The Internet is flooded with carefully crafted manuals full of instructions on how to love yourself. Self-love is the ‘it’ word. Everyone is asking you to love yourself, take bubble baths, travel the world, eat an avocado, and let us be honest, it may get a little too overwhelming sometimes. Self-love is everywhere, so much so, that it may start to sound meaningless after a while.
When I was hurting post a breakup, everyone told me to just love myself. After some time, it just started sounding like a cue for me to shut up. I thought it’s just something you tell your friends when they are being their pathetic selves crying on the bathroom floor at 2 AM over a guy who won’t text back. I was confident that no one loves themselves, and the concept of self-care was a trickery propagated by influencers on Instagram.
I couldn’t be more wrong, and the realisation changed my life.
Renowned expert and leading self-compassion researcher, Dr Kristin Neff says, “Love, connection, and acceptance are your birthright.”
The ideas of self-love that we are bombarded with right from taking a hot shower or watching our favourite movie—these little acts of love and care that the experts are asking you to follow, are truly revolutionary. And I say this from experience.
No matter how much you talk about loving yourself, I tell you, my friends, it will never be enough. Because being able to love and value yourself is a superpower we all have—but forget to use!
I spent 26 years of my life absolutely loathing myself. No matter how good my grades were, no matter what amazing job I bagged, no matter how kind or generous I was, it was never enough for me. Sure, I was happy and proud of myself when I did something nice or won an award, but I always loved myself in parts, never the whole of me. I liked my face, but hated my teeth. I would never smile in pictures with my teeth showing. I was proud of myself for working so hard, but somehow, I always ended up comparing myself with other cool kids with better exposure to pop culture. I hated my bushy brows, the not-so-Instagrammable bits of my body, the small town girl that still lived in me, and definitely, the fact that I am hypersensitive.
For me, the grass was always greener on the other side.
When I started going to therapy, there were a few exercises which involved looking at myself through the eyes of someone else. That was precisely the time, I thought to myself, “Ahh, why does she hate herself so much? She is doing just fine.” And there began my journey of learning to care for myself, and loving myself just the way I was.
It hasn’t been easy, it is tough work guys, and that is why it is easier to brush it off as cliche than actually follow it through to see the results for yourself. For me, developing self-love has been truly life-changing.
Okay, Ananya, all this sounds very good, but how do I actually start?
Developing a ritual has helped me immensely. You know the aphorisms they talk about in a gazillion articles like lighting up a candle, going for a run or meditating every morning. The cliches are cliches for a reason. Because they work!
During my moments of self-doubt and anxiety, when being kind to myself becomes particularly difficult, I follow my ritual. Journaling my feelings out, cooking, writing poetry, putting on my fancy face mask and enjoying a hot bath, or simply, going out in nature for a walk immediately has a soothing effect on my mind.
I go for solo trips, and take myself out for dates where it is just me, my thoughts and a nice glass of wine. I don’t always feel like sticking to my rituals, but I try.
I would like to say that things have changed overnight, and I feel that I am the hottest, kindest, most successful person on Earth, but that wouldn’t be true. I still struggle, but with higher acceptance.
I still take a look at my picture a dozen times to see how crooked my teeth look—but you know what? I post it anyway. I know I may not be the best writer out there, but here I am, writing anyway.
I suffered from emotional eating for five years, but being kind to myself has also allowed me to have a better relationship with food. I have stopped eating take outs, and cook most of my food at home and treat myself with my favorite meals every now and then. I give my body and mind, the care and nourishment it needs to feel great from inside.
However, do not confuse self-love with just going for regular pedicures. It isn’t blowing kisses to yourself in the mirror, and exclaiming, how good you look in your little black dress and red lipstick. It is getting up to make good coffee and cake after a good cry. It is looking into the mirror and blowing kisses to your face full of pimples. And it is telling yourself, ‘Hey, it’s okay, you tried,’ if you fail a job interview.
Loving yourself is challenging especially because it involves being mindful of the energy you surround yourself with, which may lead to cutting off from people, and things that do not serve a purpose in your life anymore. Letting go of toxic relationships, and defining boundaries even with people whom we love is self-love. Being nice to myself in the vulnerable state takes a lot of strength and practice. Practise of keeping myself over other people, being kind and compassionate to the person in the mirror in my moments of failures and self-doubts. Most importantly, self-love is about choosing things, people, and situations that are good for me.
We have all been led to believe that ignoring our own needs and taking care of others would lead to happiness and fulfilment. For years, you and I have been conditioned to look a certain way, to act a certain way, and to go up and climb the ladders of the stereotyped success, and every time we experience a failure we are told that we aren’t good enough. In a society that thrives on your insecurities, it is a rebellious act to love yourself.
When you’ve spent years encouraging your inner voice that constantly criticises and belittles you, you develop a reflex to put yourself down for every minor thing. Fortunately for us, self-love is not a case of “you either have it or you don’t,” but psychologists believe that it is something you can learn with time and practice.
When you begin to truly love and value yourself, you stop wishing for a different life or something better every day. You become grateful and happier about everything you have right now. Being kind and compassionate to yourself shouldn’t come from the feeling that you are the best person out there, but because you are a human being intrinsically worthy of love, respect, and kindness. And because you owe it to yourself.
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