It’s finally February, the days are getting slightly longer and the weather is warming up (kind of). It’s also the month known for love, St Valentines, and lavish displays of affection. But for those who don’t have a significant other to share it with, who struggle to find love for themselves, or who simply don’t care for the holiday (whether in a relationship or not), it can be slightly irritating to have it plastered all around us. So join us in exploring the concept of self-love, and how we can channel more of it for ourselves whether we’re feeling the lovey dovey vibes, or slightly nauseous at the mere thought of it.
When it comes to love and relationships, there really is one that trumps all others - the one with ourselves. Perhaps it’s not something you’ve ever really considered, or have seen it mentioned but aren’t really sure what is being referenced. Well, the concept refers to the connection and understanding we have with our own thoughts, emotions, and identity. It involves being conscious of our own values, beliefs, strengths, weaknesses, and motivations.
It is like the compass guiding us through life, understanding who we are and what makes us tick. This self-awareness isn't just touchy-feely stuff; it's the secret sauce for a happier, more balanced life. When we're in-tune with ourselves, we handle emotions better, make smarter decisions, and build stronger connections with others. Think of it as the foundation for personal growth – embracing who we are, setting goals, and bouncing back from setbacks. It's the key to living authentically, making choices that feel right, and finding satisfaction in our journey.
So, when it’s put like that, it’s clear to see why it is so important to nurture. But in a world where social comparison is rife, we’re trying to keep up with the busyness of everyday life and where we’ve not exactly been taught to celebrate ourselves, it is still an unknown territory for many of us. But you’ve likely heard of self-love, and likely get an icky feeling at the sound of it…
The concept of self-love
Self-love might sound like it could mean showering ourselves in compliments, perhaps boosting the ego with our qualities, or even basking in the warm glow of romance with ourselves. Fortunately, it is not quite that. It is, however, the practice of recognising, accepting, and caring for oneself unconditionally. It involves treating yourself with kindness, compassion, and respect.
Nurturing the relationship with ourselves through self-love means acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses, setting healthy boundaries, and prioritising your well-being. Which might look like cultivating a positive self-image, practising self-care, and embracing your authentic identity.
Ultimately, self-love is the foundation for a strong and fulfilling relationship with ourselves, contributing to overall mental and emotional well-being. And while that is wonderful, and something I'm sure we could all do with a little more of at times, it is not some profound, warm glow of romance or friendship as we’d describe in the traditional context of ‘love’.
The reality of self-love
It is far more simple, and at times can be uncomfortable. Like facing confrontation or conflict, addressing self-love involves consciously recognising and challenging negative self-talk and beliefs. This could bring up some stuff we’re not so keen on, we don’t really like about ourselves or would ideally like to change - which seems counterproductive to self-love.
So we must also learn self-acceptance, the act of embracing and acknowledging oneself, including both strengths and weaknesses, without judgement or the need for external validation. It involves cultivating a positive and realistic view of oneself, fostering self-compassion, and letting go of unrealistic expectations.
Self-compassion is the act of giving ourselves care and understanding, unconditionally. It says, "It's okay, we all mess up sometimes." So, if you're feeling down, instead of being super hard on yourself, take a moment to be compassionate too, just like you would to a friend having a tough day.
It’s a cliche, but self-love is a journey, not a destination, and it requires ongoing commitment and self-reflection. We can want more for ourselves, and enjoy what we currently have. We can feel sad or angry at our past actions, and acknowledge that it may have been necessary for what you were going through. We can dislike some feature or trait in ourselves, and still appreciate who we are just as we are. It might sound odd, but two things can be true at once. And the good news is it does not take radical action or a profound shift to show yourself unconditional love.
10 ways to show yourself more love
You don’t need to make huge changes to start cultivating self-love, and you can do this simply by showing up for yourself. So here are some ideas to try out over this month (and beyond, of course):
Enjoy a cup of tea or coffee slowly. It might be 10 minutes in the morning before you start your work, or finding a moment's peace later in the day to connect with yourself. Sip away and spend a moment enjoying that warming sensation of a hot drink.
Find time to read that book you’ve been meaning to read. Honouring your desire to get started on a book, or just continuing the one you’ve been reading, is an act of self-love that can be as quick as a few pages a day or finding a few hours on a lazy afternoon.
Go for a walk in nature. We know getting outside, connecting with nature and moving our body is good for us, but it is also an act of self-love you might already have in your routine. But if not, it’s a 2-in-1, a bit of exercise and self-love in one flailing swoop.
Stick to your gym commitment. Or any other commitments you’ve made or have wanted to make, because this is another way to show up for yourself, and it’s a great way to start nurturing that self-relationship, reminding yourself you do think you're worth it, even when you don’t really feel it.
Get a good night's sleep. Sleep is the foundation for our wellbeing, and getting good sleep, whether it's an early night or longer lie-in, is a simple way to show ourselves we deserve that solid foundation.
Nourish your body. Whether it’s cooking a nutritious breakfast to start your day, stepping away from work to eat your lunch when you are hungry, not just because the clock says it’s lunchtime, or even having that piece of cake that’s eyeing you up in the cafe, feeding ourselves is another way to show up for you and your body.
Say no to those plans you don’t feel like doing. Whether it’s because you over-planned and need some rest, or because you actually don’t want to go anymore, listening to your needs and setting your boundaries is an act of self-love we could all find rather satisfying.
Take yourself on a date. I know being seen out alone might seem like an embarrassing thing to do, but you’d be surprised how many will be admiring your confidence (even if it’s all fake) from afar. Don’t wait to try that new restaurant you want to go to, to see that film that you know you’ll enjoy, or even just to grab a coffee from your favourite place.
Disconnect from social media for a day or more. Social comparison is the thief of joy, and something that is hard not to engage in when you spend time on social media platforms. So try disconnecting from that, and spend a day reconnecting with yourself, to show up for your emotional wellbeing and joy.
Write a list of things you like about yourself. This one can be tricky for us, but it doesn’t have to be huge or obvious things, or even things that we feel strongly about. It might be that you liked your reflection in that shop window, felt comfortable in those new jeans, or feel cool in your favourite sunglasses. It might be more focused on your skills or qualities, like your creativity, generosity, or determination.
Reality reminder: You don’t need to try out all of these things, or do them everyday to start showing up for yourself, and they don’t need to be actions that take up a lot of your time. It could even be something like making an appointment you need to make or giving your dog some love. Remember, self-love isn’t a profound shift, nor will it happen overnight but the more we can take small steps to show up for ourselves, the stronger the self-relationship will become - and before you know it you’ll be your own best friend, and feel more connected to all your other relationships.