The biggest shift I experienced over the last decade (yes it took me over half of it) was when self-love became an action for me instead of a feeling. For the better part of my 20’s I was trying to set up my life as society had told me it should be: great friends, a cozy home, a loving and “perfect for me” spouse, a couple of adorable children, and a lucrative career that provided fulfillment and achievement. Add in the occasional “big goal”, such as running a half-marathon or taking a really cool international trip and voila: happiness and a life well-lived!
When I didn’t get some of those things I started paying attention to quotes, books, and advice about self-love. “You have to love yourself before you can be loved by anyone else” was running on replay in my head as I put self-love on the top of my list of things to achieve each new year. So dutifully, I bought myself flowers every week. I splurged on indulgent purchases just for me, like the overpriced shoes I barely wore, the expensive massages that soothed my body while my head still ran anxious loops the entire hour on the table, or the international soul-searching vacations I thought were sure to render me self-loving, just like they did for the women in the movies. And yet, after many of these experiences, I remember thinking, “well that would have been nicer if my brain didn’t have to come with me”. I was still constantly anxious and worried.
As I progressed through my path of learning to love myself, there were many times that I thought I was there- I really did feel the love! And yet, it never lasted. And on top of that, not a whole lot was changing in my relationships, connection to my work, or self-confidence and trust. So I decided to take a different approach. What I realized was that the times when I felt the most self-loving were also the times when my external world was validating me.
I was well aware that I was wired as a pleaser (read: I was really good at putting others’ needs and feelings before my own), so I used this information about myself to reframe my understanding of what self-love could be. I started to think about what it looked like for me to love someone else. What were the things I did and said? How did I show up for them? What boundaries did I encourage them to honor? How did I talk to them, especially when they needed support and connection? My honest answers to these questions changed everything for me and I quickly realized:
Love is not just a feeling, Love is an action.
Deep and unconditional love is showing up for others when it’s inconvenient. It is having forgiveness and compassion even when you don’t understand their mistakes. It is taking interest in what they truly love, to hear all parts of their story, to see the goodness that lies beneath the “less than desirable” things they did or their “negative” feelings. It is creating the space to witness those “ugly” parts and show them you’re still here, and they’re still lovable in your book. It is paying attention to their boundaries and honoring them without pushing them on why those boundaries are what they are. Love is speaking it even when it feels vulnerable. It is kindness.
These are all the things I was doing for others whom I loved all the time, without question. With this new information, I created a clear and objective set of self-love rules in my mind and hung them in my house. And I started to develop consistent habits and practices that totally shifted how I loved myself. A huge piece of this was having the willingness to go into areas that didn’t feel so fluid and question myself on what was there, below the surface. For example, I noticed I had a harder time verbally expressing love to others, which I learned through practice was also very difficult for me to do for myself. So I practiced until all the emotions came out and I was finally able to say out loud (and feel genuinely) what I so deserved to hear: “You’re a good girl. I love you no matter what”.
Self-love became a commitment rather than something external in the background. It is now my highest value and guides every one of my decisions. I fully understand now how self-love, self-respect, and self-trust enables me to better serve others around me. I’ve developed more acceptance, compassion, and respect for those in my life and it almost never comes from a place of fear and pleasing anymore. Instead, I’m able to see and love their humanness just like I see and love my own, from a place of empathy.
In this past decade, I really got how big a part my thoughts and actions toward myself were playing in the cultivation and nurturing of my own self-love. Reframing my definition of love as an action and not only a feeling has helped me create and nourish the healthiest committed partnership I’ve ever been in- with myself. This mindset shift has created behavioral changes that have brought people into my life that are more aligned with my highest and most authentic self. It has allowed me to confidently take the risk to shift into more purpose-driven work, and I now fully trust myself to take on goals and create visions much bigger than I ever dreamed.