Author Name: Udita Singh
Qualifications: BA (Hons), MA- Applied Psychology (specialisation in clinical psychology).
Designation: Consultant Psychologist, ACRO Mental Health & Wellness.
Word count: 1,546 words
Reading time: 14 minutes
Reviewed by: Aishwarya Krishna Priya, Mariyam Mohammed & Ayesha Begum.
A girl reading a book
“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance”.
Oscar Wilde (1)
What is self-love?
Self-love is a topic that has not been addressed very openly, especially in Asian culture (2). One of the reasons for this is that many people tend to believe that self-love is a selfish act. (3).We have been taught that it is always good to help others, that it is good and “normal” to sacrifice your own needs to help others (4). Rarely, do we see discussions happening between friends or family members about what is self-love and how to practise it (5). Self-love is a subject that people usually do not actively accept, let alone practise, but there are a lot of benefits of practising self-love (6,7). The most significant benefit is that by practising loving ourselves, our relationships, friendships and our work relations with colleagues improve and strengthen (8).
Self-love is how we treat and behave with our close friends and loved ones (9). Whenever a close friend of ours is going through something difficult, maybe a painful breakup, we are very attentive towards our friends, we try to make them feel better by maybe taking them out for a drive or a movie, or simply being present with them (10). Similarly, if a loved one is going through something painful like grief, we may lend them a shoulder to cry on, and act in a way that might make them feel good, even if it's temporary (11). Likewise, self-love is the process through which we treat ourselves with love and kindness not only when we are going through something difficult, but even on our good days (12). Loving ourselves is a process, and it is a practice (13). Self-love can be achieved only if it is consistently practised over a certain period (14).
Why is it so tough to practise self-love?
Self-love is difficult to practise (15). One of the reasons why it’s so difficult is having low self-esteem and a distorted view of one’s worth (16). We might think less of ourselves because our close ones or other adults in our lives might have repeatedly criticised us or shamed us. It becomes wired in our brains and becomes a pattern over time (17,18). Before you notice it, we might start to believe that we are not good enough or we are a failure due to the repetitive criticism that we might receive from our parents or school teachers or any other adult in our lives (19,20).
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
When we have low self-esteem and self-confidence, we tend to rely upon how other people view us and whether they approve of us (22). People with low self-esteem crave approval and validation from others to feel better about themselves (23). We are not born with low self-esteem; it develops and gets conditioned within us (24,25). A crucial point to be noted here is that the way we usually feel about ourselves, how we tend to make sense of the world, how we perceive other people’s behaviour, and how we essentially respond to stressful situations, depends on what we think of ourselves and how we interpret other people’s perceptions of us (26). Our self-worth primarily gets influenced by how our parents behave with us and essentially what they say to us (27, 28).
Our childhood experiences have a huge impact on how we view ourselves; but whether we have low self-esteem or not does not entirely depend on our childhood experiences (29). Various circumstances in our lives might manifest in us a low sense of self-worth: a failed project, rejection from a potential partner, bullying, unable to achieve a set goal or objective, etc (30). The point to remember is that low self-esteem is acquired and it can be unlearned. Instead, actions can be taken to boost self-esteem (31). One of the significant things we can do is start practising self-love (32,33).
“We just need to be kinder to ourselves. if we treated ourselves the way we treated our best friend, can you imagine how much better off we would be?”
Meghan Markle (34)
What are some ways to practise self-love?
Since it is quite difficult to practise self-love, some steps could be taken to start practising self-love(35). The first step that is comparatively easier than the other ways, is doing regular exercise and eating healthy meals (36). The more we take care of our bodies, the more we would feel good about ourselves(37). Eating healthy and regularly exercising positively impacts various aspects of life like improvement in sleep quality, maintaining healthy body weight, improvement in mood, and many more health benefits (38). So, the right diet, nutritious drinks, and regularly engaging in exercise can be the first step towards practising self-love (39,40).
We usually praise and celebrate if we achieve something big (41). Our definition of being successful is completing or achieving a huge task at work or getting a promotion, scoring well in exams, etc(42). Our primary focus is usually on our “big wins” (43). However, we tend to forget to celebrate our small wins (44). Even if they are “small”, they are worth it as we put our efforts into them (45). Some examples are: writing a to-do list and ticking off some items on it, drinking 2-3 litres of water in a day, taking out time to read a book that you have been meaning to read for a long time and completing it, when you find the motivation to join a class to learn something new, finding the time to spend in nature, catching up with a friend after a long time over a cup of coffee, etc (46, 47). We spend so much time on our long-term goals and being accepted by other people and society, that we forget to do the things we want to do; but are too afraid to take out time for (48). So, maybe we can take out some time for celebrating the little things too…which is a beautiful way to practice self-love (49).
“Document the moments you feel most in love with yourself- what you’re wearing, who you’re around, what you’re doing. Recreate and repeat.”
Warsan Shire (50)
Self-love with a cup of coffee
Becoming self-aware is another crucial step to take in order to be more loving towards oneself (51). When we make an effort to find out why we behave the way we behave and what drives our thoughts and actions, it will bring to the forefront our deep and hidden negative beliefs (52). So, the moment we gather the courage to question or dispute our negative beliefs, we would become more accepting and kinder towards ourselves (53).
Journaling to become self-aware
Furthermore, instead of setting large goals, we can try to break them down into smaller ones that might be more achievable (54). When our small goals are achieved, we can feel better and this would help in boosting confidence (55). Also, we are not alone…asking for help when we are feeling stuck, would help us to be more effective and productive (56). Notice how we are so present and available to help others when they need us. Similarly, there is no harm in asking for help when you need it (57).
Practising mindfulness is another important step in practising self-love (58). Since we are so occupied with our work and studies, we barely focus on the present (59). Practising mindfulness helps us to stay in the present moment and take a step back from our hectic schedules (60,61).
What are the downsides of practising self-love?
Even though practising self-love has numerous benefits, there are a few downsides too (62). Firstly, it could be a little impractical (63). For instance, things or people that are not healthy for you mentally and emotionally, removing them from your life is a great way to love yourself, but it’s easier said than done; especially cutting toxic people out of your life (64).
Secondly, you might lose the people you love and care about because you start to see things clearly and some people might not like that you are practising self-love (65). Moreover, by practising self-love to an extreme, we might start putting the term “positivity” out there a lot, even when we don’t have to be positive (66,67). When something tragic happens, we might find it difficult to “be positive”, hence, there is a fine line between healthy ways of loving ourselves and “toxic positivity” (68,69).
“To fall in love with yourself is the first secret to happiness.”
Robert Morley (70).
Lastly, we all have experiences that were painful for us. We tend to focus on regrets and things that are not in our control anymore (71).We might ponder over the “what if” questions…the things we could have done differently (72). An important way of practising self-love is being kind and compassionate towards your past experiences and the things we have done in our past (73,74). This is a gradual process, and this is quite difficult too. But the act of being compassionate towards oneself is a crucial part of practising self-love (75,76)
Mental health professionals could help in helping you realise the ways in which you can adopt the practice of loving yourself, and help you in improving your self-esteem, interpersonal relationships, as well as your professional proficiency (77).
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