What is self-love?
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
But first, have a look at these ‘self’ words…
We know what these words mean, so they don’t need defining. However, we could define the complete list with two words: self-love.
An online dictionary defines self-love as, ‘regard for one’s own well-being and happiness’, which is partially correct. Ironically, another online dictionary defines self-love with synonyms such as ‘conceit, narcissism and vanity’. Whoa, that’s way off the mark.
It appears the second dictionary has confused ‘self-love’ with self-ishness. But therein lies a problem. If two dictionaries can’t get it right, then that makes it confusing and highlights how many have the wrong impression about what self-love is all about. And subsequently we hear conversations such as, “oh she’s loves herself’ or “she’s up herself”.
And for many men, the concept of self-love is ludicrous and considered ‘week’ or being a ‘sissy’, which shows their lack of understanding and reluctance to take care of themselves for fear of being ostracised.
A reason we avoid self-love is because we are told not to have too much self-love or we will be called selfish and self-indulgent or our ego will be too big and no one will want to know us. And that’s partly due to the interpretation of self-love as buying new clothes, visiting a beautician, being pampered etc.
While there is nothing wrong with looking after yourself, activities such as these are at the fringe of self-love. Self-love doesn’t mean we have a big ego or are self-centred; it just means we have a healthy measure of self-respect.
I regard self-love as a verb. It’s about what we do. If someone told me that ‘I love myself’ I’d thank them for the wonderful compliment, because it would indicate that I was doing something right with my life.
Self-love is self-care – but at a much deeper level. It’s about nurturing our bodies, minds and soul, so we live with vitality in a manner that is deeply respectful of ourselves, which in turn can inspire others when they see the wonderful changes we have made. Self-love is about the energy we hold ourselves in and how we express our truth from a platform of love.
We treat our babies with tenderness, love them and ensure they are eating nourishing food, yet we abuse our bodies with rubbish food, alcohol, stress and lack of self-worth. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?
If a woman treats a baby with gentleness and a lovely nurturing energy, then why doesn’t she do the same for herself?
Many people, especially women, tend to put the care of others before themselves, but by avoiding looking after themselves, their capacity to help others diminishes.
If you feel exhausted because of stress, poor diet, negative feelings of self-worth, pushing yourself too hard (and hardening up) you’ll have less energy and tolerance, be more reactive and susceptible to illness.
Conversely, self-love manifests vitality, self-worth, being able to deal with problems calmly, improved relationships and consequently, the ability to support others more than you may realise.
To further understand self-love, consider the opposite. A lack of self-love is self-abuse, which can lead to self-disappointment, leading to more self-abuse and a downward spiral.
Sometimes people want love from another to feel fulfilled. But the problem is that you cannot love another more than you love yourself. As a result, if love between two people is one-sided, the relationship will be flawed and cannot reach its potential.
The more we develop self-love, the less we ‘need’ love from another. Nevertheless, self-love can magnify love in a relationship. It’s also about you setting standards and thus inspiring others i.e. “I want what he/she’s got.”
We cannot truly experience love without having self-love.
Apart from the attributes in the list at the beginning of this article, here are some qualities we commonly see in those who commit to self-love. They are:
Compassionate, open, truthful, calm, playful, engaging, understanding, gentle, connected, genuine, joyful, supportive, harmonious, healthy, vital, balanced, perceptive and vital.
We see an enthusiasm for life, without judgement or criticism, and they live with harmony and integrity. It’s not about perfection here, some may have one or two qualities, while other elements develop over time.
Here are three examples of self-love in action (all true).
A woman is often late for work, and even when she arrives just in time, she feels stressed because she rushed to get there. As a result, her day is affected before she even gets to work, and she carries that energy throughout the day and is still stressed when she gets home. Not good for her, not good for her husband or the kids. Yet this is her own doing.
She realises something needs to change. She decides to make a self-loving choice to go to bed 20 minutes earlier, wake 20 minutes earlier, and arrive at work earlier. Eureka! No rush. She arrives at work feeling calm and ready for a productive day.
