Body affirmation, establishing self worth, encouraging self esteem. Loving yourself, body and all. It’s a powerful message that is slowly trickling out into the world. That we don’t need to hate ourselves into submission. That we can act with care and kindness to ourselves, physically, and emotionally, and change from the inside out.
But I was mulling this over as I did the school run. What does self love mean? Because I believe there is a fear for many of us, who have grown up criticising ourselves, and working hard to please others, that if we start to love ourselves, we will become selfish and self centred. There are many “inspiration” pictures around at the moment that tell you to do what makes you happy. And it’s a great thing to encourage and say, when inspiring people to try new ventures, to maybe go to that class they’ve been wanting to, but have been holding back from. Or maybe trying something completely new and exciting. Taking some time for ourselves is important. It recharges our batteries and invigorates us.
But we have all witnessed people who will take this to another level. Who will do whatever makes them happy to the expense of those around them. Sometimes we may admire the visible confidence and self belief in these people. Their determination in making themselves the focus of their lives. Other times, we may shake our heads, and wonder about those around them who suffer for their happiness. We can’t imagine a life where we regularly put ourselves first at the cost of those around us. Maybe it’s something we grew up witnessing, and as a result, we’re terrified of becoming what we feared and despised. Maybe we were the ones who suffered for another’s happiness. And that’s why we’re here, in this position where self love is so hard now. And on those occassions when we have done something for ourselves, hasn’t something gone spectacularly wrong, just to prove that we shouldn’t be doing it? Didn’t the house almost fall apart, or some family member angrily condemned us for being so utterly selfish?
But self love is NOT selfishness. In fact, I’d wager that those who are this selfish, do not feel capable of self love any more than we might.
There is an achievable balance, I believe. Because self love isn’t purely about doing what makes you happy. It’s not about making sure you’re ok at the cost of those around you. It’s about valuing yourself as much as the next person. It’s about realising that you have needs that are just as important as those around you. That while you give and take to please and accommodate others, so others must give and take to accommodate you.
For me, I’ve grown up wanting to please. Mine is a fairly common tale. Bullied in school, I believed I had to be a certain way, or do certain things to make people like me. I didn’t ooze confidence in any way, shape or form. Making me happy involved pleasing others so I would fit in and be accepted.
So this self love thing, it’s been an alien concept for a large part of my life. Not feeling worthy of love, or esteem.
It’s so much easier to criticise myself, to pinch and pull my shapeless belly, than you smile at my reflection and say to myself “I did good today”.
It’s easier to condemn myself for being fat, than to congratulate myself on a long brisk walk, and making it to the end without flaking.
It’s easier to knock myself for not doing everything that needs doing, than to thank my body for achieving what it has.
Self love isn’t about pretending I am what I’m not. It is about accepting me in the now. It is about finding out what will make me happy, physically, emotionally, mentally, and then putting some effort in to allowing myself to be happy. By fitting in some time for a class, or by paying attention to how my body feels after certain meals, or activities. It’s about being a little bit assertive to those that are used to us being “YES people“, and actually saying no, or saying what we feel, rather than what we feel people want us to say.
It’s a process. That can take years. Little by little we change, and see ourselves in a new light. In a light tinged with affection rather than hostility. Self love is a true love. A love that reaches us on all levels. It’s not about getting cheap thrills, or quick fixes. It’s about establishing a deeper level of understanding and acceptance.
Doing what makes you happy is a great first step to take in learning to love yourself, if you don’t know where to start. Maybe taking 20 minutes out of your day, for some peace and quiet, is enough for you to be able to start valuing your importance among those around you. And it doesn’t mean you’re selfish. It means you’re realising you matter too.