"If you can’t love yourself, no-one will,” my mum has said over and over again. I didn’t realise how important her advice was till well into my 20s, when I questioned why guys I liked didn’t treat me the way mum said I deserved. Why would they, when I shush anyone who pays me anything even remotely close to a compliment? I didn’t believe I was awesome, so why would some random guy think so? But things have changed a lot since I turned 30. With the big 3-oh, you learn to just accept yourself for who you are. Better yet, you learn to celebrate all those chunks, clumps and lumps that add up to perfection, aka YOU! Before you go looking for Mr Right, stop for a second, and take our word (clichéd but true): the only person whose opinion really matters is you. So, if you don’t yet, learn to love you first. Madeeha Afridi, a counselling pyschologist at The LightHouse Wellbeing Center, a mental health and wellness clinic in Dubai, tells you what self-love is, why it’s important, and how to get started on being your own bae now:
How Would You Define Self Love?
The term ‘self-love’ has been at the forefront of mainstream psychology for quite a few years now, and there are a myriad of ways to define it. It’s the care, understanding, support, empathy, and respect we have for ourselves, especially during tough and challenging times. For some people, it’s easy to love their strengths and achievements. However, how is one able to acknowledge—with sensitivity and kindness for their own selves—when they’ve made a mistake or done something regrettable? Are they able to cut themselves some slack and treat themselves with just as much love and care even through the lows? Or, do they crumble?
It’s important to note that most of us speak of self-love in a narrow way, as just experiencing the emotion of love. However, if we can expand our view of it by including terms such as ‘self-compassion’, ‘self-soothing’, ‘self-nurture’, ‘self-respect’, and ‘self-forgiveness’, all practices that lead to self-love, we can create a broader idea of what it really means to love and accept ourselves unconditionally.
How Do You Practice Self Love?
Take self-responsibility: When most of us think of self-love, we usually don’t think of self-responsibility. In reality, however, they’re both correlated, and can’t exist without each another.
When we’re young, we’re naturally dependent on others to take all responsibility for us—physical and emotional—and nurture us with love. However, as we grow, and come into our own, we learn to take care of our ourselves, love and prioritise ourselves, our needs and wants.
For many people, though, this self-love and prioritising themselves isn’t easy. They may even struggle in implementing these characteristics in their daily life. It could either be because they weren’t taught how to express or emote by their parents or caretakers, or simply because they don’t know where to begin.
1. Make a plan: A good way to begin self-love is by reflecting on and journalling stuff that makes you feel loved, nurtured and cared for. It’ll also help to be specific about your needs and wants. Then start incorporating all of it in your everyday life. This way, instead of passively relying on others, you take the empowered approach and evoke them from within you.
2. Have a great relationship with yourself: Loving oneself is a multi-layered process, and a lifelong journey. Start by reiterating to yourself your beliefs, vision, strengths, and aspirations, while being open to changes. Self-awareness is another big step. If you’ve been brushing certain feelings under the carpet, or haven’t made efforts to heal from your past unpleasant experiences, loving yourself can feel difficult.
3. Spend time with yourself: We live in a fast-paced, over-stimulated world, where, often, there’s no scope for any alone time. However, it is extremely crucial to connect with yourself, and to be able to realise your intrinsic worth. Don’t worry, taking some ‘me’ time for some self-reflection and self-care doesn’t cause loneliness; more often than not, it only deepens the bond with oneself.
4. Be open to love: Another big step to feeling loved is to let love in. Often, consciously or subconsciously, perhaps due to past heartbreaks, we tend to block love out. Madeeha says she always tells her clients to give love another chance. A simple yet powerful way can be to tell yourself, ‘I’ll allow myself to love and feel loved unconditionally’.
5. Learn to self-reflect: Writing can be a powerful tool when it comes to valuing and loving yourself. Use it in your journey of self-love by regularly writing down personal achievements, experiences of gratitude, and instances/deeds that you’re proud of, like, say, how you were kind to yourself on a particular day. Madeeha tells her clients to journal their ‘Aha moments’—of personal realisation—that made them feel good about themselves, and excited about the way they are evolving into their fullest potential.
6. Believe in the power of words: Be mindful of the words you use in your daily life. People often fall in the habit of casually speaking negatively about themselves or their life, which can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy—these words may actually come true. Use words to uplift and encourage yourself, not to bring you down.
SIGNS YOU DON'T LOVE YOU
You’re burned out: When you’re neglecting yourself, it’s natural to feel irritable, frustrated, restless, and other such strong, overpowering emotions...which then start affecting other areas of your life, including work and relationships.
You don’t care for yourself: Another indicator that you have stopped prioritising yourself is your daily self-care habits such as eating healthy and on time, sleeping well, exercising, investing in social activities and hobbies, and the like. When one starts neglecting themselves and their needs, it adversely affects not just them but even those around them.
In short, the only takeaway from these exhaustive to-dos is to start with the basics—put yourself on top of the priority list!