One simple choice made a huge impact on her and her family’s life.
Before sharing the next story, did you notice that compassion was included as a characteristic of those with self-love, but empathy wasn’t?
You see, empathy means putting yourself into another’s shoes so you feel what they are going through; in other words, you sympathise and take on their energy. Because you absorb their energy, you’ll be in the same energy they are in, so what use can you really be, except to give them a shoulder to cry on?
Whereas compassion is the ability to understand their situation without taking on their energy. From compassion comes genuine understanding. From reading and understanding what is truly going on, you will be in a much better position to support them, even if it means telling a few home truths (in a loving way). Here’s what happened…
A 19yo young man breaks up with his 18yo girlfriend. She is distraught and dumps her sorrows onto her friends. Her empathetic friends sympathise and enjoin her by criticising the boyfriend, which provides the girl with comfort and solace.
She turns to her mother for more comfort. Her compassionate mother feels into the situation, understands what is going on, and speaks lovingly from the heart by telling her daughter that the real reason the boyfriend left was because the girl treated him poorly by criticising and playing silly aloof games.
The daughter gets upset with her mother because she didn’t agree with her as her friends did. Mum said that while she supported her daughter, her job was not to enjoin, but to speak her truth so the daughter could have an opportunity to correct her ways in the future, rather than continue to repeat self-destructive actions.
The daughter then (reluctantly) understood.
My husband Rod didn’t really have a handle on ‘self-love’, he preferred to call it ‘self-care’. Fair enough.
I pointed out to him that he had stopped drinking alcohol, discontinued gluten and dairy in his diet (with my help, of course) and given up caffeine. I suggested these were loving actions resulting in more vitality.
He then told me that when he was about 50 a group of mates decided to play in an over 40’s night soccer competition. Because he played when he was younger, he enthusiastically went along to the first training session.
He said the first time he headed a ball, he mistimed it and saw stars. He also found his knee joints weren’t as robust as he thought they were, even though he played tennis regularly, and the next day he felt it.
He decided to withdraw from the team and they ribbed him, called him a sissy and so on, particularly a mate who was a doctor. Consequently, the team played and many players suffered from injuries – one in particular was quite bad. Later the doctor told Rod that he wanted to pull out, but because he had ribbed Rod so much it was too awkward for him to do so.
When Rod told me this story he had a realisation and said, “Wow, that was a genuine act of self-love that I did”. He got it!
Self-love is not something that someone can give you such as praise and compliments. Self-love is a quality that you gift to yourself.
So much of self-love is about common sense. Yet if common sense was the norm, why would anyone put a cylinder wrapped in paper, with a crushed leaf inside and some added chemicals, into their mouth, light it and smoke it….and continue to do so? Perhaps common-sense isn’t so common after all.
Throughout this article you’ll find various aspects about developing self-love, which when considered as a whole, may feel overwhelming.
I suggest you initially select a couple of the ideas and integrate them into your life to build self-love gradually. Then continue to bring in more elements and as you continue to build self-love the rewards will unfold before you. It’s never too late – baby steps are fine.
It’s really about developing new habits (see my article on neural pathways)
To develop self-love, keep practising (just like a pianist does) then after a while you’ll be a self-loving genius
But the fact is that sometimes it’s hard to self-love. We need to understand that a lifetime of negative conditioning can’t be wiped away immediately, so there will be times when it feels difficult to connect or eat the ‘right’ foods and so on, particularly when feeling stressed.
If so, accept that’s how it is, rather than let destructive guilt creep in. Then go back and cultivate your simpler self-loving tasks. With repetition, they will transform into ingrained self-love that will become a natural part of your life that you won’t have to even think about. From there progress onto other self-loving choices.
Self-love is an evolvement.
When you take your car to a mechanic, he needs to be aware of the problem before he can fix it. It’s no point fixing the brakes if it’s about how the car starts. Mechanics also change the oil and sparkplugs and recommend a premium fuel so your car runs more efficiently to help prevent further problems.
