To be honest, I don’t think I know what self love means. I try and learn about it each day and practice what I hope is self-love. But like a fish struggling to stay on land without breathing, sometimes the meaning of self-love escapes through my fingers and suffers a quick death.
I come from a culture that values modesty in women and pretty much oppresses them, not as harshly as in other cultures, but there are social norms that distort femininity all while socially blaming women for not being patriarchally desirable enough (femininity in this context is seen as just being hot, while anything else associated with it such as grace, wisdom, tenderness and nurturing is usually parodied).
I am trying to find out how to be confident without being arrogant, which is a tricky line to cross mostly because I lacked a personal model of female empowerment while I grew up – except those fashioned by the media and they were usually unidimensional. There were occasional exceptions, like Xena the Princess Warrior 🙂
I think self-love can be tough love sometimes, which is not a very popular opinion. To me, tough love means being honest in your self-reflection, and having patience with yourself and admitting when you realized you made a mistake (not by rationalizing or explaining your mistake, but by accepting the truth: ‘You made a mistake, and I love you anyway’). And I think this also could be followed by ‘Let’s see how we can repair the situation/relationship’. So I guess self-love is about formulating accepting thoughts about your individuality and letting them transform into daily, compassionate actions.
What puts the ‘tough’ in tough love is the fact that from my experience at least, self-love requires effort and work. To practice it, you often have to make difficult decisions. Such as leaving a well-paid, prestigious job because your boss is controlling and toxically obsessed with your every move, or leaving an even better paying job because the city where they sent you for research proved to be dangerous and isolating, or leaving a marriage because he couldn’t stop cheating on you etc. Imagine pushing the person you love away, because he couldn’t understand that you loved him no matter what. It’s taken me a long time to accept these facts of life, and not to feel ashamed for who I am, for whom I loved, and for the difficult decisions I took. Sometimes shit just happens and you simply have to get up off the ground and dust your knees (even if you repeatedly fall).
If you are not openly vulnerable about such aspects people assume you’re OK and that you are strong no matter what. Even as time passes, they might also think that you might be cold, arrogant or that you lack a heart – but that’s not the case, again that is an illusion. Usually, emotional detachment is a result of PTSD, a self-protection strategy that psychologically tends to appear after dealing with diverse social relationships that just kept breaking down. Relational failures can cripple us mentally and emotionally, because one of our core needs according to Abraham Maslow is the need to connect, to socialize, and to share ourselves.
From my experience, people will naturally be more attracted to you once you start to show yourself some love & appreciation. When you understand that you don’t need to be in an unhealthy competition with someone, or that you should bend over backwards to please someone whose always morose, or that you are worth more than that awful job or relationship, or that sometimes you just outgrow certain relationships and places. Not everyone will simply feel inspired by your strength and provide only admiration. Oftentimes, envy sneaks its ugly head into your life. What takes you painstaking time to practice each day, could appear easy from the outside looking in, as if you received a natural gift. For those who do not comprehend the pains and pleasures of self-discipline, self-worth appears as a magical gift, one that someone has been unfairly blessed with; here’s the catch – it is not. Self-love comes about with equal doses of strength and emotional work, much like most real things which are worth something in life.
So there is an amount of self-protection involved once this self-love is awakened. This is because accepting yourself as imperfect or better said as ‘perfectible’, and letting go of that defensive mask we are usually trained to put on in social circumstances, will make others angry. Self-love might not bring you the desired result immediately and even worse, it will trigger toxicity around you; the key is to persist in it (‘You do you’). I noticed that being honest and vulnerable infuriates people who do not have the courage or simply do not want to see themselves as worthy of love, or as good, kind and willing to change, as people who might work on themselves. In this context, when you have to deal with a toxic person (be it a parent, lover or a friend), practicing self-love is easier said than done, as often intrusive and self-harming thoughts show up to self-sabotage you. Following heart-break, your mind can become a bully, blaming you for every decision taken, that is if you repress your pain instead of releasing it.
