I know, you've heard it so many times, you are probably sick of hearing it, and you're probably not even 100% sure what it means. I hear you. I'm with you. There are so many voices out there telling you you need to love yourself and stressing on the self-care routines for which you just don't have the time. And it's not like you DON'T take care of yourself... I mean you shower and get dressed and eat something every day... C'mon! "Love yourself." What does that EVEN mean? Does anybody really have strong boundaries? How do you even know if you're not loving yourself? And don't even get you started on things like talking to yourself in the mirror or praising your naked body in the shower... how is THAT going to magically transform the state of your life?
Okay, let me clear something up here. Self-love is important. How do I know that? Because I spent a lot of years not loving myself and let me tell you what that brought into my life: a lot of losses, a lot of sadness, a lot of fear, a lot of missed opportunities, a lot of pain and isolation, a lot of stress, and a lot of self-sabotaging ineffective coping mechanisms (addictions, alcoholism, eating disorders, depression, unhealthy relationships and behavior patterns, the list goes on). Self-love does not require you to talk to yourself in the mirror, or praise your naked body, or be completely rigid in your boundaries, or perform any kind of daily ritual that you aren't excited to take part in. These are simply techniques that other people have felt helpful in growing their own self-love... they are not a definition of self-love. Might they help? Certainly. That doesn't mean you need all of them.
So, what is self-love and how do you do it? Self-love is nothing more than accepting yourself as you are and allowing yourself to grow... nurturing that growth even. It is being a little gentler, a little softer, and a little more open. In my experience, what this requires is an honest look at where you may not be accepting yourself. Where are you holding yourself to impossible expectations? What are you carrying guilt about? Is there anything you need to forgive yourself for? There is a Divine intelligence in this universe. You would not be here as you are if there was not a purpose for you to serve just as you are, right now... today. Trust that. Trust that you were created in love and are worthy of love just as you are. Turn that over in your brain and will yourself to open to it. A lot of people find that a good start to this process is making a list of things they like about themselves. Do that, if you feel called to it. (I never did it, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't have helped.) If you want to know what I did do, you can check out some of my classes on Learn It Live, they all contain elements of my process. Decide that you want to start loving yourself more. And then begin to listen to yourself in the day to day. Notice the judgments and the criticisms. Notice the perceived failures and notice the self-talk. Be willing to change them.
Look at the past. There is no such thing as failure, only experience. Regret is a lesson left unlearned. If there are things you regret that you believe ended in failure and that you have not forgiven yourself for, look for the lesson. Ask what you can learn from that experience. Ask how you have grown from it. When you do this, you will be grateful for that experience, and regret will be no more. If you really look and ask "Why did I do that?" or "What motivated me?", you will recognize that you did what you thought you had to do at the time. You did the best you could with the knowledge that you had. Now, you know more. How can you apply this knowledge in the present? How can you live through all that you have learned? Asking these questions is a key part of accepting your actions in the past and coming to a place of acknowledging your growth and accepting who you have become in the present. Does that mean you are now perfect? No! You are a work in progress! Constantly growing. Accept that! Embrace that!
Look at the present. Where may you currently be holding yourself to high expectations and judging yourself for your inability to meet them? Ask, "Where do these expectations come from?" "Are they coming from me or are they coming from what I imagine other people expect?" "Have I asked those people what they really expect?" "What am I trying to prove?" "And why do I feel the need to prove it?" Remind yourself that you are a work in progress and make a conscious decision to accept yourself just as you are. I know that's easier said than done, but just try it out. Extend to yourself the same kind of compassion you would extend to a friend or family member. Understand where you were in the past, where you are now, and recognize that the only person you are trying to "prove" anything to, is yourself. Your own expectations and your own criticisms prevent you from fully accepting yourself right now. Let that shit go! You are beautiful!
Anything you have ever done in your entire life, was most likely done in some way shape or form to secure love. You can keep doing that... trying to get approval and secure love from other people, but you will never feel or believe that you are actually getting it if your own self-judgement is blocking acceptance of it. You must tear through your own self judgments before you can fully accept love from another. You ARE your greatest source of love! All that love you have searched for is right there within your own heart ready to be given to you!
The thing that has been most beneficial to me in breeding self love, is making space to acknowledge that I am learning, accepting that my best does not have to be perfect, and giving myself permission to grow. A technique that I have used to help in this process is becoming mindful of my own thought processes. I had to start listening to what I was thinking when I started to feel bad. Do you know what I found? I was not very nice to myself! I called myself names, I blamed myself for things, I accused myself of deserving all kinds of not-so-good things that happen in life! It is important to rewrite these patterns of thinking! Once you start listening to yourself, recognize where you are being hard on yourself and talk back! Argue those thought patterns! Consistently remind yourself that you are a good person who deserves good things, that you are simply doing your best in the moment and growing through that process. Finding those patterns and rewriting them has made the biggest difference in my life. It takes effort at first, but becomes habit in time. You will eventually shift into those more positive thoughts in any situation quite naturally.
Do you have to have a daily routine? No not really. But you may find it beneficial. As you begin to replace negative thought patterns, you will begin to find it easier to make time for yourself as you accept that you are worth it. However, life is often busy and there are often jobs and relationships and kids and pets and whatever else you have going on, so I understand the resistance here. I don't think self care is really as demanding as we make it sound sometimes. If you want to meditate daily and you feel that helps you, go for it! Meditation has great benefits. But don't feel you have to. Maybe just take some time to be still when you can. And be willing to step back and quiet your thoughts as the need arises. What works for you? What is something you can do every day that makes you feel good? It can be something you can do in 10 or 15 minutes. And if you miss a day, its totally okay! Nothing to freak out over! Maybe you like to exercise, or cook, or paint, or read, or take baths, or build something, or go for a walk, or keep a gratitude journal, or just sit with that special someone for a minute... it doesn't matter. Any thing that helps you feel good is a form of self care. Any time you make the space to let yourself feel good, you are affirming the idea that you are ENOUGH. It's important to have these little reminders as reinforcement! Allow yourself to do it! If that includes talking in the mirror or praising your naked body, go for it! Sticky notes with affirmations? Perfectly okay! Anything that helps you create that space for yourself in which you feel loved and good enough, is just perfect. YOU ARE MORE THAN ENOUGH! Make the space to SHOW yourself you BELIEVE that!
Do you have to establish finite boundaries that you never allow to be crossed? No, that's not really very realistic. It is important to become more aware of your own needs and do your best to keep them honored when making commitments to other people. But no lines need drawn in the sand. You can be flexible! You do not have to define your limits. As long as you are making that space to connect to yourself and accept yourself as you are, you will find it easier to recognize your own needs and when they are being ignored. It will become easier for you to voice them as your perception of your own worth grows. Just remember, it's okay to say "no" sometimes.
Self-love is a journey. There are going to be bumps in the road and that's okay. Accept these moments as part of your growth process. Accept that you are learning. Remember that you do not have to be perfect and that no one expects you to be. Give it what you've got right now, and allow yourself to grow. You will get there. How do I know? Because YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. YOU ARE MAGICAL. YOU ARE MORE THAN ENOUGH.