Authentic self-love is essential for our personal well-being, but it is often misunderstood.
One common misconception of self-love is that it is the same as selfishness and narcissism. I have written more about why it is neither of these things here and here.
Another common misconception about self-love is that it is primarily about showering one’s self with material goods and luxuries like trips to the spa, extravagant shopping trips, and pedicures. (With lots of chocolate thrown in for good measure!) This idea of self-love is captured well in the popular meme “Treat yo’ self.”
Now don’t get me wrong. Treating one’s self to special gifts and luxuries may very well be a part of self-love at times. Just like we give beautiful gifts to friends and loved ones to express love, it can also be good to give ourselves gifts sometimes as an expression of love.
Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to equate self-love merely with giving ourselves gifts and showering ourselves with luxuries.
Self-Love is More Than Gifts
To understand why, consider a father or mother who showers a child with all sorts of material goods but spends no time with the child or gives no other forms of support.
In this scenario, we would recognize that the gifts and luxuries given by the parents are an inadequate expression of love.
In some cases, gifts like this can actually be a type of cruelty–an attempt by the parent to bribe the child into acquiescing to the parent’s absence in all other areas of life.
The situation is similar when we only express love to ourselves through luxury indulgences. It can be nice for a while, but it cannot compensate for other expressions of love that we most need.
What is Authentic Self-Love?
So the question is, if merely giving ourselves luxuries or material goods is not authentic self-love, how do we show ourselves love in the way that matters most?
Self-love, in its most basic and essential form, means showing up for ourselves emotionally with consistency, compassion, and kindness.
We do this in several ways:
One: We regularly check in with ourselves and are present with ourselves in the moment. (You can read more about why this is important here.)
Two: We observe and accept all of our feelings without judgement. This doesn’t mean that we resign ourselves to feeling a certain way. It also doesn’t mean that we act on all of our emotions.
It just means that we notice and pay attention so that we know how to care for ourselves and take the next, wise step.
Three: We show compassion to ourselves in our suffering. (You can read more about this here.)
Four: We nurture the good in us. (You can read more about this here and here.)
Here are some ways we nurture the good in us.
Five: We work on healing the wounded and diseased part of ourselves. (You can read more about this here and here.)
Here are some ways we heal the wounded and diseased parts of us.
Why This Matters
But why is this self-love? And why does it matter?
When we treat ourselves in this way, we give ourselves the gift of unconditional dignity, respect and kindness, and when it comes down to it, this is our deepest, most profound need.
This kind of self-love creates a space for us to become the best, most wise versions of ourselves. It also creates space for us to heal the unhealthy and destructive parts of ourselves (and everyone has these).
And this is why it is important to distinguish authentic self-love from merely treating one’s self to goodies and luxuries.
Giving ourselves good gifts is absolutely a part of self-love at times. However, self-love is much deeper than this and requires thought, attention, and respect. If we try to substitute the deep work of authentic self-love merely with material gifts to ourselves, we often end up numbing or neglecting our deepest needs, and that cannot be considered authentic love.
Skeptical about Self-Love?
You may be someone who has been skeptical about self-love in the past because you equated it with narcissism, selfishness, and self-indulgence.
It is understandable why you have thought this, but please note that authentic self-love is none of those things.
When it is rightly understood, self-love is the most dignified, responsible, and wise thing we can do for ourselves, and it is something that all of us need.
It is a good and wise thing to love yourself.
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One of the best books I have read about self-love is Christine Arylo’s book Madly in Love with Me.