I remember the day as if it was yesterday. She was a participant in our workshop who had walked in early and came up to me as I was putting finishing touches to the training room set-up. She said to me that she had joined this workshop as she wanted to learn about Self Love. “What does it mean? Can you tell me how to be more loving towards myself? I don’t understand it! “
I admit, the questions threw me off-guard. And I don’t remember how I answered, but it was not a convincing answer to my own ears. That was 5 years ago. Today, I have a better understanding.
Often, in our culture, we are expected to love & serve everyone and put others above ourselves in a gallant effort of self-sacrifice. While I believe in the power of service that emanates from love, I really question the adage of self- sacrifice emanating from a sense of duty and social expectation. It is my hypothesis that self- sacrifice, builds resentment which leads to bitterness & disease.
So if the same lady walks up to me today, here is what I would tell her about loving herself.
1. I don’t come last
We are conditioned to put others’ needs ahead of ours. I remember seeing my grandmother eating last at every family meal and my mother giving the freshly cooked food to my father while finishing off the previous day’s left-over food herself. Today, if you are a working woman, you might put your husband’s career and children’s education ahead of your ambitions in life. Other than your nuclear family, you may find that you also need to take care of your in-laws and your own aging parents. However, to practice self-love, you must give your own needs equal importance and make situation-based choices rather that adopting the default position of “I come last”
2. Prioritise needs, not desires
A crucial aspect of self-love is learning to differentiate between needs and desires. We are often conditioned to chase after the desirables, the material things in life like a promotion, a vacation or more money. We forget the essentials, needs such as taking care of our health through eating right and exercise. I did a workshop for women leaders, and I was surprised that they were working 14-hour long days because work was so important, then catering to family’s needs, and in the process neither getting adequate sleep nor any time for their physical and mental well-being. Well-being is a primary need. If you are unwell, nothing else will matter. It is time to value basics like sleep, exercise, me-time.
3. Self-Love is not Selfishness
There is a common misconception that choosing self-love is being selfish or arrogant. This is a myth. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Self-love helps you acquire the abundance you need to give to others. Take the example of having a hobby. When we were children, we were encouraged to sing, dance, create art, play an instrument, act in a play. We derived joy from these things, a sense of being alive and exploring ourselves. Come adult hood, we got busy and left these things behind. Today, after a decade or two, if we reconnect with that hobby, two hours a week, is that being selfish? Or is that joy going to give us momentum to be a happier person who will be better enabled to spread happiness?
4. Create boundaries
Often, you may lack the confidence to create boundaries in your work or personal life. Do you find saying yes when you want to say no? We do that because we want to avoid disappointing others, but in the process may feel stretched with other people’s expectations. This unnecessary pressure can be dealt with by creating boundaries. For instance, if your boss is expecting much more than you can achieve within a short period, don’t be afraid to let them know in a polite and respectful manner. Also, if people are getting away with talking rudely to you, reflect on your self-talk. Talk to yourself the way you would like others to talk to you and don’t tolerate anyone talking down to you. You will be surprised how things change.
5. Know yourself
Most importantly, to practice self-love, you must really know yourself. Being conscious of your thoughts and feelings can help you understand yourself better. The root cause of many self-worth issues can be found by looking deep into your inner child and the conditioning of your past. If you have any unresolved issues or limiting beliefs, you can enlist the help of an expert to help you understand yourself better and heal old wounds. This way, you can become more loving towards yourself.