In the words of Drag Goddess, Ru Paul Charles, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love someone else?” In counselling I see client after client who is dedicated to demonstrating their love of others, but do not seem to love themselves.
So, this Valentine’s Day, and every day, let’s put Self-Love First.
What is self-love?
Practicing self-love means ensuring that you invest enough time and energy in yourself to make sure you have enough love in your life, are kind to yourself, and are grateful for all that you have achieved in life. Sounds easy, right? Now you know this, you can wake up from the trance of unworthiness. Yet it seems so much other to love others ahead of loving ourselves.
What prevents us practicing Self-Love?
Ain’t got time for that.
You are in control of your time, so if you think that you don’t have the time for self-love, I would ask you to challenge how you have chosen to spend your time. How is it allocated? Could you give up scrolling the internet in order to create time for self-love? Could you give up your late-night TV watching?
It is important that you create time for your goals, including the goal to love yourself first. Reallocate your time, delegate tasks to others, challenge what you believe are your priorities so that you create time to prioritise yourself. I remember when my first daughter was born. She was my beautiful dolly. Each day I would take great care in the outfits she would wear out. One day my husband needed to look after her instead. He sent me a photo of them at the playground. Was my daughter really out, in public, in her pyjamas? The horror! In reality she was having fun, and he was being a great dad. The outtake was a gift, relax about her wardrobe. It was a priority which, really, wasn’t important.
Putting others, probably everyone else, first.
Running yourself ragged in order to look after everyone else is a recipe for disaster. Burning yourself out, just so you can have a rest, is a little extreme. An audit of your time may raise if you are performing activities only because of other’s expectations rather than for your own benefit. Are you a people pleaser? I want you to challenge this default. You do not need to be class mum. You do not need to pick up other people’s kids. Say no, move on, let go. Remember that in order to take care of others, you need to first take care of yourself.
Why do we do this? This dedication to others is a trap. People want proof of life that they exist. When people call on you, you may feel recognised, required, even, important. In reality your sense of self-worth can only be filled from within. On their deathbed, the dying do not regret completing that last load of dishes, they regret not pursuing their dreams or spending time with people they love. Not doing the to do list set by others.
Self-love is different from being entitled. When a person feels entitled, they believe that something should be theirs, even without effort or merit. This is not the same as recognising and acknowledging your self-worth and setting expectations accordingly.
Oh, the shame!
You may be embarrassed that self-love could be your goal. People tend not to praise other’s self-care achievements. “Look at Claire taking a break – go girl”. “Wow John, good for you that you got yourself a massage to relieve the stress in your shoulders.” Life is too short for you to be concerned with what anyone else thinks.
We are ashamed when we take care of ourselves – this is a trap. Let go of the belief that if you want to take care of yourself that there is something wrong with you. It is important that you preserve and protect the greatest asset that you possess – you.
When I love myself enough.
I find one way to tackle the topic of self-love with clients is to ask them to articulate some of the things they would do differently when they love themselves enough. Some of the common elements of self-love include:
Accept that you have goals.
It is important that you accept the types of person that you may need to be in order to achieve your goals. Many women, in the past, have been criticised for being ambitious. Don’t be embarrassed if you have a goal. When we love ourselves enough, we prioritise our development. We follow our dreams and work to free ourselves of the shackles of shame that others may try to impose.
Prioritising your goals.
Part of a self-love routine is to set your priorities around your life goals rather than concepts of ‘urgency”. Stephen Covey in this instrumental book, the Seven Habits, outlines a method to help prioritize tasks/activities into quadrants. I have adapted this slightly in the figure on the left. We all understand the concept of urgency. The concept of importance is somewhat trickier to clarify, and you may benefit from talking to a coach our counsellor about this. For a task to be important it needs to help achieve a value for which you want to be recognised. For example, if you want to become a senior leader in your future, you will prioritise those tasks where you have been given the opportunity to shine as a leader over those where you are simply a contributing voice.
Establish a self-care routine.
A well-rounded self-care routine is essential to your wellbeing. This is an essential element of having a positive growth mindset. You deserve care, it is an investment in you. This would probably include eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, and watching drug and alcohol consumption. How do you do, even on that short self-care checklist?
Develop an accepting self, not just self-acceptance.
Self -acceptance is saying to yourself, “I like me”. Developing an accepting-self allows us to also allow ourselves to fall down occasionally, and believe this is also okay and acceptable. This attitude of unconditional kindness towards yourself, whatever you may be experiencing helps us grow. You are a work in progress, and that is wonderful.
Add the voices of self-compassion and an inner-cheerleader, to any dialogue with your inner critic.
Our inner -critic is only just a judgemental voice who breaks us down. Sometimes it plays a role similar to a responsible parent, telling us to get out of bed and go to work, get that report completed, pay your taxes! Listening only to your inner-critic can lead to feelings of inadequacy and desire to avoid activities – denying your to do list whilst you glut watch Netflix.
When you add the voice of self-compassion and your inner-cheerleader to the dialogue the script changes significantly. You give yourself the chance to recognise and acknowledge feelings you may have around a challenge. You may produce a report you don’t really feel confident producing. Acknowledge the at many people might feel nervous in that situation. Your inner cheerleader can then add their voice. “You can do this, just give it a go”. This is when your inner critic may help – with practical advice “
Thrive rather than, merely, survive
Many of us have grown up in household with complex emotional environments. Perhaps your parents were too harsh, or not present, or you found it hard to be accepted. Almost all of us have sacrificed parts of ourselves in response to our childhood and adolescence. Perhaps it is time for you to thrive rather than just survive, overcome our box of darkness issues. IF this describes your situation you may find the articles at the end of this blog helpful.
When we love ourselves first and foremost.
When we love ourselves first and foremost, we let go of the feeling that something is wrong with us, that we are not good enough. You exist. You matter. You are loved.
Further reading you might enjoy
Let it go, let it grow
Past hurts and old injustices can keep people stuck in old patterns of behaviour and thought traps. Bad memories can be like emotional quicksand, and can consume your thoughts taking command of your day-dreams, and leave you feeling obsessed over perceived or real losses, betrayals, and inequities.
The box of darkness: Dealing with painful “gifts”.
The American poet, Mary Oliver wrote of her experience of death in the poem “The Uses of Sorrow”: “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
I must use this quote at least once a week in therapy with clients, especially those who are navigating the painful paths initiated by the actions of a loved one, a spouse who walks out, a broken friendship, the death of someone special. In our moments of shock and grief, it is indeed like we have been given a box of darkness to unpack and cope with. So painful and debilitating, action seems pointless and enormously necessary at the same time.