The mantra “love yourself” has become increasingly popular in the past few years. Its been making its rounds on social media, been liberally advocated by famous celebrities and stamped on mugs, t-shirts, accessories and stationery.
While the origin of the love yourself “movement” is unclear (there is reason to believe that it originated from the self-help community), it is perhaps more important to address and unfold the ambiguity surrounding the statement itself. More so from the unique, personal perspective because it is possible one could actually already love her or him-self. By judging his or her self-love based on the general barometer representing the ways to “love yourself”, chances are his or her love for their self will come off short. This could lead the person to place unrealistic expectations on themselves, which is in effect, the antithesis of loving yourself.
So, what does ‘love yourself’ actually mean? And what is considered loving yourself? First, let us identify the reason we are called to love ourselves.
Why love ourselves?
When we talk about love, it is oftentimes about loving others. Basically, it is always in relation to the external, whether it is people, pets or even material objects. It is rarely, if ever, aimed at ourselves. The very idea of loving oneself could even be uncomfortable for most of us, simply because we were trained since young to keep our egos in check. So, we would sooner beat ourselves up than even consider loving ourselves, not realising that our ego is not the only thing effectively getting beaten but also our self-esteem.
Lacking a healthy outlook of ourselves added with criticism from others and trusting in the unhealthy standards set by i.e. society or the beauty and fashion industry, effectively forms our foundation or belief system that shapes our self-esteem. It hinders our understanding of important concepts like healthy boundaries and self-respect that are pertinent to our overall wellbeing. It becomes fertile grounds for toxic relationships, perfectionism, self-hate, depression and more.
Essentially, we are called to love ourselves because it is the foundation of our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. When we don’t love ourselves, we can over compensate by “loving” others or material things and forget or lose ourselves. We believe that only the external can validate us, and so we look for love and approval outside us; whether it is through a relationship, friendship, family or even pets. Love then becomes a call or need for acceptance, respect, care, validation for our feeling of specialness and more.
Love is no longer the expansive, open, flexible, limitless, ever-flowing energy it is meant to be.
What does it mean to love yourself?
Such blanket statements as ‘love yourself’ can be mystifying. Do we attempt to emulate divine love? Do we pamper ourselves with luxurious solo holidays or spa sessions? Or should we give ourselves a good ‘ol hug every morning?
In the most basic sense, loving yourself is really about accepting oneself as we are. The late motivational author Louise Hay said that “love is a deep appreciation. When I talk about loving ourselves, I mean having a deep appreciation for who we are. We accept all the different parts of ourselves - our little peculiarities, the embarrassments, the things we may not do so well and all the wonderful qualities, too”.
Additionally, loving yourself is specific to the individual in their present moment. Spiritual teacher A.H. Almaas wrote in his book Diamond Heart Book Two, “When you experience universal love, you understand the action of love. A loving action is a gentle action when gentleness is needed, a firm action when firmness is needed, a compassionate action when compassion is needed, yielding when yielding is needed. Whatever is needed is present - and in the correct balance - depending upon the situation”.
Hence, love can be doing something for yourself too like pampering yourself. Or getting your friends together for a fun night out or even just spending time alone. Loving yourself can also mean standing up for yourself and saying “no” to the person who has had an upper hand on your life. Or if needed, being firm with yourself to cut out bad habits. So truly, there are no barriers to loving yourself. It can be showered on wherever it is needed.
That is the beauty of love. It can assume unique roles and apply to different situations and in various degrees. As expansive, flexible, open and limitless as it is, so it can be wielded.
How to practice loving yourself?
The practice of loving yourself is often linked to grand gestures. It should not be because every time you take care of yourself, however minute the gesture may seem, it is loving yourself. You gave up a great looking pair of shoes because it was killing your feet? That’s love. You decided to rest your tired body for one day instead of going to the gym, that’s love. You have a cup of coffee in the morning because it perks you up and takes you to your happy place, that’s also love. We should acknowledge the small loving actions we do everyday for our wellbeing as much as investing in grand gestures.
It is also about loving ourselves where it counts. This is different for everyone and requires self-evaluation or help from a professional such as a counsellor or personal development coach to identify. For many of us, it is the tendency to beat ourselves up whether it is over a mistake, weight issues, bad exam results, career unaccomplishments and so on. So, these are the areas where we need to bring love to. Starting by perhaps stopping the thought from meandering into a full blown assault on yourself. Gradually, you’re able to stop the thought mid-sentence and eventually replace it with a positive affirmation. And ultimately, reach acceptance. Every time you manage not to beat yourself up becomes a triumph. Just be careful not to get caught beating yourself up for beating yourself up. Tell yourself it is ok. At least, you’re trying or have awareness that you’re beating yourself up so you can stop. Again, it is about acknowledging and appreciating the small steps to loving yourself too.
The key is to also marry love with humility so we are always centered in love and not ruled by the ego. Having positive self-esteem or outlook on yourself doesn’t mean being arrogant, conceited or thinking that you are better than anyone else. It means having healthy regard of yourself, knowing that you are worthy and so are others.
Signs that you love yourself:
1. Are gentle with yourself.
2. Accept yourself unconditionally.
3. Allow yourself to experience your emotions.
4. Embrace your vulnerabilities.
5. Take care of yourself.
This article was composed with the help of several online sources.