Hello to February. The month of love. Children are passing out little cards to their classmates. Grocery stores are full of pink and red heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. Florists are stocking up on roses. When we think of February we think of romantic love. *Cue Barry White music*
But what about self-love? What month of the year reminds us about the importance of the caring and love that we give to ourselves? This form of love is usually the last one we think about it. It might get put on the back-burner while we shower others with love. Or we might hear the word “self-love” and cringe, hoping that we won’t have to read any self-help books. For some of us, we may not have an idea of what self-love could even look like.
Khoshaba (2012) defines self-love as “a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological, and spiritual growth”. Self-love really boils down to regarding yourself as someone who is worthy of love and respect.
Think of it like a radio in your head, pumping out some sweet tunes all about taking pride in yourself, giving yourself validation, and acknowledging that it’s okay if you doubt yourself once in a while. Something may have happened to us early in life that has turned our self-love radio’s volume almost to zero. There may be some days when we’re blasting that radio at full volume. Each of us has the power to find our optimal volume. You might feel like you can’t turn a dial, perhaps it’s stuck or rusted from disuse. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for our self-love to get a bit louder.
How Can You Show Yourself “The Love”?
Here are a few things you can try out to pump up those self-love jams:
Self-love is kindness.
February is Random Acts of Kindness month. You may do small acts of kindness for others once in a while. Or you may have been the recipient of a kind-hearted deed. Both feel really incredible. So why not extend that same principle to yourself?
Be friendly, generous, and considerate towards yourself. Put aside criticism, anger, and resentment for a brief moment. Treat yourself the way you would treat one of your friends. Your pal feels like they bombed a job interview? You wouldn’t tell them they’re stupid and always screw things up. You would be kind and supportive. Your buddy tells you they’ve hit a rough patch in their relationship? You wouldn’t tell them they’re unlovable and will probably be alone for the rest of their life. You would remind them of how wonderful they are and how resilient they can be when tough times hit. You might even give them a big hug. Turn that same kindness towards yourself.
Self-love is patience.
Patience is the ability to be accepting of troubles, difficult circumstances, or suffering without getting angry or upset. We show patience in a number of ways every day. However, we may not show ourselves this same level of patience.
Think of how frustrating it can be to learn a new skill. You try and fail, try and fail, and try again. When you fail, what do you tell yourself? “I’m never going to get this. I’m so dumb. Why is everyone else getting it, but I’m not?”. Well that’s not very motivating. In fact, it’s quite discouraging and you’ll probably quit whatever it is you’re trying to learn.
Cue patience! What if you adopted a growth mindset? Believe that you are capable of developing and cultivating new ideas, skills, and experiences over time. When you find yourself trying and failing, soften that critical inner voice: “I’m having a tough time mastering this skill, but I will get better with effortful practice. My flaws and mistakes create opportunities for me to grow. The others who are doing well at this skill are an inspiration to me and show me what I can look forward to.” This softening reminds us that things take time and while the journey may feel discouraging, patience brings us hope.
Self-love is humility.
But it isn’t making yourself smaller or unworthy. Sometimes when people think of self-love they confound it with narcissism. But the difference between the two is that narcissism requires you to make comparisons against others and get satisfaction from being better than them. Comparison is the thief of joy. It is also a double-edged sword. Comparing yourself to others and seeing yourself as superior may make you temporarily feel good. But there will be times when you compare yourself and are devastated to find yourself on the inferior side.
Self-love removes comparisons and the satisfaction you feel comes from living by your own hopes, dreams, and values. Humility, in this case, is being accepting of your strengths and limitations, without the need to compare yourself to others. You may find yourself casting aside the superficial and arbitrary reasons you have linked to your worthiness, and find a sense of intrinsic worth.
Self-love is empathy.
Self-empathy involves bringing awareness to our inner experiences, emotions, and mental states. It isn’t a form of self-pity or self-compassion. Self-empathy asks you to observe and acknowledge what is happening in you. All judgment is suspended. A part of you observes the part of you that experiences life. This helps to meet your own needs because you will truly understand what those needs are.
To begin to build self-empathy, it is important to get in touch with your body and your mind. We have physiological reactions to the world around us, whether it’s goosebumps because it’s cold, a headache because of tension and stress, or a pounding heart from feeling threatened. These sensations are clues to help you understand how you are feeling. Observing your thoughts without passing judgment is another critical step to self-empathy. A helpful exercise for this may be imagining that you are standing on the sidewalk, watching cars drive by. Each car is a thought. You notice it come into sight, think “oh that’s a red car”, and then let it drive by. Try not to run out into traffic and try to stop a car. This happens and if you find yourself chasing after a particular car, remind yourself that you are there to sit and watch.
Self-love is delight.
When was the last time you delighted in yourself? Felt satisfaction, pleasure, joy, or gratification? In this version of delight, we aren’t delighting in the things we’ve done or accomplished. We are delighting in who we are. We send ourselves feelings of warmth and joy. We enjoy our own company.
So, get to know yourself by spending time with yourself. Even if that if the briefest moment of solitude. And yes, there will be parts you like and parts you don’t like. But remember that self-love involves accepting strengths and limitations without harsh judgement. This is another opportunity to treat yourself like you would treat a friend. When you spend time with your friends you don’t criticize them. You don’t tell them they’re not smart/beautiful/loveable/hardworking/etc. enough. You don’t say that spending time with them is silly because you’ve got so much work to get done. You connect, you talk, you laugh, you cry, you comfort each other, you delight in each other. Spending time with yourself is no different.
As you can see, self-love is much more complicated than looking in the mirror and saying, “I love you” every morning - although, sometimes that can be helpful! If you are curious about cultivating self-love, working with a psychologist might be helpful. If you think you’d be interested in improving your ability to give yourself love, Solace Psychology has several psychologists who work closely with this matter.
Written by Danielle Charron, Registered Psychologist