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How Self-Love, Self-Care and Self-Compassion are Different (and also Irrelevant)

What happens when you can't engage in self-care and you're all out of self-compassion?

With summer around the corner (in this corner of the world), there’s a lot of talk about being your best self, which somehow links to self-care and self-love, both of which can lead to self-meanness, which then calls for self-compassion.

So before we drive all of our selves completely crazy, here’s a breakdown of what’s up, and why it doesn’t really matter.

SELF-CARE is comprised of physical, mental and spiritual well-being, through healthy eating, exercise, rest, fiscal responsibility, a strong social network, and and all the other beautiful things you can do to take care of your sweet self. You can know about self-care and have a hard time practicing it, or you can be great at self-care in one area and less so in others. Also there are times when you are more able to care for yourself and others when you just can’t.

Usually, if you are not taking care of yourself it’s because you have 1,700 other things going on that you need to tend to – like people who need your care, or limited resources that require attention, or a schedule that is over-capacity. This may require more time, money, support or favorable circumstances that you just don’t have right now. In which case, what you are doing is probably the most self-caring thing possible. But this is exactly the time we tend to confuse self-care with self-love, as in ‘if I loved myself, I would take care of myself’. Not so.

SELF-LOVE is measured by one’s own feelings about their happiness and well-being. Generally self-love is akin to self-worth, and how much we value ourselves. The understanding is that if we value ourselves enough, then we will engage in self-care (see above), which will result in feeling good about our health, relationships, purpose, friendships, etc.

The issue that arises with self-love is that when one or more of these external aspects change (as things do in this ever-evolving world of ours), then so does the degree of happiness associated with it. Because self-love, in and of itself, is wholly conditional and entirely unsustainable. As anyone who has had a long-term partner, or raised a teenager (or been one themselves) knows, you can easily hate someone that you absolutely love. Such that self-love is inevitably linked with moments self-hate. When this happens, we tend to call on our self-compassion.

SELF-COMPASSION allows you to engage self-kindness, have empathy for yourself and accept your not-so-great behavior (even when you’re too much). It is especially handy when you can’t engage in self-care and aren’t feeling self-love.

The problem with self-compassion is that it is more of a gift than a practice. It’s not always around when you need it. As my brilliant friend Ena says – sometimes you need compassion for not having any self-compassion. When that happens, you are back to square one – no self-care, no self-love, and no self-compassion to forgive yourself with.

All that’s left is some version of: What the Hell happened? How on Earth did I end up here?

Which leads to one of the simpler forms of self- that you can have: self-inquiry.  A curious, objective investigation into what is up. One that doesn’t ask you to do anything (care), or feel anything (love) or be anything (compassionate) that you aren’t already in this moment. One that is simply there to feel the truth of what is up, with no judgement or expectation. One that is willing to take a break from all the excitement and hang out for a moment. One that usually results in some tears, or a smile, or a nap, whatever comes up. More often than not, a reminder, that you are already what you seek for yourself: love, care, compassion – you are already that.

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