The Importance of Understanding Self Love
In our efforts to be selfless and care for others, particularly our loved ones, it’s not uncommon for many of us to forget to love ourselves. But 9After all, all good things come from within. But what exactly does it mean to love ourselves? How can we? Self-love, just like any other love, can be subjective, thus, how we define self-love and how we practice it is unique to ourselves. For some of us, we might practice self-love by treating ourselves or pampering. While these gestures are kind and good to indulge in from time to time, true self-love is something deeper. In this instance, think of gifting and the importance of meaning. We might give someone a gift, but what truly makes the gift special is the meaning behind it – what significance the gift has. While it is nice to give to others, a gift without meaning is hollow and lacks the special quality that it would otherwise have if it did mean something. Self-love operates along the same lines. While it is good to treat ourselves, it does not necessarily mean that we truly love ourselves, just as we may not truly love someone whom we gift. Kindness is an aspect of love but it does not fill in for love in its entirety.
What is Self-Love?
So what is self-love? Dr. John Amodeo, a licensed marriage and family therapist and adjunct faculty member of Meridian University, describes true self-love as being: “finding peace within ourselves – resting comfortably within the depths of our being.” As such, he believes that the act of “doing” for ourselves may offer a temporary respite, but won’t cultivate the deeper, inner peace that we crave. The develop this, we must practice a certain way of being with ourselves: “a warm and nurturing attitude toward what we experience inside.”
In essence, to love ourselves we must learn to practice self-empathy, positivity, warm, and nurturing to ourselves. We must demonstrate the same patience, kindness, and mindfulness towards ourselves as we would to others.
Remember to be Gentle on Yourself
To begin with, it’s important to remember to be gentle with ourselves. While it’s not necessarily bad to have an awareness of one’s flaws, it can be very detrimental to focus solely on what one perceives as “problems”, or worse, exacerbate those flaws and neglect our positive attributes. Unfortunately, this is all too common, and this can lead to the development of insecurity and low self-esteem. Many of us may find that it’s easier to be kind and gentle to others than it is to practice those same traits with ourselves. In some cases, this may be due to toxic influences from our past and even our present who may have taught us to be judgmental towards ourselves and drown out our feelings with harsh criticism rather than honoring our emotions and giving ourselves the same respect we’d give to those we care about. Dr. Amodeo notes: “An attitude of gentleness toward our feelings is one way to have more spaciousness around them. We can “be with” our emotions rather than be overwhelmed by them.” Developing a sense of friendliness with our emotional selves helps us not only better understand that aspect of ourselves but also makes us more willing to be open and honest with ourselves and others about how we’re feeling at any given moment. This can be incredibly beneficial to both our physical and mental wellbeing.
Don’t Feel Compelled to Change Experiences
Another important characteristic of true self-love is that we can allow ourselves to experience things as they are without feeling compelled to change or suppress our experiences. This can mean having to confront negative emotions and experience them rather than pushing them away because we’re either too afraid to face how we feel or because we believe that pushing negative experiences away will somehow protect us from them. Dr. Amodeo explains that “Oftentime, we try to push away unpleasant experiences and cling to pleasant ones.” But, as Buddhist psychology suggests, “we create more suffering for ourselves by clinging to pleasant things and having an aversion toward painful feelings.”
Oftentimes we find ourselves hiding from our emotions not only because we are afraid of how they might impact us but also because we are afraid of how others might perceive us. Emotions are frequently, and wrongly, associated with weakness, when, in reality, it takes a lot of strength to come to terms with how one feels openly and honestly. Rather than letting the judgments of others shape how we perceive and, consequently, how we treat ourselves, we should remember that our emotions are a valuable part of who we are and therefore should be treated with kindness and respect, just as we should. After all, if a friend was confiding their sadness to you, you likely wouldn’t react harshly as you might towards yourself for experiencing those same emotions. At times like these, we must remember that we are our own best friends and therefore deserve the same amount of respect and consideration we would show our loved ones.
Embrace the Unknown
Finally, true-self love also means embracing ambiguity. We might not always know exactly what we’re feeling, especially in the heat of the moment, and that’s ok. Emotions can be difficult to decipher without hindsight, but, as Dr. Amodeo states: “If we can allow ourselves to pause and make room for ambiguity and patiently welcome and explore our blurry, vague feelings, they may gradually come into clearer focus.” This all boils down to being patient with ourselves rather than growing frustrated, or worse, hostile. As Dr. Amodeo puts it: “Human feelings are gifts to be welcomed. But we need to find a way to be with them so that they become allies, not enemies.” Thus we must remember that what we feel is part of who we are and therefore embracing our emotions is a necessary aspect of practicing self-love.
By learning to truly understand and accept our experiences as a part of who we are, we are better able to love ourselves and develop a true sense of self-love that goes beyond actions or superficiality. Self-love isn’t just about treating ourselves every now and then but is actually about learning to be at peace with who we are so that we might not only feel better about ourselves but also be able to achieve our true potentials.