I have been struggling with the concept of self-love for many years.
To me, love has always been synonymous with giving or receiving love—to, or from, another.
Anything that had to do with love toward myself was always dangerously close to egoism and self-centeredness, for which I was shamed as a child.
As a woman, I have been conditioned to feel incomplete without a partner from a young age. I’ve accepted as unshakeable truth the notion that marriage and children were the ultimate goal for a happy life.
I lived with that certitude for many years. I have consciously chosen to put aside my diplomas and the beginning of a career to get married and raise my three children.
Several years ago, over 20 years into my marriage, I found myself in a state of utter mental and physical collapse.
It took me years to understand what happened. While following the standard formula toward bliss, devoting myself to my children, working hard on my marriage, I was left feeling completely empty and depleted inside.
My love of others came at the cost of a constant denial of my own needs. I became bitter, resentful, unhappy.
While women are conditioned to love, to serve, to heal and to nurture others, we are not really taught to properly love and nurture ourselves.
The messages women get about self-love often come as enticements to pamper: via spas and shopping sprees. We are convinced that shopping is an integral part of a woman’s self-love ritual.
It is effective—but only to an extent. Many years of self-indulgence did not teach me self-love. In fact, I have become addicted to these external sources of “feel good” and, no matter how satisfying those were, it wasn’t long before I needed a new dose of “love.”
I needed something sustainable. In my search for answers, I have confronted statements that I must first learn to love myself. That I am enough. That all the answers I seek are within me. That we are incapable of truly loving anyone else before we love ourselves.
I realized that I had no idea what it meant to love myself.
It became clearer as I understood the term self-care.
The revelation came unexpectedly through the practice of meditation. By committing to finding time for myself every day, no matter what—my whole attitude toward myself changed. Something fundamental shifted in my awareness and made clear this simple fact: I matter, too.
I am part of all the people in my life who matter to me. I, too, deserve love and care, and I am no less important than my children, my husband, my family and my friends. As this realization became apparent and solidified in my mind, it led to self-compassion. In the place where my needs did not exist before, I started paying attention.
When I started paying attention, the needs were many. I shifted my focus from the other people onto myself.
One extreme often leads to another. When I realized how inattentive I’ve been to myself for years, my natural tendency was to go to the opposite extreme. I was now zealously listening to my every whim, wish and desire and giving it all equal attention.
With time, as I learned to live with myself in this new state of awareness and self-respect, I observed things coming to an equilibrium. I am now aware that some of my urges led to excess and self-destruction.
The point of self-love is not the self-indulgence of a child, but mindful attention and consideration, as well as balance between our wishes, our needs and our obligations.
As my self-care addresses my needs—from physical to emotional—it leads to all sorts of improvements. Even my ego is now appeased and has relaxed its vigilance in expecting to be hurt. The victim tendencies have subsided too—because whenever I start feeling that I am being taken advantage of, I remind myself that I am free. I am free to leave any situation or a relationship that does not satisfy me. The switch from a victim mentality to freedom changes absolutely everything and lets us navigate life as an empowered human being, the author of our own life.
It has taken me years to understand these simple truths. Learning to love myself required cutting through many layers of conditioning and self-annihilation.
In the end, learning to love myself came from a shift in perspective and the realization that I am important. Thanks to my internal resources, my energy and dedication, there are people in my life that are thriving. This leads to appreciation of my life and self-love.
Wherever you are on your life journey, whether you are single or in a couple, whether you like Valentine’s Day or view it as a ploy for consumerism, I encourage you to celebrate this year.
Take it as an occasion to remind those important people in your life how much they matter and make sure to include yourself among them.
Author: Galina Singer
Editor: Travis May