Most people are familiar with the adage “ you first need to learn how to love yourself, before you can love another”. Knowing this and practicing self love however, are two very different things.
It’s worth stating, that intellectually, almost everyone, kind of sort of understands the heart of this adage. But the idea of self love for most, seems to live and die in the cerebral realm.
With that said, it begs the questions then, do people really know, in a felt sense, what it means to love themselves? What does practicing self love actually entail and most importantly, why is it in one’s best interest to practice self love each and every day?
Just like committing to an exercise and diet plan, what are the results that people can actually achieve?
Before answering those questions: let’s first discuss what self love is not.
Self love is not about being grandiose, self focussed, self promoting, maintaining one’s social image, media branding or anything else that falls under the narcissistic spectrum.
It’s not about repeating affirmations a la Saturday Night Live’s 1990’s “Stuart Smally” character, and trying to convince yourself that you are good enough, smart enough and gosh darn it, people like you.
It’s not about buying the latest electronic gadgets, stylized wardrobe, hairdo’s, botox, cool sculpting, doing PX 90, etc.
It’s about something much simpler, kinder and realer than anything mentioned above.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with being bold, taking risks, asserting yourself, and doing affirmations. There’s nothing wrong with being stylish, branding yourself on social media, or getting into the latest exercise trends. And there are countless benefits to be had when people learn how to focus on what it is they want and then ask for it.
You can certainly practice self -love and do all those things too. They don’t contradict one another. They just aren’t necessarily one in the same.
Confused? Don’t worry, clarity is on the way.
Plumbing the mystery of what self love really is and understanding “how to practice self love each and every day” has a couple of prerequisites. It first requires letting go of the intellectual understanding of the textbook definition of self love. It then requires moving into a deepened and embodied experience of the concept.
Here’s how to start that process. Ask yourself the following: what are people doing when these things happen?
- When a parent holds their newborn and meets their gaze?
- When a person quietly watches the sun setting and the moon rising on a warm and breezy summer night?
- When a pet snuggles up against you, or licks (kisses) your leg?
- When you soak and luxuriate in a long hot bath and unwind at the end of the day?
- When you are listening to your favorite song?
- When you are mesmerized by a piece of art?
- When you are involved in any kind of pleasurable activity where time just seems to stop?
Are you thinking, planning, analyzing or engaged in any left brain activity?
No, you are experiencing an inner feeling state. And while your brilliant left thinking brain does a lot of good things for you, it can’t access this state.
And this is why most people don’t really practice self love, or reap the benefits that come along with this practice. Most people are comfortable doing relationships, including the relationship they have with themselves, in a left brain analytical kind of way.
So the real deal and the key to practicing self love is to find “right brain and body practices” that work best for you. And then do them every day.
Before getting to to those practices, here are some key principles to understand first on what self love is:
- Self love is an inner state of consciousness that’s experienced through the right brain and body. Words such as compassion, calmness, curiosity, clarity, hopeful, and creative, best describe this experienced state.
- When you experience this inner state, it then becomes easier to become curious and introspective, which is a necessary step for practicing self – love.
- The practice of self love means shifting your focus internally rather than externally. This is easier said than done as many people believe the need “xxx” in order to be happy and feel loved.
- Focusing internally from this inner state, then allows people to deepen their practice of self love and get curious about some of the choices they have made, some regrets they may have and some inner conflicts they may be experiencing.
- Self Love is a practice that allows people to make peace with being perfectly imperfect and accept their shortcomings and worts.
- Practicing self love means to commit to a process where you take time each and every day to look inside yourself each and to deepen your relationship with yourself.
- It means getting curious about why you say some of the things you say, do some of the things you do, had this reaction to that event or this fight with that person.
Here’s how you can practice self love each and every day:
- One of the easiest and least time consuming ways to practice self love is to just close your eyes, bring one hand to your heart and the other to your belly and follow your natural breath cycle for as little as 10 – 15 breaths. This is effective because the body naturally understands this kind of kinesthetic language and registers it as loving.
- Then take a few minutes to journal about your experience and what you may have discovered about yourself when you do this.
- You can also get your left brain involved (which it will love) and track each day some of your internal experiences e.g. thoughts (negative thinking), feelings (anxiety anyone?) and sensations (who doesn’t experience a tight jaw, neck and shoulder pain?)
- Yoga, meditation, and other mind / body / somatic practices are super effective for getting to know what’s locked away in those tense, sore spots in your body
- Finding creative practices such as painting, singing, acting, playing music etc. is a great avenue for practicing self love. These right brain activities can get a person into a state of flow that the body and brain also registers as love.
- And of course, going to therapy is one of the best ways to hold yourself accountable to practicing self love as your therapist will guide you into a deeper experience of yourself.
Here are some of the benefits you will experience when you practice self love each and every day:
- Consistently practicing self love will help you to forgive yourself for not being perfect
- It will give you the courage and confidence to make amends and apologize to others when your imperfect parts may have hurt them intentionally or unintentionally.
- Consistently practicing self love will help you learn how to not personalize other people’s bad moods.
- And rather then react those moods, you will be able to effortlessly ask the other from a genuinely curious place if they are ok?
- It will also give you the confidence to assert yourself if and when those bad moods continuously infringe upon your right to be treated respectfully.
- Practicing self love will help you heal your wounds. Wounds that may have developed in childhood or later in life.
- And when you commit to healing your wounds, in turn, that will ultimately mean letting go of burdens and beliefs that aren’t true e.g. “ I am not good enough, smart enough, and people don’t like me”.
- A consistent practice of self love will mean that the “Stuart Smally” affirmations that your left brain has worked so hard to get you to believe, will just naturally happen.
- Practicing self love gives you the confidence to explore your soul’s desires, whether they be simple hobbies and interests or deep yearnings and passions.
- Practicing self love means you will find the courage to use your voice, speak up and make authentic choices.
- The consistent practice of self love will give you the courage you need to walk away from people who don’t treat you right.
- It will also help you to set boundaries with people whose actions don’t match their words.
- It will help you to say goodbye to those who say they are sorry when they hurt you but still do the same hurtful behaviors over and over again.
- The consistent practicing of self love will give you the courage to commit to just being you- the only person you can ever really be.
- And most importantly, it will give you the confidence to be comfortable in your own skin.
Now look at all those results you can experience!
The more you practice self love each and every day, the more free you will be inside to follow your heart’s desire. And when you take the time to consistently look inside you and see you, “get” you, and have compassion for you, the greater capacity you will have to do that with another.
Practicing self love is the primary building block people need to develop the relational capacity for being in and maintaining relationships with others, including a romantic partner, current or future.
With this building block solid and in place, people will then be able to see themselves and their perfectly imperfect parts, have compassion for them (while still staying true to themselves) and in turn allow someone else to see them, get them and have all that other good stuff reciprocated.
Now, what could be better than that?
Maura Matarese, M.A., LMHC, R.Y.T., is a psychotherapist and author practicing in Sudbury, MA.. If you would like to learn how to practice self love each and every day, check out her new online course: Finding Hope After Heartbreak: Learn The Secret How To Start Feeling Better Now. There’s also a free mini- course version to try as well.