'Self love, ' loving yourself' urgh..all expressions that have always made me absolutely cringe cringe cringe . So, when I began my degree in counselling and realised that 'self love' was a phrase I would be coming across a lot I wasn't quite sure how I felt. I hadn't signed up for a crash course in telling people to have bubble baths and cuddle their cat more. Let's be honest - It can sound a bit naff - 'self love'. The idea of 'loving yourself'. It really is at odds with what it means to be inherently British; apologizing to everyone and everything, steadily deflecting all compliments, and a general attitude of; 'get on with it' and 'do what needs to be done'. Swanning about having bubble baths and listing all the nice things about yourself? Are you joking? Justin Beiber really didn't help matters either, wading in on things with that song. So to begin with I was a terrible, critical cynic - and did a lot of eye-rolling. I was a woman who wanted a good degree and was ready to learn The Skills of Counselling. I wanted to get good grades, wear that graduation hat and get on with my life. I was on a mission and had no time for hanging around, navel gazing. I had no idea what was ahead. Going from Medicine to Psychotherapy was pretty much like jumping out of the frying pan and straight into the fire. Two completely opposite ways of thinking - yet equally as intense. Anyway, I had to get better acquainted with this whole 'self-love' thing and along the way I discovered firstly, how much I'd misunderstood it, and secondly how little I had of it. It's a far more important concept than having bubble baths and buying yourself a new dress (although both these things can be ingredients in your self love recipe - if that's your thing.). My reluctance was met with the realisation this it is one of the cornerstones of being psychologically healthy, forming strong relationships, having a body you're proud of, a career that suits your talents, great sex, navigating adversity, and basically just EVERYTHING that makes you a happy, nice-to-be-around human bean. Anyway, its a still a cringey phrase and I'll accept that, I get it, but I have come to recognise a few common myths and misunderstandings around 'loving yourself' that I would like to clarify below...
Its not selfish.
Ever heard the phrase "you cant pour from an empty cup"? Well its true, you can't. The same goes for you as a person. Think of yourself as a cup; if you're empty you've got nothing to give to other people, its logic - so the only way you can contribute to others is to fill yourself up first. Think about what you're like when you're stressed out, tired, unhappy, rushed, feeling gross - or just generally not enjoying your existence. When we're unhappy in ourselves, we're often not that great to the world around us - impatient, grumpy, on a short fuse, tutting in the coffee queue. Now think about what you're like when you're happy. Like when you've just had your hair done or watched a whole season of Live at the Apollo, or had a great evening with your friends - or had the best hot yoga session. We're much better humans to the world around us and to the people we meet. Self-love is about looking after yourself and making personal happiness a priority which, yes, on the surface can seem quite selfish; "What, so you just want to go around making yourself happy all the time? How selfish". Its not.Personal happiness is so important because being happy makes you a better person to the world around you and means you have the capacity to give more to those you love. Happiness and optimism are infectious. We all know someone who's great to be around - and its likely they're also a pretty happy human inside too. If anything, not focusing on your own happiness can be selfish. If you're hanging around like a big grey cloud wherever you go, is that really offering anything to anyone? or just taking away? Also, your happiness is your responsibility, no one else's, and its not selfish at all to pursue the things that make you happy. Love yourself first, then you can truly love other people.
Self Love is not about superiority or arrogance.
"Well she likes herself'." If i'd heard someone say that about me 5 years ago I would have been mortified. These days I'd take it as a compliment. Yes I do like myself thanks, I'm not perfect but I will say there are parts of me that are pretty fantastic. If I like me - and I like how I look, who I am, what I do - it doesn't take away from you. This isn't a competition - there is room enough for all of us. I went to an all girls school and it wasn't exactly 'Mean Girls' but I did watch that movie and see some unsettling similarities. The one scene that really stood out was where they all looked in the mirror and have to say something bad about their appearance. When Cady doesn't say anything, they all look at her like she's done something wrong until she joins in on the self criticism. That rang a bell. Insecurity is what stops us from supporting each other. A fear that if I highlight how great she is, its going to take away from me. This is not true. At all. There is enough room for all of us - in all of our glory. On the other side, if you do feel the sneaky rising of resentment at someones confidence or beauty - then take this as a sign you need to work on your own self-love. When I failed medical school, I found it really hard watching other peoples successes when I was finding myself back at square one. I was so ashamed of the resentment I felt because I knew it wasn't fair on anyone - I was just struggling with my own loss. Any resentment I had was entirely about me and my own insecurity, nothing to do with the other person. The way out of feeling this way was to have some self compassion and work on rebuilding my own life into something I loved. The same can be said if you find yourself jealous or resentful, it happens sometimes, we're all human, but its a signal to keep going and working on that, yep, self-love.
You will develop an in-built detection & protection system.
This is one of the more hidden benefits of self love and is something that reveals itself when we are challenged. How do you respond when someone hurts you? Do you tell them or do you ignore it through fear of loss or confrontation? With self-love comes a self-protection; an ability to say 'no, that's not ok with me.' This is so important in navigating your life and relationships. (I know I may have said this a few times before on facebook/insta etc etc!!...) but we show people how to treat us in what we allow. When you start to respect yourself, your emotions, your time and your body, valuing yourself and your whole life, you won't be afraid to speak up if someone doesn't do the same. Self-love gives you standards; you know you're worth and as a result you develop boundaries in how you will let people treat you - and how to ask for what you want and need. Of course, i'm not advocating becoming a big confrontational uncompromising diva; people have lives, and make mistakes - and won't always be thinking about whats best for you. Nevertheless, self-love will give you a detection system so you can make a choice about whether to speak up - or to just let it go. This can then be applied to everything; Don't like how your boss speaks to you? Speak up or look for another job. In a casual 'thing' and want more commitment? Say so and be ready to move on if you have to. Didn't like the way you're friend spoke to you? Tell her. You have more control over how people treat you than you realise and its important to give yourself permission to step away from something that hurts you. There is a common mis-conception that if we're nice to people, they'll automatically be nice back. Sometimes this is true and sometimes its not which is where having a sense of worth and a strong personal detection system is vitally important - and self love will help you cultivate that.
You learn how to tell the Critical Committee to sit the hell down.
OK, not a literal real-life committee, but the one we all have that pops up in our minds when we do something wrong or silly or feel like we looked the fool. The 'you massive idiot' or 'oh god they all think i'm weird, why did I say that?!' moments etc etc.. Some people have a very loud and noisy one, others, not so much (although i'm sure we all know someone who could do with some louder critical committee members but there we go..) Self love is where self compassion begins and you can't have one without the other. The opposing panel to your Critical Committee is the Compassion Squad. You are not perfect, no one on this planet is perfect. Some people are very good at projecting a life and look of perfection (hello instagram...)- but thats really just a massive load of rubbish - no ones life is that good all the time. When you accept this as a truth, the critical committee that pipes up in your head reprimanding you when you do something wrong, gets quietened down by new noise from your compassion squad. You're not going to get it right, feel happy, be good at everything or have yourself together all the the time. I'm pretty average at a lot of things, terrible at some others and very good at a few. The other great thing that happens is you become less critical of other people; in accepting that you're flawed and not going to get it right all the time - you also stop expecting other people to - and life gets a lot lighter and a lot more fun!
So, a slightly more serious post than my last one but self love has much deeper and more important implications than liking what you see in the mirror. Its not selfish or conceited or arrogant, its a vital part in living a happy life and being true to yourself. But, I will admit, it is a terrible expression...