SEPTEMBER 13, 2021 BY TESS WHITEHURST READ TIME: 7 MINS
Self-love—you hear about it all the time, but what is it, really?
It’s not having a high opinion of your abilities. That’s self-esteem.
It’s not giving yourself a hug when you feel stressed. That’s self-kindness.
It’s not taking time for a pedicure. That’s self-care.
Self-esteem and self-kindness and self-care are just fine. They’re great, actually. But they aren’t the same thing as self-love.
Self-love is actually just what it sounds like. It’s love…for yourself.
But for some reason, it’s easier to consider what love is when you think about someone other than yourself. Your cat, say. Or your grandma. Or maybe your baby. Basically anyone you absolutely, positively, unquestioningly love. Do you know you love them because you have a high opinion of their talents? Do you know you love them because you gave them a hug? Do know you love them because you filed their toenails?
No. You know you love them because love is a powerful thing and there’s nothing else like it. You see your loved one, and you connect with their eternal, worthy, adorable self. You feel expanded and uplifted when you’re around them. You wish with your whole heart that they could always know their own inherent worth. You would drive into a 0% contained wildfire to save them. It’s not because they’re perfect, or even exceptional in any particular way. It’s because…you love them.
Now turn that lens around. Imagine feeling that way about yourself.
Now that we’ve identified it, how do we live it? Here’s how: we open our hearts to ourselves wider and wider over time. First the self-love shows up as a trickle. Then it might sputter a bit. Over time, it becomes a creek, and then a river, rainstorm, waterfall, and flood, and then eventually we get in touch with our self-love’s ancient and eternal depths and it becomes the ocean.
Here are some strange and unexpected ways you can begin to open the floodgates.
- Forget About Being Awesome.
Let’s revisit the example above: the person or animal you love. They might be amazingly awesome in certain ways. In fact, they almost definitely are. But that’s not why you love them. And you would never, ever want them to feel like they had to be awesome in any particular way in order to deserve your love—or anyone else’s, for that matter.So, stop demanding awesomeness of yourself as a prerequisite to self-love.This is not to say that you aren’t awesome. I’m sure you are. But that’s not what makes you worthy of love. Your lack of awesomeness in a particular area is not exactly a reason to love yourself, but it can be a portal into self-love.
- Do you act awkward on first dates? If the main character of a movie had that same tendency, you’d love her for it. Why not love yourself for it, too?
- Do you panic whenever you need to parallel park in a pinch? Next time that happens, think of it as an opportunity to have compassion with yourself for being an imperfect human, doing her best.
- How often do you cook up a meal only to realize you forgot an ingredient or left it in the oven too long? Or maybe you never cook up any meals at all. Either way: so relatable! Everyone else loves you for it—why can’t you love yourself?
- Eat Whatever You Want All the Time.
Did you read that right? Did I mean to write, “Eat Whatever You Want…All The Time??Yes, ma’am. Alllllllllllll the time. As in, wake up, eat what you want. Then keep doing that all day. What if you wake up in the middle of the night and you’re hungry? Eat! Whatever you want! And keep eating it until you don’t want it anymore. If you haven’t been initiated into the intuitive eating movement yet, that all sounds like crazy talk. I know. I know because that’s exactly how it would have sounded to me before I learned that once you start eating what you want all the time, and then you stick to it, your cravings and desires start to even out. Your body starts to trust you to feed it what it wants when it needs to eat. So then it doesn’t ask for chocolate or Fritos or birthday cake during every waking hour. It asks for those things sometimes, but other times it asks for green smoothies, grapes, salad, almond milk yogurt, or fire-roasted peppers and steamed kale over quinoa.But the best thing about intuitive eating? You don’t have to obsess about food anymore. It’s there when you want it. So when you don’t want it, you know you don’t want it, and you can concentrate on other things—like writing your romance novel or talking to your nephew about his new video game or watching the sunrise with your best friend…And loving yourself, exactly as you are—which includes letting your body be the exact size and shape it wants to be. (Which, spoiler alert, probably doesn’t match the Photoshopped #fitspiration bodies on Instagram. And if having that sort of body involves obsessing about food all day? Then who needs it, honestly.)
- What Random Person Annoys You? Investigate.
Is there someone you secretly can’t stand, and you don’t know exactly why? Or maybe you do know why, but your annoyance seems a little disproportionate? Like, why on earth do I care so much? We’re not talking about jealousy here (because we’re talking about that below). We’re talking about someone irritating you like an emotional mosquito bite.Here’s your mission: figure it out. What exactly is it that bugs you? Describe it. Is she full of herself? Does he act entitled? Do they use figures of speech that irk you? What?Then, ask yourself: what if I let myself be that way? Just a little bit? Would it be fun? Could it be fun? What would it look like?
Often those odd little inexplicable annoyances are pointing to something in your own personality that you haven’t previously been willing to claim. Maybe you wish you could be a little more “full of yourself.” Maybe you’d love to believe you were “entitled.” Maybe you secretly desire to use trendy little slang expressions or just to be a little less strait-laced with your communication style.
This is a way of getting to know yourself better. And to know you is to love you.
- Name Your Inner Critic. Mine’s Called Chad.
Actually, my inner critic isn’t called Chad anymore. The critical voice in my head used to appear as a sort of rapey party dude named Chad who had a lot of super rude opinions about my body and appearance. But after giving Chad a name and imagining him as a character, I realized I didn’t really value his opinion, and he eventually disappeared. I still have an inner critic show up sometimes, but it’s not the same guy.The point is, by naming the inner voices that speak negatively to you, you gain power over them. They don’t seem so omniscient or omnipotent. You can be like, “You are so creepy! Why should I care what you think?” Or, depending on how your inner critic shows up and what they say to you, there may be other ways you can work with them to diminish their power to bring you down or keep you small.
- Admit It: You’re Jealous. But of Whom? Discuss.
We don’t like to admit to jealousy. It’s not an attractive or elegant emotion to have. Nevertheless, most of us are at least a little jealous of someone. Or, more often, more than one someone.What’s fun about jealousy is that it almost always holds the key to one or more positive qualities we already have but don’t realize we have. Or possibly choices we wish we could make, but haven’t yet. For example, if you have a natural talent for comedy, but you never tell jokes, you might be wildly jealous of the funniest guy you know. He might tell a joke and while everyone else is laughing, you’re wondering what the hell everyone thinks is so funny. Or, maybe you’ve always wished you could explore the world, but instead you went to college and then immediately entered the workforce and had some kids. Your adventurous friend might light up the jealousy center in your brain whenever you scroll past another goddamn picture of her smiling in Rome or Amsterdam or Dubai.So, what is it? What part of you is asking to be seen, acknowledged, and set free? And how can you go ahead and let yourself out of that cage? By telling a joke or two? By planning a modest trip (it doesn’t have to be Dubai)? Or what?
Freeing yourself to be even more of yourself is an act of both giving and receiving love. To yourself.
Remember, opening up to loving yourself isn’t a switch you flip. It’s an emotional flow that becomes more and more robust over time. Choose to see yourself through eyes of love and take weird little steps like the ones above. In time, your drippy little faucet of self-love will be as wide and as deep as the sea.
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