The Valentine's day is around the corner and you are probably getting ready to make the most of the day by reaffirming your affection for the loved ones. How about taking a pause to make a commitment to love yourself as well?
The idea of loving ourselves is often associated with the self-centered notions of "I, me, and mine." Although a 2015 study  has debunked the link between the use of these personal pronouns with the inflated sense of self, putting oneself first over others is hardly the definition of self-love. Maybe it is worth looking for the clues to the definition of loving ourselves in our own expressions of love and care toward relationships close to our hearts. In various life roles-- a spouse, a friend, a colleague, a parent, or a daughter/son--we are quick to help and shower love others in myriad ways. But we often find shortage of self-compassion, time, and energy when it comes to loving ourselves.
Recognize signs of being out-of-touch with ourselves
Our lives are brimming with busyness. How many of the uncountable moments we live each day are focused on connecting with and taking care of ourselves? If you need to dig very deep to answer the question, it is time to re-evaluate.
- We don't prioritize our health : Our biggest asset is our (good) health. When we let our health slide we do the biggest disfavor to ourselves. We continuously ignore the SOS signals for help from our own bodies--gaining (unhealthy) weight, ignoring persisting aches and pains, working around the clock with too little sleep, and the list goes on--often to become the best parent, spouse, worker, volunteer and more. Spending time on planning to eat healthy or exercising gets the back seat in favor of other pressing tasks and responsibilities. All too often, our gadgets--television, smartphones, and computers--get more of our time than we give to ourselves. This consistent lack of compassion toward our bodies results in declining physical and emotional energy and is a big sign that we need to get in touch with ourselves.
- Feeling disappointed with ourselves: We live in a world where being ultra competitive is worn as a badge of honor. We often tend to feel a sense of dissatisfaction if our accomplishments aren't equal to or greater than those of others. We continually play the game of perfection: being the best mom, having the smallest dress size, being on top of professional goals, and the list goes on. Often we set and try to achieve these goals without auditing our energy reservoirs. According to Kristin Neff, a leading researcher in the field of self-compassion, "Continually feeding our need for positive self-evaluation is a bit like stuffing ourselves with candy,"(Neff, 2011, P. 5). It doesn't come as a surprise that we get a sugar-high of self-judgement and feel burned out and disappointed with ourselves.
How to cultivate self-love?
Cultivating self-compassion is the first step toward loving ourselves. "One of the most robust and consistent findings in the research literature is that people who are more self-compassionate tend to be less anxious and depressed," (Neff, 2011, P. 110). This translates into not criticizing or judging ourselves--actions that result in being in a constant negative state about ourselves. The following steps offer a gradual pathway into the zone of loving ourselves.
- Make ourselves our priority number one: There might be some wisdom in following the boilerplate advise offered every time you fly in an airplane--fasten your seat belt first before helping your child to do so. Undoubtedly, It can feel quite rewarding to be the foundation of love and care for others in the various roles listed above. However, if we keep dipping into our energy reservoir without renewing, we often reach a point where there is nothing left to give. By taking care of ourselves first, we make sure that our energy reservoir has a chance to refill, preparing us to take ever better care of other responsibilities.
- Make an appointment to spend time with ourselves Regardless of our family status, it often seems daunting to spent time on our own. Yes, spending time in the company of TV and other gadgets doesn't count. Many experts recommend spending time in our own company. When we are in our own company without any distractions, we are better able to tune into our inner world.
- Be more mindful of our thoughts and language toward ourselves: Recently, I had the opportunity to learn basic mediation from a Buddhist monk. In the one-on-one session, her first lesson was to tame the mind by paying attention to our thoughts. Thoughts are the seeds that can grow into harmful weeds or fruit-bearings trees depending upon how we feed (respond to) them. When we become more mindful of self-disparaging thoughts, and not give them undue support, and/or replace them with more affectionate thoughts--we get on a path to be kind to ourselves. The same concept extends to the unkind words we use to express our perceived inadequacies. If we wouldn't use that language with a friend, a co-worker, or a family member, why should we bother using it with ourselves. It is notable that thinking ourselves superior to others is just as harmful as it is to judge ourselves to be inferior to others.
- Recognize our unique talents and accomplishments: We are often too busy setting goals and accomplishing them. Once we accomplish the top goal on the list we are onto the next one. All too often we are worried about what we don't have and don't pause to count our accomplishments, unique gifts, and talents. Occasionally, peeking at the list of our accomplishments and unique talents can help us boost our confidence. We are more likely to feel comfortable in our own skin (i.e. accomplishments) rather than seeking self-approval from others.
- Express ourselves creatively: We tried million different things when we were children--music, sports, painting, and more. As a child we were not afraid to try different creative outlets and failing at them. In her best-selling book, The Artist's Way--a book that inspires creative individuals to find courage to express their gifts, Julia Cameron lists "creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy: pure, creative, energy," as the first spiritual principle toward the (artist's) road to discovery and recovery. Being creative, even if we are not professional artists, helps unblock hidden energy by the act of our creative expression.
- Give ourselves time to change: "Rome was not built in a day," the saying goes, revealing the wisdom that any meaningful work or change takes time. We are living in a world where microwave mentality of getting quick results prevails, which keeps us from making long-term commitment to a positive change. We desire the change now, overnight. But here is another truth, the evolution has taught us to take the baby steps first and then run a marathon.
We reap the benefits of showing up in our own lives
The benefits of showing up in our own lives are multifold. By being self compassionate:
- We develop better emotional resilience and hence are better able to deal with a difficult situations.
- We become more compassionate toward others.
- We have greater positive energy to spend on goals that help us grow.
Now, it's time to get your journal out and start taking action to fall in love with yourself. "To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance." --Oscar Wilde
Resources and Recommendations
- Carey, A.L., Brucks, M., Küfner, A.C. P., Holtzman, N. S., Deters, F. G., Back,M.D., Donnellan M. Brent , James W. (Sept. 2015), Narcissism and the use of personal pronouns revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109(3), e1-e15.
- Neff, K.(2011). Self-Compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. New York, NY: HarperCollins