Many articles have been devoted to tackling self-love. They talk about how to get to a place where you can love yourself, as you are, and for who you are, but relatively few articles tackle the destructive actions or ideas that are often mistaken for self-love.
This piece will help you navigate and avoid those pitfalls. It will tackle four of the most common mistakes we make when we try to love ourselves a little more.
So… what’s not self-love?
Conditional love that is based on how you look, or what you have (or don’t have) is not self-love. These things, looks, and possessions, are tangible, but fleeting. True self-love imposes no conditions; that is part of loving yourself as you are right at that very moment, no ifs, ands, or buts.
You may not be happy with how things are playing out in your life, or how you look today, but those things are changeable and shouldn’t determine your sense of self-worth. Saying, “I will love myself… after I lose weight,” isn’t self-love because it places a condition on your self-acceptance.
People who practice real self-love see their imperfections, but realize that they are part of what makes them special and unique. They work with these perceived obstacles to make them better, or incorporate them into part of who they are.
Self-love is something that is lasting and you carry with you always, whether you’re having a bad hair day, have gained 10lbs, or after you were fired for screwing up at work. In fact, it’s at these precise moments that self-love is most important. You need to be gentle with yourself and be your biggest cheerleader in tough moments, or on difficult days.
Beating yourself up is not self-love. While it’s important to understand we aren’t perfect, and while it’s perfectly ok to have that pep talk with yourself about making positive changes in your life, being mean to yourself isn’t the path towards sustainable change. In fact, it’s has the exact opposite effect. Punishment fails miserably when it comes to motivation. If you want to change a behavior, or your appearance, being nasty to yourself isn’t going to create the space to move forward.
Being mean to yourself might initially fire you up and get you going, but in the long run, those negative thoughts and comments keep you further from reaching your goal. Telling yourself, “I ran 5km, but I should have run 7km – I’m lazy,” fails to recognize that you took steps towards change: you got up, laced up your trainers, made it out the door, and ran.
Sometimes, things are beyond our control – we get sick, there’s a snowstorm, a family emergency comes up, we have to stay late at work, or a friend needs our help. Not everything will go to plan, and we can’t beat ourselves up for it. If the intent is there, and you get sidetracked, that’s OK. There is no need to heap on the negativity or chastise yourself. Recognize those positive baby steps and be gentle with yourself.
This might seem obvious, but being selfish isn’t very loving. However, there has been some confusion around the concept of self-care vs. selfishness lately since the idea of “self-care” has become popular in mental health and wellbeing circles.
Self-care taps into the very real necessity for people to set boundaries, acknowledge their needs and desires, and create safe spaces to occasionally retreat from the world. However, like with all things, some people have confused self-care with selfishness – either denying the practice of it entirely, or by going too far in the opposite direction and refusing to help, or compromise with those around them.
Sometimes, this can be a reaction after many years of denying yourself care and space, so you lash out, say no to everything, and ignore everyone. While this initial reaction is understandable, it isn’t self-care or self-love. Hurting others never is. It’s just being a jerk. Selfishness is about focusing on yourself to the detriment of others; self care is about honoring your needs while still respecting the needs of others. There are ways to get what you want without resorting to mistreating people.
Self-love is often misunderstood as this super positive, over-the-top, affirmation-in-the-bedroom-mirror type of activity. The belief is that you’re supposed to perform some kind of ritual every day, smiling in the mirror like a maniac and telling yourself that you’re “good enough, and gosh darn it, you love yourself.” That isn’t self-love – that’s just some creepy, performative nonsense.
You do not have to be smiling all the time, spouting the latest self-help platitudes, and trying to convince everyone around you just how happy you are, or trying to convince yourself of anything while grinning like an idiot in a mirror. Self-love isn’t a performance; it’s not about making others believe you, or pretending to feel something when you don’t. Self-love is a long process, and sometimes, a life long journey. It’s not something that can be wrapped up with a few quick tricks or cheesy affirmations.
You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. You don’t have to wear a mask all the time. Feeling sad? Crappy? Angry? Those are all acceptable feelings to have; loving yourself is acknowledging them as a part of you and coping to the best of your ability. Feeling happy? In love? Joyful? Then share that side of you when you genuinely feel those things.
Pretending to be (or feel) something that you’re not, is not self-love, it’s fake. You can’t keep up the pretense for long if the feeling doesn’t follow. True self-love will be hard work, and you will have ups and downs, but it’s better to be authentic and work through those feelings with love and kindness for yourself, than to keep up appearances.
Striving for perfection, being cruel to yourself (and others), or pretending to be someone you’re not is definitely not practicing self-love. If it feels off, and it doesn’t resonate with you, it’s probably not self-love. When you practice true acts of self-love, they will feel right, and will bring you inner peace and calm, especially during difficult times.
They don’t have to be grand overtures, or public spectacles; they can be the quiet moments when you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and cheer yourself on. Remember, self-love is an everyday, ongoing process, and it will have its challenging days. Don’t give up, be aware of these false friends of self-love, and be kind to yourself and others.