Self love practices have become as popular as the trendiest fitness classes in the quest for greater health and wellness. From crystals to mantras, everyone seems to have jumped on the bad wagon heading straight to optimum personal awareness. With so many channels available nowadays that focus on nurturing this TLC, is self love really as easy to achieve as signing up for a 10-class meditation package?
First things first, self love isn't loving everything about yourself. It's not about being perfect. It's also not conditional like, "When I lose 10 pounds, I’ll be happy." One of the biggest myths around self love is that it's reserved for those who devote all of their time, energy, even careers to self actualisation.
What it actually is however, is a complex, dynamic and non-judgmental relationship that you cultivate within, in which you respect and appreciate your self. It's a celebration of the traits that you love and nurture, and a tolerance for those parts of you that represent your less-than-ideal self – the ones that you're more likely to criticise and from where anxiety stems.
If you would like to explore more on how to manage and curb your anxiety, read this article.
Why is it important to love yourself first
Establishing a loving relationship with yourself provides countless emotional and physical health benefits. People who nurture self love are more likely to experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, make better personal health decisions like quitting smoking and eating healthier, and feel resilient in the face of difficult situations, such as losing a job or going through a painful divorce.
How to love yourself when you don't know how
Like every other relationship in your life, the one with yourself requires on-going attention – think of it as a journey, not a destination. This means that you don’t simply decide to love yourself and expect that to be enough. Rather, you choose to love yourself every day and then actively seek out opportunities to cultivate this relationship as often as possible.
For many, choosing to love themselves is a monumental feat. Often, they feel they aren't deserving of love because it wasn't present in their early life experiences and relationships. We end up internalising these messages and carrying on the legacy of shame, treating ourselves in the same critical, conditional way we ourselves were once treated.
If you can relate to this struggle, ask yourself the following questions and notice the answers that organically come up:
1. As a child, what type of love was modelled for you? Unconditional love? Conditional love? No love?
2. What life experiences, if any, left you feeling unloveable?
3. When you think about the idea of loving yourself, what thoughts and feelings come up for you?
4. Do you struggle with anxiety, depression, perfectionism, shame, and/or critical self reflection?
A big part of developing a loving relationship with yourself is giving back this shame and starting to truly believe that you are worthy of love.
Next, it's important to identify how you feel loved. Much like in your relationship with a partner or friend, you have to know what makes you feel special, cared for and loved. For some, it could be spending quiet time alone immersed in a favourite hobby. For others, it's getting together with good friends and having a barrel of laughs. If you’re not sure how you can feel loved from within, start by treating your body well and meeting your basic needs. Tending to your general wellbeing will not only evoke positive feelings from within, it will also help you begin to see the deeper areas in your life that are less-than-ideal and need to be improved.
How to build confidence and self esteem
1. Feed your body regularly with high quality, nourishing food.
2. Go to bed when you’re tired and get enough sleep. The average adult needs between 7-9 hours a night.
3. Rest when you’re not feeling well or feel run down.
4. Avoid mood-altering substances like caffeine, alcohol and drugs.
5. Move your body in some way every day. Whether you go for a morning walk, hit the gym or stretch at night while watching TV – your body was designed to move so make sure you love it in that way a little bit each day.
6. Create space each day for personal reflection. This can be done through meditation, prayer, journaling or some other form of checking in with yourself. It's in this silence that your body will tell you what it needs, and it's your job to listen.
Once you learn what you want, like and need, begin working to give this to yourself regularly. Develop a nourishing routine with these new lifestyle changes you've tried and like, that suit you.
For many, the early stages of developing self love feels foreign and awkward. Some people say they feel selfish or silly for admitting that they like and want to treat themselves well. Remember that it’s okay to feel this way and it’s important to do it anyway. The more you practice giving yourself love, the more comfortable you will become with this relationship and the more you will embrace it as a beautiful part of your life. There are a plethora of ways to love yourself from the inside out.
Here are some routines to create for yourself to love yourself more:
1. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to your child or your best friend. Many people are so kind to others, but are overly critical of themselves. It's very important to challenge this inner critic, so practice talking to yourself in ways that you talk to others. You are deserving of the same kindness and compassion you so readily give to everyone else.
2. Pursue your dreams and goals, even if others don’t support you or understand you. One of the greatest acts of self love is to create a life that you love, not one that everyone else loves.
3. Allow yourself to make mistakes and be imperfect. Mistakes are where we grow, learn and improve. Without mistakes our lives would be uneventful and dull. Embrace your mistakes as learning opportunities and remind yourself that ‘perfect’ is an illusion – it's not possible, therefore it it's not a realistic expectation to have of yourself.
4. Implement healthy boundaries in relationships that are unhealthy, one-sided or abusive. Part of loving yourself is requiring the people close to you to love you as well. Toxic relationships chip away at your sense of worthiness, so it’s important to take inventory of your relationships and evaluate which ones are healthy, which ones need to be improved and which ones need to go.
5. Take time to be silly, playful and child-like. As adults, we tend to become hard-working, responsible people who like to 'have it all together' and be highly functional. While this part of ourselves is wonderful and keeps us engaged in our adult responsibilities, we can’t forget that we all still have a childlike side that needs to relax and play every once in a while! Building playful time into your regular routine is a great way to experience self love.
6. Talk to others about your struggles with self awareness. Being human and learning to love ourselves is hard work and we’re not designed to do this kind of work alone. Find those safe people in your life who you can be vulnerable with, and share with them your successes and challenges with this messy process. You may be surprised that they too struggle. This sense of connection with others who understand what you’re experiencing tends to be very comforting and encouraging.
7. Treat yourself to therapy if you feel uncomfortable or uncertain with these steps towards developing a loving relationship with yourself. Consider working with a mental health professional who can walk with you along this journey. As humans, we’re wired to need connection with and support from others, especially when trying to make changes and nurture our souls, so love yourself enough to seek out help – there’s no need to do this alone!
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