Similarly, your first step is to be aware about what you need to change, otherwise how can you progress. And also consider what you need to do to make your body run more efficiently.
Be honest and carefully consider:
How do you talk to yourself – kindly, critically?
Are you self-assured?
Are you secure and peaceful in most situations?
Do you like the way you look, act, are?
Do you allow others to control you?
Do you look after your body?
Also, consider the list at the beginning of this article. Do you have these qualities? Maybe a few, perhaps several, but no doubt there’s room for improvement. Consider which.
Most people judge themselves harshly and struggle with the concept of self-love. Others override that and judge themselves falsely. The good news is that once we become truly aware of how we feel about ourselves, then we understand what we would like to change.
The most worthwhile goal you can set for yourself is self-love and self-acceptance.
Before you think this is about sitting cross-legged at dawn for 30 minutes a day, I suggest reading My favourite meditation to find a practical, simple approach to meditation and how you can incorporate it in your day, along with some other techniques to connect you to your body.
It’s simple, very effective and can generate wonderful changes in your life. Meditation is the pathway for you to connect to your body, stillness, and your essence – the truth of who you really are. From there you can develop presence, intuition, and harmony.
How you see yourself?
Words can hurt, particularly when delivered by people we know. Conversely, words from others can inspire us when expressed with love.
When we are told to step up and do or be more, that can cause a reaction – a feeling that we are not good enough.
We see it when parents talk to kids. For example, “Well done, but with more study you probably would have got an A”, or “Pity you missed that kick at goal, you were so close”. Translation, “I’m disappointed in you”, rather than saying, “That’s great, you’re doing really well”. The trouble is that this type of talk continues from others, such as bosses, spouses etc through adulthood.
A young boy I knew had poor grades throughout primary school, but in the last year his results went through the roof. The difference: words. His previous teachers treated him as a difficult kid and he was in constant trouble and disinterested in schoolwork. In his final year, a new teacher at the school didn’t know or pre-judge him. She saw his potential, encouraged him and he responded with enthusiasm. The boy heard what was said to him and his self-talk reflected that.
Most consider intelligence is based on intellect and academic results, which I find rather insulting to the world’s population. Does a number on a piece of paper or computer screen really define a person? Do educators realise the impact that ‘academic numbers’ have on a person’s life?
Perhaps the word ‘intelligence’ needs to be banned and replaced with the word ’qualities’. Imagine an education system built around that. Some people are academically aligned and score well. Equally are those who are gifted in mechanics, building, horticulture, agriculture, entrepreneurship, nerd stuff, communications – the list is extensive.
From my perspective these are all forms of ‘intelligence’ and need to be nurtured and acknowledged as such.
What is your self-talk? How do you see yourself? Do you base it on other’s opinions? You spend more time with yourself than with anyone else, which means you are in the perfect position to understand you – and as you connect with your essence, you will feel how precious you really are.
Also, beware of labelling yourself by defining yourself with what you do. For example, “I’m a solicitor” vs “I’m Mary and I practice law”. Another example, “I’m a cleaner” vs “I’m Bill and I clean buildings and make them look great”.
The crazy thing is how so many undervalue themselves. It’s not about what you do, it’s about what you bring to the world. Here’s an example from a client case study I called Love in a Box
Take the example of Bill, the cleaner. He cleans buildings and does so in an energy of love and joy. Bill is very conscious of leaving any anger or ‘stuff’ outside because he knows the quality of his energy will provide an energetic foundation which will influence those who work in the building that day. He’s not paid as much as the CEO, yet his contribution is as, or even more, valuable.
Do you realise there is so much you can bring to your world, to those around you – your friends, family, the postman, colleagues, people you speak to at shops, the checkout staff – all of these people.
How? First consider how an angry person’s energy affects others. It’s extremely harmful.
Now take a moment to feel how an energy of love and joy can affect people in a wonderful way.
By being in your lovely essence (which is built from a platform of self-love) and connecting with people, you have a powerful potential to present the energy of love to many, which affects their day and can further influence people around them. You see, the energy you are in not only affects ‘your world’, it travels much further.
