There is an undeniable selfishness to self-love… but nonetheless it is good, right and necessary to love yourself passionately.
I write and talk about love all the time. Love this, love that, love everyone, love love love. It can get annoying. I believe love is the base note for all good things in our lives and world, and self-love is the natural, and most transformative, place to start. It’s not that we can’t love others if we don’t love ourselves. That’s a myth. Of course we can, and do, every day. It’s just that we become better at loving in general when we give love to ourselves first — generously and often.
What is self-love? Simply, it is the act of loving ourselves, through our thoughts, words and actions. Easier said than done, right? At least it is for me. Worth the effort, though. I promise.
One of the questions I get asked the most at my workshops and on my social media Q&As is this:
How do I learn to love myself?
Now that’s an important question. It’s easy to talk about self-love and tell people “just love yourself,” but the reality of that intention can be difficult for most of us, especially those of us with critical, abrasive, abusive human minds. Like me. Like you, too, I’m guessing. Like everyone. Our minds are imaginative and resilient and clever, sure. They’re also giant assholes a lot of the time.
I don’t know why our minds are dead set on making our lives miserable, but I’ve learned that I can often choose whether or not I want to participate in the misery.
I’ve learned that I don’t have to believe my thoughts, particularly when they’re hellbent on suggesting I’m an unlovable monster. My mind lies all the time. I bet yours does too. It’s one of the mind’s favorite things to do, especially where self-worth is concerned. So, I’ve stopped believing it, and I recommend it. Highly. There’s no rule that says we have to take all of the mind’s abuse as truth.
Maybe your mind sounds like mine sometimes: Nobody likes you. You are broken beyond repair. You’re a total disappointment. You will always fail. You’re one ugly mo-fo.
Any of that familiar? Well I call bullshit. You can too. It’s okay to call a liar a liar, and then get on with being an undeniably lovable rock-star. The mind will catch up to that truth. To some extent. Eventually.
Self-love doesn’t just invite me to refute the lies of my mind, but also replace them with affirmative thoughts that speak to my inherent worth (and beauty and general awesomeness) as a human being.
Example: When my mind tells me I’m a disgusting troll, I remind myself that I am beautiful, exactly as I am. When my mind insists I am worthless and unlovable, I affirm myself as worthy and loved — again, exactly as I am.
I used to resist the idea of self-loving affirmations. I found them corny and artificial. Why would I tell myself something I don’t believe? Because, love doesn’t emanate from the mind, so the mind is irrelevant where love is concerned. I know that when I tell myself I am beautiful and enough, I am connecting to my heart, to love’s home, to the part in me that recognizes my worth and divinity without question.
It doesn’t matter whether or not I believe the love I’m offering myself; it matters that I keep offering it.
It matters that I continuously open a line of connection to my heart, to love, to the fact that I am a child of God and as such am as worthy as every other human being on the planet. The belief will come. In time. If you don’t believe in God, by the way, no problem. You are a child of Nature, and as such are as worthy as every other human being on the planet. There’s really no way around our worth. It’s inherent.
The more we pay attention to our thoughts, the more in line with love we can direct them to be, and the kinder and more compassionate they will become, to others and to ourselves. It takes awareness, commitment, and practice. It takes a dogged willingness to acknowledge our self-abusive thoughts and replace them with self-loving ones. Bottom line:
It’s work — I’d argue the most important work we can do. And it feels a helluva lot better than criticizing and hating ourselves all day long.
We can’t stop with our thoughts; we’ve got to consider our actions, as well. I’m talking about self-care, but not just lavender baths and dark chocolate binges (two perfectly respectable self-care habits, of course). What choices are we making, in all areas of our lives, that add more peace, meaning or joy to our reality? Reflect on those and make more of them. This is how we take care of ourselves. This is how we love ourselves.
Now, what choices are we making that add more anxiety, discomfort and misery to our lives? This is an equally important question to consider. Think about it, and try to make fewer of those choices. If it sounds easy, that’s because it can be. More of the good, less of the yuck. And repeat. If we did no other thing but consider the way our choices affect us, and choose accordingly, we’d see marked changes in our lives. Consider your choices. Consider your well-being. Consider yourself.
Are you feeling some resistance to the idea of self-love? Nice people, like most of us who read Best Self Magazine, can tend to feel guilty about putting ourselves first and terrified to be judged by others as the dreaded S-word. Yes, I’m talking about selfish. After one of my many self-love diatribes in a recent workshop, a woman raised her hand then shouted out:
“Isn’t self-love selfish, and isn’t selfishness a bad thing?” Yes and no, and no and yes, respectively.
Self-love is definitely selfish in that we’re talking about loving ourselves. All acts with our own interests in mind are selfish to some degree, though, and we’re almost always considering our own interests to some extent. Life is generous, though.
Every single time we’re selfishly offering ourselves our own love, we’re serving every single human being with whom we come into contact.
I for one am a much kinder person when I love myself, and much more inclined to be a jackass when I don’t. Can you relate? In that way, self-love is the most selfish and generous action we can take.
Selfishness takes an ugly turn when we intentionally hurt others in order to get what we want. Whenever I’m intentionally trying to cause another human being emotional pain, I can trust I’m not operating from love — of the other person or of myself. In those moments, I know that I will serve the circumstance well by asking the question, “What does love invite me to do right now?” Whenever we consider love, we add something positive to the situation. Sometimes my love recognizes that I feel too deprived or angry to offer anything healthy, and the best choice I can make in the moment is to disengage. In my experience, love always knows the right thing to do. We just need to open a dialogue and get better at listening to it.
The Buddha said, “If you truly loved yourself, you could never hurt another.”
I love that quote so much; it’s the essence of self-love. When I move through the world connected to the ocean of love that lives within me, connected to the truth that I am worthy and divine exactly as I am, all I have to offer the world is this deep love in return. That’s the magnificent gift of love: it always transcends itself. Any act of love we show for others benefits our own lives, and any act of love we show for ourselves benefits the entire world.
Make no mistake: to focus on love of yourself, first and foremost, is the greatest gift you can give to yourself, your loved ones, and our planet.
And there’s no better time to start than today. Right now, in fact.
Here’s a pledge I wrote for myself and like to read at my workshops. I recommend making this commitment to yourself — in your thoughts, words and actions — and then pay attention to the new possibilities and connections you create in your life from doing so.
I commit to loving myself with everything I’ve got, even when I’m inclined not to, even when my mind directs me otherwise, even when others treat me poorly, even when I’m exhausted and overwhelmed and feel like I have nothing more to give. Even then, I will give my love to myself, because I am important, and worthy, and divine. I will love myself wholly, wildly and without inhibition, because I understand that by doing so I open my entire world to choices, connections and realities rooted in this love I give to myself. By loving myself, I invite love into every aspect of my life, as well as the lives of everyone I encounter. I commit to loving myself, because I am a being of love and function at my beautiful best when I live in, from and with this astounding wealth of love I have to share. For these reasons, and for every other life-affirming reason that exists in this world, I hereby commit to loving myself with absolutely everything I’ve got.
You are worth this pledge to yourself.
You deserve the deepest and truest love you have to give. Your love — to you. It will change your everything. So, grab your journals — here’s to your best loving self!
You may also enjoy reading Giving and Receiving Love: Releasing Negative Thoughts and Beliefs by Bridgitte Jackson-Buckley.