Valentine’s Day is a great time to talk about self-love.
But first, we have to get the myth out of the way. The myth is that self-love is selfish. I read that somewhere recently. The author was associating self-love with narcissism, which is a serious psychological disorder with very little chance of recovery.
It’s a diagnosis characterized by self-absorption and self-centered thinking, allowing for little to no sense of empathy. Narcissists can come across as charming but tend to be rather cold and vain, constantly looking for external validation. That means they need you to endlessly stroke their egos and assure them that the universe does indeed revolve around them.
That’s certainly not what I think self-love is all about.
What is Self-Love Really?
Self-love is your ability to value and appreciate yourself, feel fulfilled, and have a sense of purpose. It allows you to connect deeply with others while maintaining your own dignity. It allows you to serve other people with no strings attached because your sense of worth and satisfaction comes from within.
Self-love allows you to take responsibility for yourself, to bounce back when disappointed, and to make healthy changes. Self-love is about being grateful for how you are designed and wired. Gratitude allows you to leverage your strengths without arrogance.
It’s my contention that without self-love, you are left to search for love in all the wrong places. By practicing self-love, you can love others from the abundance of a full heart, not from a needy heart.
7 Steps to Practicing Healthy Self-Love
My Valentine’s gift to you includes seven self-love practices to adopt and three self-love enemies to eradicate. These are life-long practices you can begin today and work on bit by bit. As they become natural parts of your lifestyle, you’ll find self-love brings out the best in you.
1. Honor Your Body
It’s the only one you get. Do a quick inventory of the things you already know you need to do to take good care of yourself. For me, that includes stretching daily to increase flexibility and to prevent injury. It includes daily movement (I strive for 30 minutes a day). It means I choose my meals and treats with intention. I guard my sleep. And so on.
How about you? What are the two or three things you can do to honor your body starting today?
2. Mind Your Self-Talk
It pays to think about what you are thinking about. More than 50,000 thoughts can fly through your mind per day, and a substantial percentage of those tend to be negative.
If you keep repeating certain negative thoughts, they get hardwired in, and you begin not only to believe them, but also to act on them. Positive self-talk is critical to self-love, but it’s different from chanting positive affirmations to yourself.
Successfully managing your inner chatterbox takes focus and intention.
3. Feel Your Feelings
This is a huge undertaking because we humans hate to feel unpleasant feelings.
Instead, we try to numb them by overeating, consuming alcohol or other substances, shopping, getting lost in video games or television binge-watching, et cetera.
What are your personal avoidance tactics? Next time you feel an unpleasant emotion, sit with it a minute. Ask yourself what you really need at this moment. Consider the damage your previous coping mechanisms are causing and find a healthier way to get your needs met.
4. Protect Your Boundaries
Forming deep connections with other people is an important expression of self-love. But doing so requires healthy boundaries in every relationship, especially those in your inner circle.
For any relationship causing you stress, ask: Does this relationship represent mutual give and take, or am I doing all the giving? Is mutual respect demonstrated? Is there mutual kindness? Am I walking on eggshells? Am I able to be authentic with this person? Am I trying to change their behavior or reactions by my behavior? (That’s exhausting and unhealthy.) What would improve this relationship? What part of this change can I control?
5. Live On Purpose
Insist on living with a sense of achievement and purpose. Just because a job pays well doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Are you operating mostly from your strengths and natural abilities? How satisfied and balanced do you feel? Are you investing your time in something important to you? Are you allowing time in your life for your other priorities? Are your core values represented in the way you spend your time and money? Are you making contributions that allow you to feel connected, engaged, and purposeful?
6. Simplify Your Life
Don’t underestimate the energy-giving, life-affirming effects of decluttering and simplifying your physical environment. Getting organized has been associated with better eating and sleeping habits, reduced stress, improved mood, and even lowered risk of heart attack. It also can lead to increased productivity, improved cognitive ability, and creativity. Start with the piles on your desk or dedicate a Saturday morning to cleaning out your closet, and see for yourself.
7. Make Spirituality a Priority
To enjoy the benefits of maturity and harmony as a human being, make some space for spirituality in your life. For some, spirituality is simply a set of morals and ethics. I suggest that spirituality is also the meaning you assign to life and how you identify your role in that purpose.
For many of us, spirituality is founded upon faith in God. Research indicates that active participation in religion is associated with greater happiness. Meditation and prayer appear to lower cortisol, the stress hormone, and increase dopamine, the hormone associated with motivation, well-being, and joy.
3 Enemies of Self-Love to Eradicate
These enemies of self-love are not to be trusted. They will make subtle attempts to worm their way into your life, seeking to push you over the edge into self-loathing. Don’t allow it.
Stay alert and when they show up, do battle!
Allow yourself to be imperfect. Welcome to the human race! Perfectionism seems noble but is really bondage to unrealistic expectations. It’s an ego problem and an internal task-master, driving you to never feel good enough.
Perfectionists can be high achievers who are never satisfied, or they can suffer from procrastination, unfinished projects, unmet goals, and analysis paralysis (never getting started, or as one of my friends puts it, always commencing to commence). Perfectionism and low self-esteem go hand in hand.
Accept yourself as a unique creation of God. The temptation to compare yourself to others is strong in our materialistic and appearance-obsessed culture. “Keeping up with the Joneses” is the American way. But comparison and its evil twin, competition, keep you from enjoying your custom-designed fabulousness.
At the beginning of a new venture, we tend to compare ourselves to some other person’s established success. Then, we focus on areas where we don’t measure up, completely overlooking our own strengths, experiences, and character qualities. Comparison triggers a shame response and disconnects us from other people.
Forgive yourself. Many of us have a certain amount of faith that God can forgive us, but we don’t know how to forgive ourselves when we’ve done something we regret.
The problem is the more we think about what we did wrong, the more we attach negative emotions to the memory. Now, every time we think of it, in comes the shame, embarrassment, self-anger, et cetera.
An interruption is necessary. Take steps to get that memory out of your head. Write it down. Think about what you’d tell someone else who confessed this to you. Show yourself the same grace, compassion, and kindness you would show your best friend.
Self-Love Isn’t Selfish
Is self-love selfish? Not the way I’ve described it. Self-love is what allows you to love others well as you become the best version of yourself.
As a self-management coach, I can help you create a full and rewarding life. I call it creating a life you love. To learn more, click below to receive my eBook, Guide to Better Self-Management: 4 Steps to More Comfortable Self-Control. Happy Valentine’s Day!