When I ask my clients what self-love means to them, they often respond with the words selfishness, arrogance, and self-absorption. With Valentine’s Day approaching, decided to take some time to define this term and give readers the opportunity to look honestly at themselves and their behaviors. Below are some suggestions for how you can start to practice self-love in your relationships and in your life.
Self-care is more than bubble baths and drinking wine
A large part of self-love is a consistent self-care routine. Unfortunately, our society has romanticized self-care. Many of us associate the word with massages, spa days, excessive spending (“treating yourself”), and lavish vacations. Sure, these activities are fun and rewarding, but in order to experience the benefits of self-care it should be consistent over time. Some great examples of sustainable self-care activities include eating more fruits and vegetables, exercise, establishing a meditation or yoga practice, journaling, and attending therapy. Feeling overwhelmed? Try adding one self-care activity to your routine every thirty days. This allows time for these activities to become habits.
Are you someone who struggles to get things done if they are not benefiting others? It may be helpful for you to notice how engaging in a consistent self-care routine benefits your friends and family members. It is likely that taking better care of yourself will result in increased energy and presence.
Self-care does not have to be time consuming
Self-care should not feel like a burden. It is important to be honest with yourself about what works for your schedule. Can’t go to the gym five days a week? Try three. Can’t meditate for thirty minutes a day? Try ten minutes. Over time, these small changes can make a big difference. It is also less likely that you will give up on your new habit when life gets stressful.
Healthy boundaries with friends and loved ones
Let’s move on to the more difficult part of self-love; taking care of yourself in interpersonal relationships. Setting and maintaining boundaries with friends and family members is a form of internal validation. Setting boundaries involves being honest with yourself when you feel overextended or when you are being treated in a way that you will not tolerate. Are you afraid that setting boundaries means ending relationships with people you care about? Try less rigid boundaries including “If you continue __________, I will leave the situation.” or “If you continue __________, I will call you out on your behavior.”
Choose to have difficult conversations
As a result of family dynamics and messages from society, you may choose to avoid uncomfortable conversations that could result in conflict. Sure, this may feel more comfortable short-term, but long-term it leads to difficult emotion including resentment and bitterness which are damaging to relationships. Remember, when you choose not to communicate your needs and emotions in the moment, you choose to betray yourself. You also choose not to give others an opportunity to meet your needs or respond positively to your emotions.
Be curious about your inner critic
It is often difficult to approach ourselves with the same compassion that we do other people. This is often due to your inner critic that tells you that you are “not enough” or that you are “unworthy of love and connection”. It is important to acknowledge that your inner critic is a defense mechanism that helped you get your needs met as a child. Try approaching your inner critic with curiosity. What is it trying to protect you from? How has it protected you from this in the past? Is it still serving you at this point in your life? You might find that while your inner critic has good intentions, it could be undermining your accomplishments and causing you to ruminate on your shortcomings.
Michaela Standhart is a Marriage and Family Therapist Candidate. She specializes in couples therapy, betrayal trauma, and works with adolescent as young as 12 years old.