What is self-love?

I’m guessing by now most of us know Valentine’s Day is on the horizon. A day for sharing your love for those closest to you. Personally, I’m a fan of doing that all year round but it’s a positive tradition so I won’t knock it, as it is a lovely thing to take part in.

The one thing I imagine we struggle with a bit more hits a bit closer to home – loving yourself. 

I was having a chat to a friend of mine about self-love and what it meant to him. Obviously, we got the raised eyebrows and innuendos, they’re hard to miss. But after that died down, the question was still hanging in the air – what does self-love mean to you? 

He couldn’t quite wrap his head around it. “Well, it means loving yourself”. Yes, but what does that mean? How does it look? How does it feel? 

I was on a bit of a mission here, because not only did I want an answer from him, I wanted some clarity myself. Because let’s be honest, it is a bit of a nebulous concept. It’s lovely in principle but the reality of it is pretty baffling and confusing. It’s also pretty uncomfortable. 

He found it uncomfortable, I found it uncomfortable, it’s an odd one to explore deep down. It feels self-indulgent, maybe a bit ‘hippy-ish’, and it probably goes against a lot of the messages that have been fed to us throughout our lives. 

As we drilled down, we came to a pretty interesting point – “I don’t hate myself, so surely I love myself, right?”. I get the logic. If there’s an absence of hate, then there must be an abundance of love. 

Except no. If it isn’t black, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s white. If it isn’t day, it isn’t necessarily night. There’s a whole spectrum between hate and love. So though not hating yourself is great, not loving yourself either means you’re stuck in this weird apathetic limbo between the two. 

And I think that’s where most people exist. For a lot of the time, that’s where I exist.

So I want you to imagine a line. Plonk yourself in the middle of the line. It’s beige, it’s magnolia. Not a lot going on. It does the job. Keeps you out of trouble.

At one end is all the “I hate myself” area. It’s where you say all the nasty, horrible things to yourself. It’s not a nice place to be. You belittle your skills, your looks, your opinions, your desires. Imagine a post-apocalyptic hell space with pitchforks and angry gremlins. It sucks.

At the other end is the “I love myself” area. This is where you focus on every single one of your good qualities, whether they conform with or defy expectations and standards. You celebrate them, you shout them from the rooftops, you share confidently and exuberantly just how awesome you are. You go for your goals because they matter to you and you believe in yourself. Imagine a wondrous, sparkly, rainbow-filled unicorn fiesta.

Ok, so you’re in the middle. But you’re not going to stay there. You’re not going to the I Hate Myself area. We’ve already agreed that sucks. But the I Love Myself Area? Seems a bit overwhelming, right? Especially when you’ve been pretty used to magnolia for all these years. All those rainbows are pretty damn bright and those unicorns still have horns and horns could be dangerous! 

If the I Love Myself end feels uncomfortable, that’s ok. It’s not a message we’re used to hearing. In fact, we’re used to being told that what we are isn’t enough (usually in really sly and passive ways by the media). So, the idea of loving yourself is alien to a lot of people.

But we’re going to make a small step towards it. Only a little one. Something simple.

Think about one thing you like about yourself. ONE thing you LIKE. We love an achievable goal.

“I like my smile”

“I’m really good at making cups of tea”

“I make my girlfriend laugh”

“I made a really nice cake”.

Don’t forget to use ‘I’ statements. “I am…I can…I do…”. Because whatever it is, you are it. Own it. Believe it.

Now, that felt ok, right? Maybe it felt a bit weird, that makes sense. We’re moving out of our comfort zone. But deep down, it probably set off a tiny little firework inside you. I little jolt of yay-ness. It may have been dampened pretty quickly, but you sparkled for a bit, and I bet you enjoyed it.

And now you’ve set off a colourful firework inside you, I bet the magnolia beige-ness of your surroundings probably feel a bit bland. So why not take another step towards the I Love Myself area. Say another lovely thing about yourself. Write it down. Keep it in a jar. Savour it. Appreciate it.  

To me, self-love is active. It can be small, it might be unseen and unheard but it happens. You actively engage in loving all you are. You take time – mental time, emotional time, to actively recognise your good qualities.

And if we do it one day a year on the 14th February, that’s a pretty good start. But don’t ever forget that you deserve to feel like this on the other 364 as well.

Note: If you’re not even feeling you’re in the middle of the line, that’s ok. Maybe you started off much closer to the Hate end than the middle. That’s ok too. The pull of the Hate end is pretty damn strong. But you can move out of it. Just take the same small steps. Maybe you get drawn back to it afterwards, that’s perfectly natural. Gradually practicing self-love will help to reduce the negative thoughts you’re experiencing, and although it may seem futile at the moment, believe it can get better and it will. :) 


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