Written by Clarity Counseling and Tessa Torgeson
The theme for Clarity Counseling’s February blogs is love. Each week we will focus on a topic related to love including self-love, dating, and marriage. The most natural place to begin is self-love because you must love yourself first in order for other love relationships to thrive.
How does one define such a seemingly elusive term as self-love? Author, professor, and therapist Brene Brown writes beautifully about self-love in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: “Practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect, and to be kind and affectionate to ourselves.”
Self-love is a genuine, ongoing act of courage in a society that often condones extremes of selfishness and selflessness.
Examining the origins of both extremes, we find that both selfishness and selflessness are controlled by fear and rooted in shame. Specifically, people who are selfish are afraid of being swallowed or consumed. They do not want to be a human doormat, so they set rigid boundaries. People who are selfish do not allow themselves to be vulnerable, so they never truly experience intimacy.
On the other extreme of the continuum, people who are selfless are so controlled by fear of being abandoned that they do not have boundaries and are chronic people pleasers. People who are selfless do not get their needs met because they do not feel worthy or deserving. Neither extreme is healthy and neither people who are selfish nor people who are selfless will be able to achieve lasting intimacy in relationships.
Self-love means speaking from both extremes in order to know both your strengths and weaknesses and accepting yourself as you are. Self-love is a delicate balance between these two things. Self-love is not rigid and black and white. Instead, self-love is flexible, gentle, and adaptable.
So how do you practice self-love in daily life?
There is no simple recipe, formula, or easy answers for self-love. It requires trusting ourselves, asking ourselves what we need and taking the responsibility and initiative to meet those needs. You say yes when it feels right, healthy, and respectful of both parties, and no when it seems wrong, is unhealthy, or would cause feelings of resentment or martydom.
Self-love means you balance work and play, letting neither consume your life.
Self-love is when we believe we are worthy of love and belonging, warts and all. Your worth is not contingent upon “ifs and whens” such as losing twenty pounds, getting a promotion, getting a better job, or getting married. You are worthy now- regardless of these things. These things do not define you. It’s wonderful to strive for goals, but remember to love yourself regardless of the outcome.
Self-love means accepting compliments and thanking the person who compliments you because you believe it. Self-love means not comparing yourself to others or being consumed by what they think and feel about you.
In times of stress, change, or anxiety, it is natural to fall back on these tendencies. But realize that when you compare, you are judging your innermost self against the outsides of others and often you do not see others’ pains, flaws, and struggles. These are the things that make us human.
Loving yourself is worth it. People who love themselves are simply peaceful to be around. They are confident without being arrogant; they don’t take life too seriously.
Like most things that are worth it, loving yourself takes time, dedication, and patience. It might not come naturally for you. It might mean confronting shame and guilt, exploring and healing family-of-origin issues, letting go of secrets and moving forward. Clarity Counseling supports you along your exploration and journey to self-love.