Updated: Mar 10, 2021
Indeed, talking about self-love can drum up images of vanity for some folks. Yet, self-love is critical to our emotional health and well-being. So, self-love is neither selfish nor narcissistic at all. Rather it is a state of appreciation and acceptance that involves having a high regard for one’s own well-being without sacrificing self-care to please others. Self-love differs from self-compassion in that self-compassion is a practice or action that can be practiced at any time whereas self-love is more of a belief and can require a process of self-work, understanding, and acceptance to achieve.
When I was in my 20s, I seemed to have had the notion that self-love was either all about self-esteem or more a practice of self-care that involved spending money (like getting a massage or a pedicure for example). Even in my 30s, I seemed to get lost in conceptualizing what self-love (and for that matter self-esteem, self-compassion, and self-care) could or should look and feel like.
Today, just a few weeks shy of my 48th birthday, I realize that I’ve had a practice of self-love throughout my life. True, sometimes I strayed, and yet I always returned all the wiser for the lessons I had learned. My self-love journey has included following my heart and passions even when my choices were not easy or necessarily accepted by others.
I remember one of my first self-love choices was to pursue my dreams in the dance world through college. I did not get into the top dance colleges I wanted to, though I had received scholarships to a few of the top nursing colleges and even an invite to set up a dual nursing and dance program at a smaller college with a full scholarship. I said no to all of the scholarships because my heart wanted me to become the best dancer I could and learn as much as I could. I went to a very good dance college with a partial work scholarship realizing I’d have to pursue dance while young, but could return to school at a later time.
Another self-love journey involved meeting someone whom I felt was a twin flame, and after many years of on and off again relations filled with abuse I knew I could no longer stay in this relationship, so I left even though I had no idea of where I was going. We would have even more years of on and off distance friendship-type relations, but sooner or later something hurtful would again be done or said to the point where I finally ended all communication last year. This past Valentine’s Day I found out my twin flame and passed away. We hadn’t spoken for 5 months and my last text message was rather unkind. Further, I had to deal with the grief and loss (he’d been a part of my life for nearly 30 years) as well as my unkindness without the closure of any type of memorial or service due to the pandemic. It was a tough couple of weeks, however I was able to love myself enough to move into acceptance and forgiveness.
There are many other stories too...times I have failed, times I’ve been judged for my decisions, times I’ve been alone, times I’ve lost everything… and all of these times I just refused to give up. There were times when I could’ve chosen a different path, perhaps an easier path and one others might’ve approved of, yet it didn’t feel like the right choice at the time in my heart. So, I did not choose those easier roads even when I wasn’t sure of where I was going.
I didn’t realize that was all self-love. Whitney Houston said: “The Greatest Love of All is learning to love yourself.” That song also says “no matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity”. And: “if I fail, if I succeed, at least I’ve lived as I believe”. I loved that song as a child, even played it on musical instruments, yet it sometimes takes a lifetime to understand the meaning of a song or a poem. We all fail, we all make mistakes, we all do things that we later realize were maybe not the best or that go against our moral values, and yet, if we are still here, still standing and have learned from these experiences, if we have forgiven ourselves and others, and if we are able to move on in acceptance, gratitude, and joy, giving ourselves permission to let go of the past...That is Self-Love.