We feel increasingly lonely in our world. Some people blame loneliness on invasive social media and others blame it on pervasive technology. And while these two factors are major culprits for how disconnected we feel from each other, one of the main reasons for our loneliness is that we are disconnected from ourselves. So when we take the disconnection from the self and throw in the rise of filters, plastic surgery, and the objectification of the self, the reasonable outcomes are symptoms of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
To tackle these harsh beauty standards, people preach body positivity and self-love in media campaigns, but does anyone even know what self-love means?
When most people think about self-love, they typically think of taking a day off during the week where they tend to themselves and their needs (#selflovesunday). They imagine things like relaxing massages, manicures and pedicures, and bubble baths, as they contemplate how they can love themselves more because everything in the media will have us believe that love is easy and full of happy feelings. But that is not self-love. That is a superficial and materialistic understanding of love.
Self-love, like any other love, is cultivated through a daily commitment and lifelong discipline. A commitment not coming from another thing to on the never-ending list of things to do, but from a loving place, from a place of respect, and loving devotion. Self-love is about cultivating a relationship with yourself and showing up for yourself every day the way you would show up for someone you love. It is being loyal to yourself and protecting, defending and guarding yourself against people and things that could hurt you, even if, and especially if, that hurt is from your internalized critic.
Self-love is not something you do once a week — it is how you are with yourself and to yourself. Every. Single. Day.
Here are 5 ways you can start to make a commitment to love yourself and start to build a loving relationship with yourself:
Spend time with yourself
If you stared at a phone every time you were with another person, you would soon lose their company altogether due to lack of interest. This is the disconnect everyone is feeling at the moment. Most people are glued to their screens and disconnected from themselves and others. How can you love anything you don’t know? Going on long walks, sitting in the garden, on the beach, at a café as you have long curious conversations with them — this is what you would do with someone you want to know and love. Then why don’t you do it with yourself? Start with the intention of getting to know yourself, with loving curiosity.
Speak kindly and gently with yourself
If you talked to anyone as harshly as you do yourself, you would never see them again. You would be considered a “toxic person.” The way we speak to ourselves is most often ‘toxic’. Listen to your inner voice. Is it harsh or is it gentle? Does it berate you when you make a mistake or is it compassionate? Do you speak to any other person the way you speak to yourself? Every time you catch yourself being mean, change the way you speak to yourself. Be kind, especially to yourself.
Listen to yourself
If you dismissed or invalidated anyone the way you do yourself, you would lose them instantly. And so is it any wonder your spirit and your intuition stops communicating with you, because you never listen? Listen to your hunches, the gut feelings, the difficult warnings, the parts of you that say “avoid this place/person” or “you are exhausted, go to sleep”. In order to hear yourself you have to quieten and still yourself, then ask yourself what you need and then listen.
Nourish and care for your mind and body
If someone gave you a child to care for — you would feed it healthy and nourishing foods, make sure it went to bed on time, and it had enough movement in the day. You would make sure it doesn’t spend a lot of time on technology etc. You would never neglect or deprive them the way you do yourself. Many people think that sleeping, eating healthy, and movement is as optional as becoming vegan. It isn’t. Human beings have survived on this planet for eons not because we had smartwatches or fitness gyms. No, it was because we rose with the sun and set with the sun, moved our bodies during the day, and ate from the earth. Our body is sophisticated and knows what it needs to do to heal and stabilize itself — we just have to meet its basic needs.
Journal about your hopes and dreams
If you loved someone you would want to know all about their hopes and dreams, their wishes, and their needs. When was the last time you checked in with yourself and asked yourself about your heart desires? This is about cultivating a deep relationship with yourself and attuning to the parts of you that don’t necessarily get attention in the hustle and bustle of daily life.
As you make the effort to increase your self-love, also pay attention to what arises inside you when you are trying to love yourself. Many people will experience difficult feelings, and they will feel they are ‘spoiling themselves’ or they will experience internal resistance when they love themselves because they are afraid that if they love themselves then they might relax and never amount to anything.
You might also feel resistance when you are receiving loving gestures from others as you brush off compliments or undo praises with self-deprecating comments. This is when you want to listen to the socialized and conditioned part of yourself, engage with it, understand it, and ask it where it came from. Undoubtedly this part of you formed from the influence of early caregivers, older siblings, and teachers. But knowing that this is not you, but you under the influence of harsh caregivers, you can now bring your inner adult self to your inner younger self and show it the self- love and compassion it did not receive as a child.
To love someone is to know them, care for them, be there for them, support them, encourage them, and understand them. This might be hard to do if you have never received or witnessed this type of love in your life, but it is definitely possible — and absolutely worth the effort.
Dr Saliha Afridi
As a clinical psychologist for the past 13 years, Dr Saliha Afridi has spent 12 years working in the UAE and founded The Lighthouse Arabia in 2011, a community mental health and wellness clinic providing quality psychological and psychiatric care to children, adults, couples and families.