Learning how to love yourself can seem like a pretty ambiguous task sometimes. At least, that’s how I felt before I started getting into the self-love movement.
“Loving myself? Aren’t I already doing that? Isn’t that something that happens naturally?” (The answer, in my case, was nooo…)
Before, I couldn’t love myself because I never felt like I was enough. Body shame had become such a lifestyle for me that I had no idea how to even begin loving myself and the body that I couldn’t tolerate because it didn’t look the way I wanted it to.
Over the years, however, I’ve slowly learned to accept myself exactly as I am – without waiting for some part of me to change in order to finally practice self-love. And it really is a practice.
Here’s the simple version of how I got here.
My “Definition” of Love
To go from hating yourself to loving yourself might seem like a great undertaking – like a huge chasm that you must risk your life to jump across – but it’s very doable, no matter how unloveable you feel.
For me, the concept of self-love became clear once I discovered a different definition of love. It came from my father when he said to me, “To love something, you make space for it in your life. And in that space, you place peace.” (Thanks dad. I’m hanging onto this one.)
While I believe that it’s impossible to actually define love because it’s such a massive, brilliant, divine experience, I do believe that this definition helps make it manageable while you’re trying to wrap your mind around how to love yourself.
By using my dad’s definition, I clearly see what self-love means: “To love yourself, make space for yourself in your life. And in that space, practice self-compassion.”
If this makes even the slightest bit of sense to you, then let’s keep going. Next, I’ll talk about how to apply this concept to your life, starting with the first part on making space.
To practice self-love, I try to be conscious of how I spend my time. Am I honoring my need for self-care and me-time? Or am I sacrificing and compromising myself for the happiness of others?
This is where minimalism really helped me out.
I had a busy social calendar that kept me from taking care of myself like I wanted. As I was getting into minimalism, I decided to have less VOLUME and more QUALITY when I committed to social engagements.
So I started saying no to other people in order to love myself.
“No, thank you, I don’t want to grab drinks right now because I need to go to yoga. No, thank you, I can’t come over tonight because I need to hit the gym. No, thank you, I can’t make it to your birthday party because I’ve been neglecting myself for weeks and I can’t abandon myself for one more day.”
Because it’s easy for me to feel guilty, these excuses usually felt lame – like I needed to apologize for choosing self-care. But lately I’ve been trying really hard not to apologize for loving myself.
Have you ever heard anyone say, “I’m sorry that I wanted to take time to nourish my soul and pay attention to my neglected body”? Nope. You’ve never heard anyone say that because no one apologizes for that.
So I stopped apologizing.
Now, self-compassion is the doozy for me. Self-compassion involves practicing kindness towards yourself – including the parts that you struggle with loving.
For me, this was particularly difficult with my body image. I felt ashamed of how my body looked, and I refused to love myself until I looked a certain way. (So not cool.)
Shame is a particularly hard demon to overcome; and, luck you, it only gets harder once you’re stuck with yourself. Because shame only intensifies when we’re left alone with it. (Perhaps that’s why we keep ourselves so busy…)
So I practice holding space for myself in order to love myself.
Whenever I’m struggling with self-love, I create space and allow myself to feel whatever negative feeling I’m feeling. I don’t try to ease my shame by distracting myself or numbing myself with food or alcohol or sex.
I just hold space for myself and allow myself to feel my feelings until they pass.
Some call this mental badassery. And mental badassery (the art of feeling your feelings instead of distracting yourself from them) is a great way to develop self-love.
Overall, self-love boils down to how you treat yourself, make time for yourself, and have compassion for yourself.
Start by intentionally setting aside some quality you-time by downsizing your social engagements.
Then, when you’re in that space with yourself, practice as much self-compassion as you can.
When negative thoughts creep in, bat them away by holding space for yourself to feel all your feelings (not just the pleasant ones).
Repeat these steps often, and you’ll be well on your way to loving yourself and embracing the enough-ness that you already are.