Self love is a term that gets used a lot, but what does it actually mean? And why is it important?
If you’re anything like me, if someone asked if you love yourself, you would probably mumble some sort of self-deprecating answer along with an awkward laugh. And nearly cringe yourself inside out.
But in fact, if we take that question seriously, how many of us can say that we truly do love ourselves? I didn’t really understand what that meant until a particularly tough period of my life gave me a kick up the backside and shook up everything I thought about myself. It made me question who I really was. Beneath everything about me that I show to the world, did I love who I was?
What does self love mean?
My own journey has taught me a lot about what self love means. It’s still a work in progress, but here’s my take on it.
Developing a chronic illness shook the sense of trust I had in my own body. It was acting in ways it never had before, doing things that made no sense to me. Why could I go for a 5k run last week with no problems, but this week I can’t even have a shower without having to sit down halfway through?!
I felt totally disconnected from myself. It became Me Vs My Body.
Thus followed a very slow and long process of me discovering what it means to have a chronic illness and how my life was going to have to change as a result. I had a steep learning curve to tackle, but bit by bit, I did.
As I discovered all the little things (or not so little things) my body needed to be able to function at its best, I realised how I had neglected it for pretty much my whole adult life. I drank alcohol, loved partying, didn’t think much about what I ate or how much sleep I got. I worked long hours and night shifts and never exercised.
For years I coped with it pretty well, in the same way I think most of us do. I just felt the way I’d always felt, so nothing seemed amiss.
But as I realised that I had been letting my body down for all those years, I started to forgive my body for letting me down in return. Only, of course, it wasn’t letting me down at all, it was just burnt out and exhausted and had a whole new challenge to contend with.
This realisation gave me a new-found respect and love for my body. I started practising self love; listening to my body and giving it what it needs to be healthy. Over time, I learned to use this approach on an emotional and spiritual level too.
Why is self love so important?
You build up an image of yourself as you go through your life. Your job, your appearance, where you choose to live, and who you spend time with all influence how you define yourself and how the world sees you. Many people depend on this image to represent who they are.
When any aspect of that self-image is taken away from you, your whole sense of self can be taken with it.
You may have experienced this is in some way yourself. Maybe you developed a chronic illness, were made redundant, have been through a painful divorce, or suffered a close bereavement.
These events are life-changing, but they can also be the catalyst that forces you to readdress the areas of your life that need attention. When part of your self-image is forcibly taken away from you, it makes you question every other aspect of who you are.
There is only one solid foundation on which to build your sense of self: you.
When you reconnect with who you really are on the inside, with all the external factors stripped back, you realise that you don’t need anything else to define you. Discovering self love is a journey; a process. But on the other side of that process is real peace and acceptance that can change your whole outlook on life.
How do you develop self love?
It can take time to develop real self love. It was easy, none of us would feel the need to numb our feelings with food, alcohol or anything else. We’d be confident and happy with who we are and what we have to offer in any situation, without having to use our crutch of choice for support.
A good starting point to nurture your own sense of self love is to carve out some time every day to sit quietly with your thoughts. Meditation, mindfulness and journaling are all great ways to create the space to tune into yourself. This doesn’t have to take long – ten minutes a day is enough. You’ll probably find that as you start to feel the benefits, you’ll prioritise this time and find ways to extend it.
But for now, just make a start.
What are some examples of self love?
As well as meditation, journaling and mindfulness, there are plenty of other ways you can introduce self love practices into your day.
Listening to self love affirmations is a simple way to start programming your mind to think in a different way.
You can find guided affirmations online, or you have a go at writing your own. Which parts of you do you need to learn to love and accept? Try writing out your own affirmations about how you want to feel, but write them in the present tense as though they are already true.
I am enough
I am just as worthy of love as anybody else
My needs are important too
I respect and love myself just the way I am
Setting healthy boundaries is really significant way of showing yourself the love and respect you deserve. Never please other people to your own detriment. Your needs matter too, and it doesn’t always have to be you making sacrifices for everyone else.
This is a really hard one, especially for women who have often been conditioned to be the caregivers. But saying no can be very empowering. Try it out and see how good it can feel to create boundaries for yourself and your own wellbeing.
One quick way to set a boundary is to allocate some time for yourself and protect it no matter what. No, you can’t run a last-minute errand, look after someone else’s kids for an hour, or take on extra responsibilities to allow someone else to have free time. That time is yours. See how good it feels to prioritise yourself sometimes.
Anyone who’s experienced ‘runners high’ or that post-workout glow will tell you how good it feels to just move your body. Endorphins are the natural chemicals released when we exercise. They mimic the effect of opioid painkillers, giving a sense of euphoria and wellbeing.
If you’re not into fitness and you don’t exercise, bear with me here.
I know you’ve heard it all before.
But dismissing it isn’t going to help you move forward. Why not make this time the first time you take action?
If you’re not a runner, or you just about have the arm strength to open a jar of Nutella, and that’s enough for you thank you very much, just start with committing to putting your trainers on.
And when your trainers are on, you may as well just leave the house for 10 minutes.
It doesn’t matter exactly what you do, but if you’re outside for 10 minutes moving your body, you’ll trigger an endorphin release.
By giving your body what it needs, you are literally practising the act of self love. Just as with carving out some quiet time, I’m confident that you’ll start valuing the time you spend moving your body and want to do it more. You don’t even need to tell anyone you’re doing it.
If you want help learning to tune into your body, the Weekly Wellness Tracker can help you identify the triggers that are affecting your physical symptoms so you can make changes to feel better quickly.
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