Self-love: a cliché or a necessity? So, what does this over-used term actually mean?
'Try to devour every self-help book that you can get your hands on.
'Do your skincare routine.'
Switch between every social media platform for your daily dose of influencers spouting self-love quotes (disclaimer: there is absolutely no shame if those quotes help you).'
Now repeat over and over…and over again until you can finally say I now love myself.
The truth is self-love sells. It seems to be something we are all in desperate need of, yet for something so complex, its true meaning is often overlooked. For some, it sounds like a luxury that’s tapped into by those that have too much free time. For others, it’s considered cheesy and unnecessary. You can’t blame them when quotes like “do your squats, eat your veggies and don’t let boys be mean to you” and “be a man/ stand up for yourself” once roamed around the internet in the name of self-love.
But what if we consider self-love to be a cliché because the version that we are sold is just not it? What if the version we are sold overlooks the depths of it? Failing to consider the various internal battles that can make such a simple-sounding practice so much harder. What if the version we are sold is oversimplified? Marketed as a destination and broken down into step-by-step guides that insist that you just have to love yourself because you are special. What if we are just being sold toxic positivity in disguise?
Most mental health professionals say that self-love requires a great deal of compassion and patience, an acknowledgement of one’s need for physical, psychological and spiritual growth, and most importantly, an accompaniment of actions that support that growth.
What if self-love is a lot uglier than it sounds and looks? What if self-love only really means self-acceptance? The truth is… the process is messy, the inner work is exhausting, and it often feels like quite the opposite of self-love. Though it can feel like breaking apart, it is necessary; because if you don’t confront the parts of you that you don’t want to confront, how much can you really accept? How much can you change?
In one way or another, self-love is crucial to developing a healthy relationship with yourself and those around you… and like all things in life, accepting and being kinder to yourself takes practice. If you don’t know where to start… here are a few practical tips on how to actually love yourself (I know I mocked step-by-step guides, but chances are, if you clicked on this article, you wouldn’t mind reading some tips)
1. Self-love is an ongoing process, and it looks different for each person.
There is no finish line, and there are no rules to this thing. Self-love is not constant, nor is it permanent. It’s a practice; one you won’t be feeling every day but know that what looks like a step back to you may very well be progress. Remember that it’s a process, and it is not one that you can speed up. The toughest days are the days that need your most compassion so take it one day at a time and go easy on yourself.
2. Know that trauma can make self-love even more difficult.
Trauma looks different for each person, but one thing survivors have in common is that they often struggle with shame and self-blame, which can be extremely difficult to navigate alone. Though you may be aware of the stigma that exists around therapy, you may have still internalized societal messages telling you that seeking help means that something is wrong with you…
There’s a famous hadith in the Islamic faith that tells the story of a Bedouin man who was leaving his camel untied. When asked why he’s not tying down his camel, the Bedouin said that he puts his trust in God. The Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, then replied “Tie your camel first, and then put your trust in Allah.” Think of therapy as tying your camel. The stigma makes it harder sometimes, but it’s worth the fight. You can also think of it as a broken bone… you probably wouldn’t leave it to heal on its own. Know that asking for help doesn’t make you weak and that being vulnerable takes so much courage. You owe it to yourself.
3. Less is more
If you sometimes struggle to see your value and worth, it’s easy to fall into the cycle of doing more to prove yourself. What’s worse is, burnout has almost become an epidemic in today’s workplace so it’s not uncommon to neglect your mental, physical and emotional needs. Get to know your queues, and block time out for yourself. Sometimes, time out looks like doing absolutely nothing (scrolling on your phone doesn’t count as nothing). Sometimes, it looks like going for a walk, taking a warm bath, or treating yourself to a yummy meal. Don’t underestimate the value of the mundane just because you sometimes lose sight of it. Make the time and allow yourself to enjoy it, and don’t beat yourself up if you struggle to enjoy it, or to do any of it… Sometimes, it looks like just getting through your day. The process takes time and persistence.
4. Challenge your narrative by checking the facts
The story we tell our selves plays a huge role in our suffering. What’s difficult is, it’s the story we’ve been following all our lives, and it’s so closely related to who we think we are. It’s so close to home, that we might not know how to differentiate between the story and the objective truth. We might not even be aware of what the story is.
Simply put, checking the facts means questioning if there is any evidence against your thoughts. By identifying the facts, you’re in a better position to see things clearly. You can recognize what you are and aren’t in control of, and you’re in a better position to accept things as they are. We can also ask ourselves where these thoughts come from… social media plays a huge role here. So does cultural influence. So does childhood conditioning. With that being said, it’s very important not to pass blame.
You don’t have to love your situation in order to accept yourself
Most of our suffering comes from struggling to accept the reality of a situation for what it is. If you often think of what you should’ve and could’ve done, then you know how difficult it is to accept your mistakes, or to forgive yourself. The reality is, denying what’s happening only keeps you stuck in a negative loop. Validate your thoughts and feelings and accept them, only then can you begin to let them go. You may need to forgive yourself more than once, and that’s okay. Give yourself the space to forgive yourself as many times as it takes.
5. Let yourself feel
The whole process may provoke deep sadness within you, sadness you may not have even known, existed. When you think about the amount of time and energy that has gone towards beating yourself up, expect yourself to grieve a little. Writer Té V. Smith puts it perfectly, 'nobody warns you about the amount of mourning in growth.' It’s so important that you give yourself the time to feel the loss. Take however long you need, so long as you know that eventually, you will need to move forward.
6. Know how worthwhile of a pursuit self-love is
Self-love is so much more than the definition we see all over social media. Self-love does not avoid taking responsibility, nor is it complacent. Self-love is not aggressive or proud. It is gentle and painful, but it has the potential to change your life, if you are prepared to commit to it, if you are prepared to change, if you are prepared to discover and share your gifts with this world.
If you are prepared to see it as a necessity.