It’s not about what we do – it’s about who we are.
Diet and movement
You probably knew this was coming. This is about diet and exercise (I prefer to call it movement).
Let’s face it, you know if you lack vitality because your diet is poor. If this is the case, you have two choices: do something about it to improve your vitality, or do nothing and watch it decline further.
In-clinic I have successfully used many different therapeutic diets for thousands of clients with great success. The diet I recommend for overall good health is a gluten and dairy free diet which is sustainable for the long term.
Initially, many recoil at the idea of a GF/DF diet, normally because they don’t understand there’s a huge range of amazing yummy foods available (such as bread, desserts, meat – and vegan options are plentiful, and much more).
Now let’s consider beverages. It’s a no-brainer to know that alcohol is not good for you, otherwise wouldn’t you let your kids consume it? And sugar laden drinks – again a no brainer.
When people consider changing their diet to a healthier option it’s common to hear the words, “But I don’t want to give up (list of foods and beverages goes here)”.
Perhaps what they are really saying is, “I don’t really want to give up lethargy, apathy, sluggishness, self-abuse and I’m prepared to continue to wallow in comfort and miss out on vitality and a joyful life”. Harsh? Perhaps. True? Afraid so.
It’s not about what you give up; it’s about how much vitality you gain!
Someone once asked my husband how he gave up gluten and dairy. His answer, “Gradually”.
Now about exercise. Well, forget exercise – go for movement instead (feels better already). Severe driven exercise is not suitable for our bodies as it develops hardness and future consequences.
Focus on movement that doesn’t jar your body. Be aware of how your body feels during exercise – how your knees, ankles, hips, back, legs and arms feel.
The self-loving approach is to move with flow without pushing yourself. Make movement enjoyable: walk in nature; dance in the loungeroom; play ball games without scoring; skip down the street (that will get the neighbour’s talking); stretch every day; go bike riding; swim; join in fun classes (but don’t let the instructor push you beyond your zone and what feels right for your body).
The key is to do it in self-love, not momentum. Do it as a pleasure not as an exercise to ‘get fit’ or ‘lose weight’.
A client told me how he went for a 10km run most days. I asked him if he enjoyed it and he said he did – for the first two kilometres. I asked him why he continued after that point and he said he wanted to keep breaking his record. When I asked why he needed to break his record it dawned on him that perhaps he didn’t need to, and instead, just run for fun.
Make movement fun.
Gentle-men, this is also for you.
Self-nurturing is about taking care of your body. We do not have to be ‘hard’ to function. A labourer needs strong muscles for lifting, pushing, bending and squatting; a writer needs strong core muscles to hold posture to avoid neck and back problems; a mum needs muscles to lift, multi-task, walk, run etc.
This is about being toned, not hard. Nurturing is about treating yourself with respect. It’s about body awareness – how you hold your body and tune into it so you don’t strain by lifting too many bricks at once, or slump while seated at the desk, or pick up baby at the wrong angle.
Labourers, writers, mums, and others can benefit from a warm bath with incense and candles and then moisturise the body (aaahh, much more beneficial than a beer or wine).
Quiet moments sitting in stillness and having a ‘break from the world’ while simply focusing on different muscles within your body is super soothing and healing.
Walking gently around the house while consciously focusing on your feet can bring you back to you and help dissipate the mental stuff that can clog up your life. All of these add up, including little things such as gently closing doors.
A good night’s sleep is obviously important and if possible, the hours from 9pm to 1am are regenerative hours. Sleeping with an eye pillow can be soothing and block out light.
Other nurturing elements include: enjoying a massage; connecting with supportive friends or family; observing birds flying in the sky; playing or sitting quietly with pets; smelling and/or arranging flowers; dancing rhythmically; relaxing in a spa with lots of bubbles; hugs; painting; gardening; singing joyfully…and whatever works for you.
Self-nurturing is realising how precious you are and honouring your natural gentleness
Don’t give away your energy
One of the biggest self-loving drainers is giving your power away. It’s enormous and affects huge numbers of people throughout their lives, creating misery and even sickness and disease.
