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What does self-love even mean?

What it means and how to achieve it

Years ago, I interviewed a candidate for a demanding role and asked how she would manage working under such pressure. She responded with, “two words Yasmina” and after a dramatic pause, with a straight face, said “self-love”. I asked if she’d like to expand on her answer and she simply repeated herself. This was one of my strangest interviews (for a number of reasons) and she didn’t get the job. Like any buzz term, “self-love” can be wishy washy and the concept has arguably been devalued by the way it is casually thrown around. However the love we have for ourselves affects everything in our lives, particularly our relationships.

So what exactly is self-love? I asked some friends for their views and was inspired by their responses. Some of the examples are very personal so names have been omitted.

Self-love is giving myself little ego boosts throughout the day even when nobody else does: “damn, even without a fresh trim, you still look cute.”

By understanding my achievements so far and my capabilities for further achievements, I am able to value and then love myself.It enables me to appreciate my life and stand true to my values, faith and beliefs. It’s not about putting myself first or feeling more important than others but not allowing anyone, including myself, to put me last or make me feel valueless.

Self-love is when you understand what makes you tick. What makes you happy. What your purpose is in life.

It is a sense of unconditional trust and comfort in every part of you and the way you participate in your life. Knowing that who you are is more than enough to exist and thrive through every, and anything.

Not loving yourself

So what happens when you don’t love yourself? The following quote gives some insight:

I guess self-love is a gauge. It dictates my tolerance for bullshit, abuse of any kind and tendencies to be a doormat. The more self-love I feel, the less inclined I am to stick around nonsense people and nonsense behaviour. I’m not a confrontational person, I’m not even defensive – but I will walk away and go quiet. I think I do that more when I’m ok with me. The less self-love I feel, the worse my language is toward myself.

From toxic relationships and draining friendships to crappy treatment at work, how you allow others to treat you, and what you accept is a reflection of how much and how well you love yourself. Ultimately, if you don’t love yourself, how can anyone else love you? When you love yourself, you set boundaries and you accept only the best. When other people see this, they will either treat you in line with your expectations or if they don’t, you will feel empowered to walk away. If you have poor self-love, you are more likely to look for external sources of love, as well as receive and accept poor treatment.

The way forward

Self-love is clearly not a universal concept. The good news is that it can be worked on. Remember, it is not a destination but a journey. It is not just a feeling; it requires consistent action and rather than being constant, it fluctuates. The following quotes from my friends show how challenging and even painful the journey to self-love can be.

You have to get slapped in the face a few times to understand you don’t want that anymore. You then need to hate yourself, really hate yourself, your looks, personality traits, your behaviour towards others, your childhood, your life. What butterflies from that is self-love. In my experience I had to reach rock bottom which was self loathing, heart break and letting myself down due to actions I had committed, to reach a place of love for me, what I want and what fills me with pleasure and gratitude.

Self-love is like the medal at the end of the marathon. If you skip straight to the medal, you’d miss the value, the weight and the ultimate sense of bliss and achievement. It is a gift and the size of it can only be appreciated by those who have done the work. Thus to truly feel self-love (medal) you must go to the parts of you that don’t necessarily feel like love (marathon) first. Oh but now that I feel it, oh my, I wonder how I ever existed without it.

Here are five practical steps towards being more self-loving:

1. Tune in to your internal voice

Listen to your thoughts. How nice are you to yourself? Perhaps your internal voice is kind and caring or it might be mean and critical. Being aware of how you ‘talk’ to yourself will help to develop your self-awareness. You can then create more positive internal dialogue.

2. Practice unconditional self love

For a whole week (or start with a day if that feels too difficult), challenge yourself to think and say only positive things to yourself. If you make a mistake, respond to yourself in the way you would to a small child – with love, care and gentle correction. Then commit to doing this for a whole month. It will soon become an established habit.

3. Practice good self-care

Whether it’s going to the gym three days a week, taking a long bath before bedtime, or spending time with loved ones / alone; take time to do things that make you feel good physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

4. Set boundaries

Decide what is acceptable in your life and learn to say no to anything that goes against the limits you set. You have to prioritise yourself and what’s important to you, in order for others to do so.

5. You are unique

There is only one you! Identify things you love about yourself. Make a list of all your strengths, quirks and special qualities and take some time to reflect on, and value them. If this is hard, ask the people around you what they love about you.

The more you practice self-love, the more loved you will feel and the less you will rely on external sources. Conversely you will likely attract more love from others! Above all, know that you deserve love and that you are enough just the way you are. Good luck on your journey to unconditionally loving yourself.

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