The concept of self-love is one that really tends to baffle and confuse my clients. When I suggest it as a practice, they sometimes look at me like I have 2 heads. “How does loving yourself help you be successful? How does it make things easier? How do I even start? Isn’t that selfish?”, are some of the most common questions I’m asked. My clients struggle to compute it. In their brains they “get it” but to actively practice and feel self-love, that’s another thing.
Self-love is a language that most of us do not know how to speak and that we often have a strong reaction to. The majority of us grew up believing that thinking about ourselves, much less loving ourselves, was self-centered, conceited, or rude. We were taught that we needed to put others first and prioritize others’ needs, to think about others before thinking about ourselves, and that putting our needs first is just plain selfish.
I can relate to that response myself. Several years ago, when I first read, Dr. Kristen Neff’s book, “Self-Compassion-The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself”, I thought it was a great idea and theory…for my clients. When Dr. Neff suggested that I could talk to myself and treat myself with kindness, compassion, and gentleness my whole body flinched with a sense of unknowing and therefore, resistance. I was shocked at what a defensive stance my body took at just the thought of practicing self-love and kindness. Clearly there was work for me to do.
The more common practice I see with the women I work with as well as with friends and relatives is to instead, be really hard on themselves. I witness beautiful, strong, amazing women calling themselves names, expecting unrealistic things of themselves, being impatient and short with themselves, berating themselves for mistakes and not prioritizing their self-care. Usually this leads to them feeling depleted, unworthy, anxious and frustrated.
So, what to do? Let’s begin by understanding what self-love is and what it isn’t. For starters, self-love is a practice. By that I mean it’s something to be practiced daily in order for your brain to absorb the new memo that you’re not going to be unkind to yourself anymore. This takes time. We can’t undo a lifetime’s worth of belief systems overnight.
What self-love isn’t, is self-indulgent, self-pitying, or selfish. Self-indulgence implies that it’s some luxury that should be experienced only once in a while, on special occasions. Self-pitying implies that it’s you wallowing and stuck in your experience. Selfish implies that you’re only thinking of yourself, not anyone else. None of these are true about self-love. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Self-love helps you feel cared for and secure. If that’s indulgence, sign me up! Self-love helps you be with your feelings and experiences in a compassionate way and helps you move through, instead of staying stuck in it. Self-love is also a loving act, in that when you care for yourself and attend to your needs, those around you benefit as well. That’s quite the opposite of selfish.
The practice of loving yourself includes three different parts:
This means treating yourself and responding to yourself the way you would a good friend. You speak to yourself with kindness, gentleness and warmth instead of nastiness and meanness. You feel compassion in your heart for yourself and your situation. You prioritize yourself, you put yourself on your own to do list and make space for the things that bring you happiness and fun. You sit with your own feelings and experiences without judgement or “shoulding” yourself to death about what you “should” or “shouldn’t” be feeling. Instead you focus and respond to what you ARE feeling with tenderness. It means you take time to rest and relax if even in small spurts throughout the day. Self-compassion means simply that you recognize your humanity, offer yourself grace and kindness, and prioritize your needs.
This means being able to look under the hood so to speak, deep inside yourself, and exploring your behaviors, attitudes, feelings, ideas, etc. with gentleness and kindness. It means recognizing when you’re struggling and knowing how to take care of yourself in those moments of struggle. Self-awareness means getting to know yourself, your own operating manual, how you function, what your needs, goals, desires, triggers, and resources are. In doing so, you become more empowered over yourself and your life.
This means being able to hold yourself accountable for the things you do, say think, and feel. Do not mistake self-responsibility with blame. Self-responsibility offers grace and acceptance. Self-blame is critical and unkind. Self-responsibility means you stop blaming others and yourself, and you own your behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and actions. It means you find freedom in owning your stuff and using it as a platform for continued growth.
But how does self-love help us be successful? For starters, being kinder to ourselves gives us more energy to keep going. Think about how it feels to say horrible things about yourself and beat yourself up, how heavy and draining and depleting it feels. Beating ourselves up creates anxiety and distress which are big energy zappers.
When you are kind to yourself, treat yourself with tenderness, like you would a dear friend, you can get through the rough spots with more ease and without carrying the weight and depletion of self-deprecation. When you use gentle self-awareness and self-exploration to learn more about yourself, it gives you information on how to improve and then you can use that information to do better. Again, this is not self-criticism at all. It is a gentle curiosity about yourself and what’s happening with you. And lastly, when you take responsibility for your stuff, rather than blaming others or yourself, you can move through situations with more ease and gain knowledge about how you can continue to grow.
Having less stress and more ease, less weight and more freedom, less anxiety and more calmness, are all benefits of practicing self-love. By lightening the negativity load through the self-lovin’ practice, you can move through your business and personal goals with more enjoyment, a greater sense of empowerment and a more rooted connection to your goodness and sense of worth. Now THAT’S an energy source we can count on and the power to grasp it lies in our ability to decide to be kind to ourselves every day, once and for all.
Myriam Martinez is a Women's Personal Life Coach, Licensed Psychotherapist, and Registered Art Therapist based out of Northern California. Her calling in this life is to teach women how to find happiness, success, and ease in their lives through the power of self-love and compassion. To learn more about Myriam click here: https://www.myriammartinezcoaching.com/