Self-love is arguably the most crucial asset to one’s well-being; without loving oneself, one cannot truly love another. To be full of doubt and masked in insecurities is only going to cause one to evaluate why others love them, and in turn, can push away even our closest companions.
It often feels selfish to indulge in self-care and to spend time devoted to looking after just you, but it is a necessary part of keeping grounded and happy. Learning to listen to what you need, practice body intelligence and give yourself what you require in order to recover and restore from life’s daily stresses can help you keep going.
Self Love is Not Self-Indulgent
Although often deemed narcissistic, self-love, in fact, is another idea altogether. Whilst narcissism is defined as an excessive interest in one’s own appearance, caught up in self-absorption, self-love is a necessary quality in retaining a healthy mindset. Rather than self-absorption, self-love can promote balance in one’s life, thus increasing positivity and opportunities for contentment.
Baumeister conducted two laboratory experiments which found that narcissism is often associated with aggression and violence, particularly when there is an attack on the ego. Self-love, however, can help us to balance our most virtuous qualities.
It is important to recognise that too much indulgence in your own self-image can become unhealthy and it is imperative to find a balance between loving others whilst giving yourself the same kindness and compassion.
Self-love is Not Arrogance
While self-love is highly correspondent with self-image; the two are not eternally bound. If you have a negative self-image, you are not likely to love yourself. A poor perception of the self can be detrimental to well-being when it fosters thoughts of being unworthy or incompetent. Conversely, as Campbell discusses, if your self-image is too ego-oriented, it can also lead to narcissism. The concept of self-love exists on a spectrum where a healthy self-image is key.
Campbell, insists that there is a way to find a healthy balance on this spectrum and suggests that instead of thinking of how wonderful you are, you should view yourself in terms of your moral qualities. Campbell’s most relevant point is that those with high self-esteem perceive themselves positively; which substantiates Beck’s discussion of self-schemas.
Beck states that a positive self-schema is linked to a healthy state of mind and the ability for growth instead of viewing your capabilities as insufficient for the external world. Thus, a positive self- perception is linked to a balanced sense of self-love.
“Attune your thoughts to what you can do, not what you cannot do, that is of vital importance.”
Self-love is Not Shortsighted
Another misconception about self-love is that people are too self-involved to see their weaknesses or limitations however self-love is actually highly correlated with self-actualization. Self-actualization is the state of becoming who we are meant to be, and thriving in accordance with your inherent values.
Firman states that deep within human beings is an innate drive to embrace and actualize the whole of who we are. If you spend too much of your time devoted to others and their happiness, you risk neglecting your own happiness and well-being.
In order to self-actualise you must first be willing to live according to your values, as this is the surest way to attain goals which reward you, both morally and intrinsically. Aristotle wrote of the essential role that value congruence plays in self-actualisation stating that you need to recognise what is truly important to you. In doing this, and acting in accordance with your values, self-love will start to emerge as a byproduct; due to the increased positivity generated by doing what you want.
Self-Love is Not a Bloated Perception of One’s Abilities
Seligman discusses the importance of a cognitive set, which you can apply in a variety of situations. Basically, a cognitive set means that one learned behaviour required for a specific situation isn’t necessarily relevant when you are faced with divergent situations, particularly challenging ones. Instead, you may need to exercise a varied set of cognitive elements that further your behaviour in that situation.
The concept of cognitive sets is helpful when exploring the idea of self-love, as one often tends to be loving towards oneself in one specific area of skill, however, may neglect self-love in another area. For example, if you decide to eat well to stay healthy, you may focus your attention on nutrition and the look of your body; obsessing over the gym, your calorie intake or bikini body.
Yet, in stressing so intently on one aspect of yourself, you risk permitting a neglected whole. In obsessing over the gym, you may forget about the simple pleasures that can make you feel happy, such as taking a long bubble bath or having a glass of wine with friends.
When practising self-love it is essential to create and maintain a balance, between your different areas of skill or development, your friends versus alone time for self-care and between working hard and making time for rest and relaxation. This balance, value congruence and self-love breeds positivity, and as Seligman states, happiness is the presence of well-being, not the absence of misery.
Making Self-Love a Habit
Therapy can be a solution to many who are trying to create a healthy self-image and the value of the therapeutic process is obvious. However starting to provide your own support could provide a preventative guard against mental illness, if however you suffer from low self-esteem, feel unworthy or incompetent regularly in your daily life then therapy can provide you with a welcome relief and the new beginning of a new you.
If you are however looking to bring more self-love into your life you are guaranteed that it will provide you with an outlet to be yourself, to pursue your creative passions, to engage in your favourite activities and help you to take the time you need to listen to what your mind and body want from you.
Listening, to yourself, is a fundamental aspect of self-love, and the stress of the external world can often detract you from this. Two important activities that can keep you on track and paying attention to your needs are:
Exercise will give you an authority over your body, and allow you to take intiative in what you want to it to become, it can be extremely motivating when you start to see changes which can offer you an easy way into respecting and listening to your body. For this reason, exercise has been found to significantly bring about a more positive perception of the self. Plus the added bonus of course, is the flooding of endorphins you experience when you exercise which provide you with happiness hormones and a healthy body.
Write it Down
It may seem odd, but writing to yourself and recognising your own achievements is a great way to feel proud of what you have achieved, what you have overcome and how you have got to where you are today. Try writing yourself a letter highlighting things you are proud of and where you want your attentions to go next. In writing to yourself you are recognising both your achievements in the physical world and your dream goals that can then be put into action.
Practice Loving Kindness Meditation
Based on the Buddhist philosophy, loving kindness meditation provides a valuable opportunity for you to stop rushing, to listen to your body and generate positive feelings towards yourself and others. It is valuable and easy meditation style which is simple and bears many powerful benefits from beginners to the experienced.
A Take Home Message
Practicing habits that build on your self-worth will ultimately lead to more inner place. However, self-love can only grow from a place of willingness, time and self-compassion; thus, it is imperative to start putting yourself first. Your qualities are to be grown and respected, and learning to love yourself, may be the most challenging and empowering experiences you can have in finding yourself and affirming your worth in the world.
Would you like to learn more?
Kristen Neff is the positive psychology expert who developed our modern understanding of self-love which she calls Self-Compassion. To learn more about Self-Compassion and Kristen’s amazing contributions to positive psychology you can check out her TEDtalk on the differences between self-esteem and self-compassion:
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Campbell, W. K., Rudich, E. A. (2002). Narcissism, Self-Esteem, and the Positivity of Self-Views: Two Portraits of Self-Love. Sage Publications, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, no. 3 (2002): 358-368.
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