I’m not talking about power in terms of physical strength; this is about your energy being drained because of your actions or inaction.
My Depression Case Study provides an insight about a client whose life and health was affected because she gave her power away.
Let’s take that a little further.
A common problem occurs in relationships because disrespectful behaviours are not called out as soon as they happen.
Every time a new couple date, the woman arrives late and the man reluctantly accepts it, until one day, after building it up inside, he explodes which creates chaos in their relationship. Yet the first time she was late he could have lovingly explained that in future, he’s prepared to wait for 15 minutes and will then leave. (This happened to a friend and his partner wasn’t late again).
Another situation is where kids and dad leave clothes on the floor and mum picks up after them. After a few months, mum builds it up inside, ‘explodes with anger’ and the family is bewildered. Alternatively, to nip it in the bud earlier, she could have gently told the family that anyone who leaves washing on the floor must peg out all the clothes on the next two washdays. After following through with the ‘punishment’ once or twice, the family will get it.
These are cases where one puts others needs at the expense of their own well-being. By speaking their truth, the issue can be quickly solved.
Yet what is worse is when one deliberately exerts their power over another. This is when physical, emotional, or financial means are used as a form of control. Subjugating others is evil and needs to be stamped out. We see it everywhere – with leaders of some countries, in industry, in schools and in homes.
Again, the key is to recognise the behaviour very early and not allow it to become entrenched. To do so, observe and understand what is going on so you can respond calmly, yet powerfully, rather than becoming emotional and reacting. A calm, definite response is more likely to diffuse the situation.
However, if another’s behaviour is extreme and unlikely to change, to the point that it’s affecting your well-being, then there’s probably no point continuing the relationship even if it means losing a job or a partner. Your health is far more important.
Other considerations to prevent your energy being drained include realising your self-worth. This is where meditation, nurturing, looking after your body and how you talk to yourself come into play. As your feelings of self-worth develop, so too will your ability to say no when appropriate and speak your truth with love.
Avoid being around someone who is using drugs, gambling or drinking alcohol, particularly after they have had two drinks. That’s often when an imposing, dark energy slips in.
Women often ‘put-up’ with a partner who has been drinking and, in-truth, disrespect themselves if they sleep in the same bed. This can be overcome by explaining to the partner (at another time) that you fell in love with his essence, but when he drinks he changes and that’s not what you fell in love with, which is why you won’t sleep with him anymore when he drinks.
You need to understand what your truth is – what your standards are – and live by them, rather than compromise by giving your power away and draining your precious energy.
It is said that unresolved hurts and emotions are the cause of almost all sickness and disease.
To help understand, notice when you feel stressed how your shoulders and neck muscles tighten up and if left unresolved, knots form that make the tightness worse.
And notice in the above two examples, how the man and the woman who didn’t express their truth early enough built up their frustrations to the point they exploded in anger? And like the tightness and knots in our neck, emotions create havoc in our bodies.
Consistently holding onto frustrations affects the spleen, while holding onto anger affects the liver, thus diminishing your vitality and if allowed to linger, can manifest into a serious health condition.
Many of our hurts are very deep and formed in childhood and often we don’t realise they exist. Some people go to therapy for years to uncover and resolve their issues (hurts). There are hundreds of therapies that claim to resolve our problems.
The irony is that our hurts are self-inflicted. We can blame others, but the truth is that you are responsible for holding onto, or not dealing with your hurts.
Throughout this article we’ve been looking at many aspects of self-love.
What is extraordinary is that if you consistently embrace and develop self-love, as you evolve, your hurts will clear. Self-love is self-healing at its finest.
Begin to identify and unravel where any emptiness, anger, frustration, or unresolved issue come from, then recognise the truth behind them and move forward gently with self-love.
Why put your body through torture to deal with issues, or be in a driven energy to climb Mt Everest so you can stand at the top of a mountain, whereas with self-love you can stand in true freedom, with self-respect, vitality…and love