Why True Self-Love Often Involves Doing Difficult Things...
Self-love is often defined as "a regard for one's own wellbeing and happiness". Self-love involves nurturing and taking care of yourself. This sounds like a great thing, doesn't it? Why then do I tend to get lots of resistance to the idea of self-love when I am working with people one-on-one?
When introduced to the concepts of self-love and self-compassion, people will often say to me things such as:
- But I just don't want to start being too soft with myself or giving up on myself.
- If I was kind to myself all of the time, I would just end up eating ice-cream and cake all day and watching TV.
- I need to be harsh on myself, in order to motivate myself to do things - self-love and compassion just wouldn't work to get anything done.
- Self-love will just make me lazy, I would just accept where I am and stop improving/growing/wanting to change.
The thing is - TRUE self-love doesn't mean always choosing the most pleasurable or fun thing. True self-love doesn't mean giving up on yourself either. In fact true self-love often involves doing difficult and even unpleasant things. People often assume that practising self-love will mean making the choice that feels good every time. For example, if they are showing themselves kindness and self-love when it comes to food, they imagine that it means giving in to every craving and every desire to eat something pleasurable. However in reality, true self-care means doing things that honour what is best for you long-term as well as short-term.
For example, imagine that you had a child or a niece or nephew that you loved dearly. As you love them dearly and want the best for them, would you advise them to always choose the thing that is the most pleasurable in that moment? For example, would you advise them to eat cake 5 times a day just because it tastes good or to skip school and just watch TV for several weeks because that would be more fun? Probably not - you love them and so you want what is best for them long-term and short-term too. This may mean that it is completely fine for them to eat cake 3 times a week but perhaps not 3 times a day and it is fine for them to watch TV over the weekends and after school but not instead of school. So you do factor in their short-term pleasure and enjoyment too, but this is within the context of what is best for them long-term.
In the same way - self-love involves you asking yourself what is best for me long-term? Sometimes what is best for you long-term is to enjoy the things that give you momentary pleasure but sometimes the thing that is best for you long-term is to see that family member even though you don't really feel like doing it, to go to that meditation or exercise class even though you are feeling too lazy to do so or to work at changing an unhelpful habit, even though it is hard-work.
Self-love is showing yourself the same love that you would show someone else that you truly love and care about. It is the opposite of giving up on yourself - instead it involves caring for yourself, your goals, your priorities and your values deeply. If you were taking care of someone else and really prioritising their best interests - what would you want for them? These are the things that you will want for yourself too as you build in more true self-love.
“Remember that if you really want to motivate yourself, love is more powerful than fear.”
― Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion