SELF-LOVE: THE SECRET INGREDIENT TO A TASTY LIFE
“Commit to loving yourself completely. It’s the most radical thing you will do in your lifetime.” – Andrea Gibson
Valentine’s Day is here. As much as I love any excuse to eat chocolate, let’s pause this Hallmark holiday for a moment to talk about a fabulous form of love that’s often overlooked — love for ourselves.
I once read somewhere that life is like a bus ride, and you’re the driver. The scenery will change and so will the passengers. Some people will be with you for most of your route, while others will only ride a few stops. The only person on the bus for the entire journey is you. Therefore, it’s obviously in your best interest to love driving.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing selfish about prioritizing your happiness. Loving yourself is ultimately a more generous way of living than the alternative. How can you spread love to others if you hold none for yourself?
So let’s dive in for a chat about why we lack self-love, how this hinders us, and some steps you can take to cultivate a strong self-love practice.
For many of us, the problem starts here:
When we lack self-love, we’re often unaware of it.
As odd as it may seem, many people don’t realize they don’t love themselves. The issue often bubbles to the surface when our subconscious comes out to play. This can happen when we’re doing things like dreaming, meditating, and especially drinking.
There are also people who believe they love themselves, when in fact they don’t. It’s hard to know what self-love feels like when it’s foreign to you.
I fell into the latter category until the fallout of a particularly tumultuous relationship landed me in therapy. My ex-partner had had a longstanding anger issue he couldn’t control. We had also gone through an accidental pregnancy and subsequent abortion. In the aftermath of these experiences, coupled with the breakup, my ability to function had apparently gone on sabbatical.
I sat in this psychologist’s office and spilled my entire wounded soul onto the table in front of us. I detailed how unmanageable it felt to be blamed for my partner’s rage all the time. How the stress of walking on eggshells was making me sick. How the gaslighting had made me lose faith in my perception of reality.
On and on I went, trying to justify my feelings and convince this woman of my god-given right to my nervous breakdown. “I just couldn’t take it anymore,” I sobbed.
She stared at me, blinking. “Of course you couldn’t.”
I stared back, tears pouring from my face.
“It’s not your responsibility to put up with abuse. Why would you think it should be?”
That question, in all its simplicity, set off a light bulb. Indeed, I had been operating under the belief that I was obligated to put my ex’s feelings ahead of my own. Walking away, in my mind, would’ve made me an uncompromising, unempathetic person.
Looking at the big picture, I could see that this had been a pattern in many of my past relationships, and this ninja psychologist had brought it to my attention. I had a problem. I didn’t love myself. And more than that, I had no idea how to begin.
The signs of a self-love deficit
Prioritizing the feelings of others to the point of self-destruction is just one example of how a lack of self-love can manifest. Here are some other indications that you may be in need of a self-love boost:
- You crave the validation of others and feel upset if it doesn’t come.
- You shift your opinions and actions to impress people, rather than operating from a place of confidence and conviction.
- Disapproval, regardless of where it’s coming from, feels terrifying.
- You have trouble setting boundaries with people and end up accepting terrible treatment as a result.
- You’d rather stay in toxic relationships than be alone.
- When you are alone, self-critical thoughts send you on a downward spiral.
- Loss feels crippling. “How will I survive without that person in my life?”
We all experience these issues at certain points, but existence is painful when this becomes your personal status quo. No one deserves to live this way. So how do we allow ourselves to get to this point?
Most of us aren’t taught to love ourselves.
It can be hard to understand how someone could suffer from such low self-worth. In spite of my past experiences, I still look at friends and think, “You light up the lives of so many people! How can you not know how wonderful you are?”
Self-love isn’t generated automatically. It’s a result of healthy mental habits, and a lot of us don’t learn to develop them as we grow up. In fact, we’re usually taught to feel the opposite.
From childhood we’re encouraged to see our bodies as enemies rather than allies. Many physical functions that help us survive are said to be sources of shame. We’re taught that nakedness is embarrassing. We’re not “beautiful” unless our bodies fit an unattainable ideal of attractiveness.
We’re also taught to distrust our minds. We’re told that our ideas lack validity compared to those of people who are older and more experienced, even when this isn’t true. Our failures are ridiculed and internalized as reflections of our inherent value, rather than necessary elements of growth.
Over time our brains become hardwired toward guilt and anxiety, making self-love feel non-intuitive. Damaging core beliefs are cemented into our subconscious, underlying everything we think and do.
“I am not enough,” we tell ourselves.
Inferiority is an illusion.
Logically speaking, you can’t be intrinsically inferior to others. All beings are animated by the same force and are therefore equally sacred. You are a co-creator of this reality and have every right to be here.
You can embrace the feeling of being “different,” rather than assigning it with thoughts that bring you pain. Why would you need to be like anyone else? You’re the only person who will ever have the opportunity to be you.
The greatest innovators in history were considered different, strange, crazy, or heretical. Your weirdness has the potential to transform the world in beautiful ways. Consider it an advantage.
Underneath it all, love is your natural state.
We aren’t born with all these subconscious hang-ups. We collect them over time through our experiences. Children may be seen as “selfish” by nature, but they consistently honor their own feelings in ways that adults usually don’t.
If we let go of our fears and pain, what remains is love. At our core, we want happiness for ourselves and the people we care about.
This is what’s helped our species cooperate and thrive throughout the ages. Love is everywhere and there will never be a lack of it. If you can tap into the infinite well of love within yourself, you won’t require anything from others in order to feel good.
At that point, life can truly begin to bloom. Rather than getting bogged down by loneliness, you’ll relish moments of “me time.” Rather than feeling bored and searching for distractions, you’ll feel inspired to create and spread your ideas for the sake of enjoyment, without worrying about impressing others.
Challenges will still arise. Loss will happen. People will piss you off. However, these occurrences won’t break you as they once did. No matter what life slings your way, you’ll always have your best friend (YOU!) by your side as you move forward.
People who love themselves don’t ask for permission to think, say, or act upon their truth. And by living authentically, they attract other loving beings into their life. This feeling of positivity becomes unstoppable as it continues to grow and multiply.
“Will loving myself magically transform me into an asshole?”
If you’re asking this question, the answer is likely no. Though there may appear to be a thin line between self-love and narcissism, the truth is that these phenomena are polar opposites.
Self-love is cultivated from an intention of authentic, unconditional LOVE, exactly as advertised. Narcissism, by contrast, stems from fear. The need to feel superior over others is developed as a self-defense mechanism.
Do true self-lovers get defensive or upset when people disagree with them, criticize them, or fail to deliver praise? Nopity nope. Their sense of security is fortified, rather than fragile.
So don’t worry that self-love will push you toward the dark side. If anything, it will pull you more deeply into the light.
10 tips for cultivating self-love
Try these steps to break free of stale, self-defeating mental habits:
1. Realize how f!cking incredible you are.
“We should treasure the consciousness that is found on Earth. It is the highest form of complexity known in the universe, and probably also the rarest.” — Michio Kaku, The Future of the Mind
We don’t know what consciousness is, but we can tell that humans seem to experience it in a way that’s both profound and unique. There’s nothing you need to do to become amazing or special. You’re already worthy of awe.
2. Stop talking down to yourself.
You don’t go through life putting people down, do you? So why should you do it to yourself? Replace negative self-talk with uplifting, motivating thoughts.
Also, there’s no need to criticize yourself over things that aren’t problematic. You love anime and video games? You believe past lives influence your present incarnation? You and your partner are into kinky Lord of the Rings role-play in the bedroom? No worries, my friend!
Someone out there will always think you’re weird for inconsequential reasons. Let it go. As long as you’re not hurting anyone, including yourself, you’re golden.
3. Identify harmful core beliefs so you can challenge them.
Practices like meditation, lucid dreaming, and hypnotherapy can help you get in touch with your subconscious mind. This is where your core beliefs reside, and you may have to dig deep to find them.
Investigate your unpleasant feelings with curiosity. They can point you toward ways of thinking that may be holding you back. Jealousy, for example, is an emotion we often blame other people for creating within us. The reality, however, is that jealousy stems from our own insecurities.
Try to pinpoint the beliefs that create dark energy within you so you can begin to work on them and heal. Remember, no one can harm us emotionally without our permission.
4. Take care of your body.
Water, healthy food, and exercise are all essential for maintaining a happy headspace. We all like to indulge from time to time, of course. (Pry my daily soy latte from my cold, dead hands if you can!) The point is to avoid imbalance in the body. Purge unnecessary crap from your system and feel your love for your body skyrocket.
5. Drop worries about what you look like.
Many of us have things about our appearance that we can’t change, but wish we could. This anxious energy is better spent elsewhere. Creating stress in your mind and body over these issues isn’t likely to lead to positive changes in your life.
There’s something beautiful and undeniably visceral about “imperfection.” The very things you dislike about your body could be endearing in the eyes of others. Or not! Either way, what others think of you is none of your business. Don’t allow such things to dim your shine. Remember, YOU ARE ENOUGH.
6. Don’t take anything personally.
“Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in.” — Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements
I used to believe that if someone didn’t like me, it meant I was bad or had done something terrible. Naturally, I came to realize that pleasing everyone is impossible.
We’re all on our own personal mental trip. If someone’s in a bad mood, it doesn’t mean you’re responsible for those feelings. By learning to identify when someone else’s “stuff” has nothing to do with you, you’ll allow dark energy to pass without making it your own.
7. Spend your time with people who make you feel good.
I’m not saying you need to surround yourself with people who kiss your ass all the time. Rather, you should seek out people who align with your values and help you stay positive.
There are plenty of people in the world who will drain you and put you down if you allow them to. Don’t.
8. Do things that have meaning for you.
Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning that identifying a positive purpose in one’s life benefits one’s health and longevity.
Boost your mental health by doing things that hold significance for you, rather than things you think you should be doing. The more satisfied you feel with your pursuits, the better you’ll feel.
9. Love your failures.
Everyone “fails,” and it gives us the ultimate opportunity to learn and improve. Failure is not a reflection of your value as a person. Embrace every failure you experience and allow it to propel your development throughout your journey.
10. Realize that you’re not alone.
There are BILLIONS of us here at this crazy party. Whatever you’re feeling, oodles of other people are feeling it simultaneously. You’re not suffering or struggling in isolation, nor should you have to.
You deserve to heal and feel good about yourself. Seek out the help you need when you’re feeling down. Call a friend. Find an online or in-person support group. You’re important and there are people out here in the world who want to help you.
Loving ourselves is an ongoing practice,
… and it doesn’t come naturally or easily for most! The great news is that your mind is in your hands. You have the power to rewire your brain and experience life from a brighter and more magical perspective.
Self-love is a choice. Happiness is a choice.
Peggy Holsclaw is an independent blogger, copywriter and creative author. She owns a company called Copy Glitterthat creates blingin’ content for inspired minds. She also finds it weirdly uncomfortable to write these little blurb things in the third person. As if she’d make some stranger do her dirty work! Pfft.