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July 26, 2017

When did Self-Love become a Dirty Word?

I was recently writing an article for my blog about quitting my job and traveling.

For the first time in my life, I am giving myself permission to put myself first and to honor myself and my needs.

While writing, I searched for a synonym for the word “self-love,” to avoid repetition. I looked for suggestions from the handy Microsoft Word thesaurus, and my jaw dropped:

Self-love (n.):

>> egotism
>> selfishness
>> egocentricity
>> narcissism
>> egoism
>> self-centeredness
>> self-interest
>> self-esteem
>> self-respect
>> amour-propre
>> vanity
>> conceit
>> modesty (Antonym)

No wonder many of us are brought up thinking that self-care is not okay!

Most of these synonyms are pejorative; some are downright scary. After the initial shock, I remembered that this list of words describes how I used to feel about self-love.

Growing up as a young woman in the Midwest, I was taught to put everyone else’s needs above my own. If I didn’t, I would be thought of as selfish or egocentric.

I became a doormat.

Not only did I not learn to set healthy boundaries, I was taught there would be severe consequences if I tried to set any kind of boundary.

Naturally, I attracted people who took advantage of my giving nature. I married someone who was threatened if I set boundaries or if I expressed my own needs, and the pattern was further engrained.

It took me 33 years to discover the importance of putting myself first—and when I did, it was life-changing.

I am still a giver, but no longer a pleaser (okay, maybe a recovering pleaser). I know now that I need to put my needs first and foremost.

Rather than draining my well to care for others, I must keep it full enough to care for me and those around me.

I consider it a practice—I am still doing my work every day to honor my need for self-care.

After I divorced, I declared the “Year of Amanda.” This included weekly massages, a yoga and Qigong practice, and daily mindfulness meditation. I also allowed myself to buy art, stay out late dancing, lay in the park and read a book all day, and countless other pleasures I’d previously denied myself.

By the time the year was up, I had formed new habits based in self-love that are still part of my daily routine.

For most of my life, my inner critic was the loudest voice in my head. She told me everything that was wrong with me until I had a consistent negative mantra playing in the background of my mind.

Yet even after practicing self-love for two years, my inner critic still visits. I acknowledge her and thank her for caring for me. I know her motivation is to protect me, so I thank her, hold her hand, and offer her tea. In this way, she can come and go, yet I do not get swept up in her negativity or despair.

At this point in my life, I find it absurd to think that self-love is akin to egotism, selfishness, or narcissism. I want to shout this from the tallest mountain.

Instead of demonizing it, we must teach ourselves and our children the art of self-love and self-care. We need to demonstrate through our own actions how to set and respect healthy boundaries. There is a spectrum from doormat to narcissist, and by using mindfulness, we can prevent ourselves from going too far in either direction.

I believe we can create a more compassionate society by changing the definition of “self-love.”

Here are some of my favorite quotes to help jumpstart a practice of self-love:

“The truth is, it’s not perfection we are seeking, but acceptance and self-love. And we only get that self-love through practice, through letting ourselves ‘off the hook,’ and through complete forgiveness.” ~ Michelle Paisley

“Our habit of being a fair-weather friend to ourselves…is deeply entrenched. But just as a relationship with a good friend is marked by understanding and compassion, we can learn to bring these same qualities to our own inner life.” ~ Tara Brach

“Make certain to include yourself: one of the greatest blocks to loving-kindess is our own sense of unworthiness. If we leave ourselves out of the circle of love and compassion, we have misunderstood.” ~ Jack Kornfield

“We see only our shortcomings and blow them out of all proportion. At the same time, we take all our good qualities for granted, or fail to acknowledge them at all. Perhaps we get stuck in the often deep and still bleeding wounds of childhood, and forget or never discover that we have golden qualities too.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

“Love is the capacity to take care, to protect, to nourish. If you are not capable of generating that kind of energy toward yourself—if you are not capable of taking care of yourself, of nourishing yourself, of protecting yourself—it is very difficult to take care of another person.” ~ Thich Nhat Hahn

“When I care for myself, I can care for others.” ~ Waylon H. Lewis

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Author: Amanda Sesser
Image: Author’s own; with permission from Ryan McGuire
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Lieselle Davidson

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Amanda Sesser