The Ultimate Act of Self-Love
Reciting personal affirmations, setting boundaries, and practicing self-care are all positive ways we give love to ourselves. But I have discovered there is one ultimate and brave act of self-love we all need to practice daily.
“I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side.”
Dr. Maya Angelou
When most of us think of self-love, we think about stopping negative self-talk and practicing more positive affirmations. We might think about the importance of setting boundaries to protect our wellbeing and so that others will know how to treat us. We set short- and long-term goals that move us toward the life we say we want. And we think if we truly love ourselves, we will practice self-care – everything from eating well, to getting proper exercise and rest, maintaining work-life balance, treating ourselves to occasional spa days and vacations, and even detoxing from social media when it becomes too much.
All of these are great actions to take when you are committed to loving yourself more. But there’s something else, and that something else is the ultimate and bravest act of self-love.
When I was thinking what to write about, I had a conversation with my daughter. I asked her what she most wanted to read. I asked because I always want these blogs to speak to real life issues and concerns, things that could be preventing you from being the best version of yourself and living your best life. My daughter shared that she wanted to read more about how to love yourself when life feels hard. What does self-love look like when nothing seems to be going your way?
I inquired to see if she was feeling that way now. She said, “no,” but she does at times. That’s real. Life can be hard. We all have those periods when it seems that for every step forward, we take two steps backward. I recommended my daughter consider therapy if she ever feels the stress is too much. And I recommend it to anyone. But in this moment, she really wanted to know how to practice self-love when going through difficulties.
Maybe you have that question too. There is a barrage of stressors that come our way – relationships, finances, job demands, health concerns, and many others. Learning to practice self-love can feel like “extra” during those times, especially if we have a limited view of what self-love is.
Like most things, practicing self-love when everything is going our way is a lot easier than when they’re not. We have more positive energy when life is good. But the context doesn’t change what’s required. Regardless of whether you’re going through a peak or valley experience, this one act of self-love is the bravest thing you can do. And you must do this every day whether you feel like it or not: Show up for yourself.
Before I offer how you can show up for yourself daily, let me share with you how I tricked myself into thinking I was showing up for myself when I really wasn’t.
I’m a forgive and forget kind of person. At least that’s what I’ve always told myself. I’m not one to hold grudges, and that’s a good thing. But I have since examined my tendency to forgive and move on quickly. And I awakened to an Aha!
The realization unfolded while I was journaling one morning. I reflected on past relationships. When I was mistreated or hurt in some way, I would try to make the other person feel okay. I made excuses for them, even if only in my mind. I’d rationalize why they behaved the way they did. I’d say things to myself like, “They’re only human. We all mess up sometimes.” Or “They’re going through a lot.” I’d even try to look at their childhood or some trauma they experienced as the reason why they mistreated me. I would search for any reason I could find to forgive them. I needed to forgive so I could move on.
But what I learned is that every time I rationalized their misbehavior, I was belittling myself. I was saying to myself, “I don’t matter as much as they do.” I’d be so concerned about protecting them that I didn’t protect or prioritize myself. It sounds bizarre, I know. But that was my coping system. If I could excuse their behavior, then I could forgive them and move on.
What was underneath my warped path to forgiveness was I never wanted to believe anyone would intentionally hurt me. But then I learned, their behavior was not about me at all. It was about them. In my journal I wrote:
How about I stop doing that. Stop making excuses for other people, and stop rationalizing bad, uncaring behavior. How about I put myself first. Yes! Every time I notice I am justifying why someone is being unloving and uncaring toward me, I will recognize that I am the one who is not being loving or caring toward myself.
You see, it all comes back to us. We are not responsible for what others may do to us, but we are responsible for what we do to ourselves.
In both cases, navigating life’s difficulties and working through forgiveness, we must never lose sight of ourselves, our needs and wants, our wellbeing. That is self-love. And the ultimate and bravest act of self-love is learning to show up for yourself, not just sometimes, but all the time.
I will say it like my mother would have said it to me. She was not a woman who minced words. My mother would have said, “Show up for yo’ damn self.” With emphasis.
Here’s how to show up for yourself all the time:
- Never push your needs and wants aside to please someone else, unless you really want to – never because you feel you have to. There are times when we will set our needs aside temporarily because it’s more important to meet another’s needs. There is a difference between an intentional act of service toward someone and a self-denial of your own needs.
- Stand up for yourself. When your words, actions, or intentions are misinterpreted, misunderstood, or used against you, don’t keep quiet. Clarify and correct the misinterpretation. “That’s not what I said or what I meant. Let me clarify for you…”
- Accept your imperfections with love. When you fall back on promises you’ve made to yourself – staying on budget, keeping with your goals, etc. – own it and give yourself grace. Talking badly about yourself to yourself is not a motivator. It will only make you feel worse. This is when accepting yourself, your imperfections, and affirming yourself are empowering acts of self-love. Evaluate and make a new, realistic plan that puts you back on track.
- Be your own best friend. I’m sure you have a best friend and for that best friend, you are their ally, advocate, and confidante. They trust you. You cheer them up when they’re down, give feedback lovingly, and walk with them through their fears and failures. Self-love is being that best friend to yourself.
- Check in with yourself daily and especially during difficult times. Whether you meditate, journal, spend time in nature, or walk, spend some time alone every day where you can get in touch with your feelings. This may be easier at home, but even when you are at work, take a break. There are four things you can do:
- Notice what you’re feeling and name it. “I’m feeling frustrated,” for example.
- Accept what you’re feeling by acknowledging and validating your feelings. “It makes sense that I’m feeling frustrated. Most people in this situation would feel similarly.” No judgment.
- Learn. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” It may be that you learn when you overcommit yourself, frustration is a likely result.
- Act. What can you do to address your emotions? “I can say ‘no,’ reprioritize, scale back, or remove a commitment altogether.”
In the end, all the positive affirmations, spa days, vacations, and boundaries will support you in loving yourself more, but nothing will be better than learning how to show up for yourself all the time. When you show up for yourself, you’re saying, “I matter” and that is what self-love is all about.
My purpose is helping others get to know, believe in, and accept themselves so that they live their best lives – lives with more joy, more purpose, and more fulfillment. Their Aha! Life. I’m so grateful you’re on the journey.
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