emotions and allow them to be expressed and made known through art, journaling, or conversations with people I trust. This practice allows me to befriend and accept the different parts of myself, in other words, loving myself unconditionally,” advises Leong.
“A lack of self-confidence is often related or brings us back to experiences of our past that have not yet been processed.”
“Awareness in the body keeps us in the present time, while movement ensures that stagnation of certain emotions related to lower self-confidence levels are released, thus restoring our innate, natural flow of life,” explains Leong.
How do we feel more self-confident in our bodies?
“Women are subjected to an endless and relentless stream of images that consistently portray curated and photoshopped bodies, crafted for the specific purposes of the campaigns they represent. Unfortunately, the majority of these images have created unrealistic expectations of what an “acceptable” body-image should look like, thus creating unnecessary suffering and crises of self-confidence,” says Dr Marianetti.
“To regain one’s self-confidence is to regain a realistic understanding of what is acceptable vis-a-vis reality.”
He recommends first pondering on what’s ‘acceptable’, urging us to ask ourselves, “Who should women’s body-image be acceptable to? What should the acceptable standards of ‘acceptable’ be? A quick analysis of what we consciously and subconsciously consider ‘acceptable’ should reveal that we had enough of the world telling us we should look a certain way to be attractive and therefore valuable. Let us be grateful for our bodies as they are and what they accomplish for us. And realise that what we each have to innately offer is of incredible value, and let us operate from that place of power, our self-confidence will sky-rocket, our self-love would deepen.”