In tense emotional situations, especially subconscious ones, your inner critic can all of a sudden veer from giving you the usual, daily instructions, to shouting at you angrily much like a drill sergeant. When your inner critic becomes an abusive asshole, this means you have internalized the toxicity in your environment and are self-sabotaging your self-love process. As you are pushing your inner peace and stillness to the side, you begin mirroring the voice of an abusive parent or lover; ruminations over negative memories can appear, instead of a healthy focus on the present situation or sheer excitement for the future.
The good aspect in all of this is that the past is behind you, the past is done and closed – no matter what we do, we just can’t go back there, except in our minds – and learning to control our mind in such situations is half the battle won (or so it felt from my own experience). We only have the present, and the excitement of planning for the future (which granted, can often feel overwhelming). So knowing this means that the only ‘enemy’ in the present moment is your mind. Self-love is then quieting your mind, talking kindly and gently with yourself exactly in those moments when, in the past, there was external shouting. I guess the trick is to deceive the expectation, which is created from a negative memory. For example, when I was little and tired, my mother used to stress me even more by shouting at me for making mistakes when I was doing my homework. She couldn’t empathize with me as child, that I needed some rest, that I had to take a break and distract myself with something fun for a while. This was my karma to bear as my mother has a natal Saturn in Pisces and I was born to her as a Sun in Pisces child. But we are meant to also overcome our karma and not just hopelessly give in to it. With self-awareness and year of astrological study, I finally understood our difficult mother-daughter, Saturnian dynamics.
Fun was definitely not the word I would ever use to describe our mother-daughter relationship. And when I was young I didn’t have the awareness to challenge her attitude. I grew in time to the realization that it was also not my responsibility to challenge her. I was 7 and she was supposed to be the adult, the more emotionally mature person. This didn’t happen. And I learned to accept that my mother is simply limited in her emotions, due to a mixture of her own childhood trauma, societal pressures on motherhood and her own personal choice of not seeking help and healing. I do not even criticize her anymore since that activity would only make me angrier. I’m learning to accept now. Her behavior and my own. Because I’m learning to love myself and choose my battles. I seek inner peace so I am forgiving her by understanding her and setting my own boundaries in how I relate to her. I notice what it is that I can control (and I know that I certainly can’t control her, nor would I want to), so I move on without hesitation to do just that. I’m present-focused rather than past-obsessed.
Now, I can give to myself the nurturing I should have received in such moments. For example, when I feel tired, now I rest. And I learned to talk to myself differently: From ‘Go, go go! WTF is wrong with you to be so slow!?’ to ‘Alright my love, stop. You are simply tired. Leave whatever you can’t accomplish today for tomorrow. There is time. Now rest’. Repeating this internal dialogue every time I feel tired, is very healing. Now, I have a new relationship with myself, based on acceptance of my flaws, and love for the fact that I am imperfect yet valuable, worthy of rest and aware that I do my best work actually when I break large tasks into smaller, daily ones and when I respect my sleeping schedule.
Social and cultural norms also gender self-love, to some extent. I noticed that self-love is about not being stuck in over-giving as a woman (and I speak from a perspective in which I identify with my biological sex). As a woman then, you have to receive as well – you are not a machine that loves automatically and produces all the time, no matter how much the patriarchal economic systems love this cheap arrangement. Being willing to let go and trust is often a frightening experience, when you are aware that societal structures in many different regions do not prize, nor do they support vulnerability (and some even actively attack it).
In the eyes of many, what counts instead are displays of power and stoicism, of winning and coming out on top. Bearing this in mind, as a woman then, self-love is simply listening to yourself and understanding your personal power after many tests of powerlessness or of being compared to ideals of power modelled after men. It is also the quiet knowledge that soft power and being soft and vulnerable does add value to life, as a more gentler way of existing in the world, and dare I say even a more eco-friendly one. Imagine if we swap all the guns in the world for home-made pillows or self-care sets, or if we rest more instead of taking pride in how we fight through life and over-work ourselves.
It might seem like a banal example, but imagine the difference such simple and small changes would make, both to ourselves and to our natural environment, which at the moment is increasingly asking us for nurturing attention.
With universal love,