STEP 1 TO FINDING SELF-LOVE
Self-love is a term that has been thrown about a bit recently. And for a good reason; we all need to show ourselves a bit more love whilst living in a society that always tries to knock us down. A world that tells us we always need to be doing more, doing better; bombarding us with constant sources of comparison, whether that be with the shape of our bodies or the success of our careers or the objects that we own.
But as we begin to question the meaning of self-love, a phrase which at times can seem a bit airy-fairy, a lot of us can begin to feel a bit, well, lost.
So as I’m trying to navigate my own ‘self-love’ I thought I would begin a little series on here, to share what i’m learning, the stages of my journey and what the meaning of the phrase manifests into for me.
When we say ‘self-love’ (I want to die with how many times I’m going to type those eight letters) a few things might spring to mind. Images of yourself prancing around in a bikini shouting ‘I love my body!!!!’ when inside you’re anxious and uncomfortable, treating yourself to that thing you’ve been pining over in hope that it’ll bring you that satisfaction it’s promised, indulging in the forbidden food of your choice and using ‘self love’ as an attempt to mask the guilt?
Here’s the mistake - self-love can’t be something planned, or something forced. Neither can it be something placed onto the external; it can’t be bought or earned, and it shouldn’t be used to justify actions or mask unwanted emotions.
So how do we practice self-love then? How can we begin this journey to feel better, feel GOOD within ourselves, and do things that actually make a difference?
I wrote earlier that self-love can’t be something planned or forced. And whilst I do still hold my ground to that statement, I guess it’s not reaaaally the case. I suppose what I meant to say is, that the end result can’t magically appear. Because in reality, there is no ‘end goal’ or result where anyone feels totally 100000% amazing all the time (at least, I am yet to discover/hear of someone that is.) You can’t decide that you’re going to love every aspect of your being and wake up the next morning and have it nailed. It’s a process, a journey, like with every aspect of life, and like I keep referring to in my incredibly long and annoying instagram captions (that, hopefully, do speak some truth.)
On the other hand, you CAN plan to begin this process, and consciously make an effort daily to improve your relationship with your inner being. And in turn, you can improve many other aspects of your life.
The first step in doing so, for me personally has been identifying where my lack of self-love/worth/esteem comes from. And no, I don’t mean psychologising your entire life, looking back into your childhood events and people that affected you - although all of this is completely valid and can at times be very beneficial and constructive in sorting our our emotional issues, and for some people identifying these factors can really help in moving forward. But for me personally, i’ve found that whilst it can be positive to think about these things and identify them, I can find myself getting a bit too caught up in the past. It’s easy to identify an issue, but actually taking action and resolving it’s consequences in the present is the difficult part, and something that’s easily forgotten or brushed to the side. The past can help you accept and understand your lack of self-love, but it can’t be an excuse to stay in that negative space. Identifying how you got into the position you’re in doesn’t actually change your position, or help you move forward in life.
I mean in a much more general sense. For me, it’s that I’m just too hard on myself. All that critical thinking we’ve been taught to do throughout school (I mean, not a bad thing per say, I can write ya a pretty mean essay on your novel/poem/play of choice) has contributed, alongside my perfectionistic, high strung, type A, ambitious personality to me being a bit too critical of my own life and self. Having gone through the realisation that a lot of the thoughts my brain has (or still does have) have been irrational or detrimental or, as I like to blatantly call them, ‘stupid’, my instinctual response is to almost continue or extend those thoughts that from a place of self-loathing/low self-worth/general critical thinking. My response, strangely, is to FUTHER beat myself up, by being annoyed or frustrated for even having the thoughts to begin with. A vicious cycle, catch-22 situation allllllll over again.
So here I am, in a situation where I’m having a negative thought because I’m critical of myself, then I’m having another negative thought because I’m being critical of the fact that I’m being critical of myself. And then I get frustrated because I don’t know how to stop being critical, or how to break this cycle that keeps manifesting.
And let me tell you, it’s only recently that I’ve been able to begin to break this cycle. And even now, I’m not always successful - sometimes the anxiety and the negativity gets all a bit too much and I turn into a crying, overwhelmed, irritable mess who feels helpless and useless and worthless and like nothing is ever going to get better. But of course, it does. I keep reminding myself that I’m the living, breathing evidence that is does.
Criticism —> Compassion.
These are the two words that have formed the basis of my inner shift, my complete change in mindset.
Now this might seem like I’m throwing the wishy washy ‘self-love’ ideal out there, that I’m now a hypocrite of all the stuff I rambled about up there. That this arrow depicts how easy ! and simple ! it is to just love yourself ! and your life ! and your body! and everything you do ! and be happy !
But this little word diagram isn’t as simple as it appears, and I’m sorry to deceive but it manages to sum up the entirety of this blog post into something quick and catchy and visually pleasing, so please forgive me for including. This diagram is something that actually has some process behind it, which I’m now going to begin to explain.
A negative, self-depreciating thought towards myself or my actions enters my head. I realise it’s there, and begin to fuel it further with feelings of frustration, anger, annoyance… but I stop.
Instead, I let it sit there for a moment. I acknowledge it’s presence. And think about the part of me that this thought is coming from.
These negative thoughts come from a place inside me that is scared. It comes from a place where I feel alone, overwhelmed by pressure and feelings of not being worthy or good enough. The thoughts I have are a response in order to protect me; criticising my every move in order that I CAN improve, can get better, can keep up with the pressures and comparisons around me and the negative environment or stressful event I encounter.
In a strange, twisted way, the negativity comes from a place of self-love. A place of care and want for survival.
I remind myself of this, and tell myself that actually, it’s okay. I don’t need to engage in those thoughts to survive, to be able to function in life, to feel in control. I’ve got this.
I remind myself that feeling or thinking those things isn’t ‘bad’ - in fact, if anything, it’s good. It means that I’m looking out for myself - just that along the way my mind has forgotten what truly looking out for myself looks like, and in trying to do so has become a little confused; disguising itself as something negative, detrimental, something that looks like self-hatred.
I tell myself thanks, but no thanks.
And instead of frustratedly burying this negative emotion that’s targeting some part of me (which let me tell you, doesn’t end well), in response to telling myself I shouldn’t be feeling that way, I simply appreciate it, remember that it doesn’t serve me, and l e t i t g o.
In my journey so far, I’ve learnt that practicing self-love tends to be a lot more subtle than it’s made out to be. I’m all for mantras and morning routines and speaking to yourself in the mirror, but sometimes I feel it can gives off an impression that neglects what the majority of self-love looks like, which is a LOT of invisible inner work. Sometimes, those external actions you can take are a little too much, a little too soon.
But all that said, no matter what you decide your self-love practice to look like, whether that be focused on the internal side or more tangible actions, I believe that the most important aspect, one that goes for anything in life, is the art of staying consistent. I think a lot of people can be a bit put off by how explicit self-love and self-care can seem and become discouraged, or feel too embarrassed or uncomfortable to actually make this a practice you engage in daily, until it becomes second nature. Remember that this is YOUR journey, neither me or anyone else can tell you what you need to do to embark on it, and whichever approach you feel works best for you is the right one.
So there you have it. Step 1 in my journey to loving myself more has simply been being more compassionate; acting and thinking with the same compassion I do towards others to myself, and shifting away from that critical, condescending mindset.
Sending oceans of love to you all (and hoping that you begin to sail that self-love ocean within) (okay that was too much),