View this post on Instagram
For many of us, 2020 was the unexpected, unprecedented year that rocked our understanding of the world we live in.
It was, in many ways, scary, lonely, filled with grief, and even traumatic. And as grateful as we are to be standing firmly in a new year, the difficulty of the previous hasn’t really been negated, and things still feel uncertain.
It’s during these times that the concept of self-love, while deeply important, can seem a little foreign and difficult, even impossible.
If you find that you struggle with self-love when life feels challenging, you’re not alone. In fact, the version of self-love we see plastered all over social media and trumpeted by the latest Insta-influencer would feel difficult amidst challenging circumstances, because it’s actually far from accurate.
In reality, self-love is meant to be an ongoing practice of cultivation, full of grace, ebbs and flows, and one that honors where you are right now.
I used to think that self-love was all bubble baths and high vibes, but when I started working with women in their relationships with themselves, I had a big, fat cathartic realization.
Let me tell you a quick story.
When I was in my early 20s, I experienced one of the most traumatic, challenging experiences of my life. It felt like my entire life had unraveled in the span of the previous year, and all I could manage was asking myself, “What’s the next, best thing I need to do to survive?”
The first of those decisions was heading home. The next was as small as showering. Eating something. Then sleeping—alone for the first time in months.
And you know what? That was self-love, in all its life-changing, magical glory.
My journey to self-love wasn’t in that moment of catharsis—it was in the gradual learning and making decisions that were loving and in my best interest. Self-love was born when I addressed the struggle and the reasons behind it.
The first thing you need to know is this: If you’ve struggled to master self-love, especially when things around you aren’t going so well, we can conclude that you’re both human and normal.
There are two, natural, biological reasons why it can feel overwhelmingly difficult to stay in a constant state of self-love:
1. Negativity Bias.
We human have a tendency to focus on the negative over the positive. Think of it this way: if you found out that two exes had been talking about you to other people. One in a way that was positive, glowing, and admirable, and one that essentially reduced you to the worst person on Earth—which one would take up more of your attention? For most people, it would be the latter.
The negative is more likely to preoccupy our minds. From an evolutionary perspective, this negativity bias helped ensure survival. If you could remember and focus on the dangerous, bad things you experienced, you were less likely to repeat them or be taken off guard, and, therefore, more likely to survive.
2. Further narrowing our focus enhances attention filters.
Humans have a natural limit to how much input and stimulus we can focus on and process at any given moment. Our brains are in a constant state of filtering out what it deems unimportant, and without this function, we’d have a difficult time existing in the modern world.
You’ve experienced your attention filters at work if you’ve ever had the yellow car experience. In the yellow car example, a person begins to consider purchasing a new car and decides, wholeheartedly, that their new car is going to be yellow. The more they look at, think about, and imagine yellow cars, the more yellow cars they will also see out in the world.
It may seem like a coincidence, but it’s actually your attention filters at work. Put simply, the world looks more like what you focus on than what you do not.
When you combine negativity bias and attention filters with the never-ending bombardment of the media, all designed to make you feel as if something is missing, it’s easy to see why you might tend to view yourself as far less amazing, capable, gorgeous, and worthy of love than you actually are.
Self-love is not:
>> A shiny object you have to obtain or a task to complete. It is an ongoing practice that occurs on a continuum from: self-hatred—self-dislike—self-acknowledgment—neutrality—self-acceptance—self-like—self-love.
>> Your emotions. Emotions are temporary indicators of your response to an external situation. They are information about how you’re doing, but they aren’t permanent. We don’t have to overidentify with negative emotions; they aren’t right or wrong, and they are also not reflective of our state of love or our ability to make caring decisions for ourselves. Sometimes, the most loving thing we can do is acknowledge our actual feelings and respond to them with compassion and understanding.
>> Requiring of perfection. Self-love requires us to see ourselves as the messy, well-intentioned but never flawless human beings that we are. It does not require that we be perfect in any way, shape, or form, from the way we feel to the way we look.
>> Self-kindness and self-compassion as you learn to treat yourself with understanding and forgiveness.
>> Recognizing that perfection is not, and never was the goal. You are one human in a collective of humans doing the best you can with what you have.
>> Mindfulness and being aware of your internal state, your needs, and not overidentifying with negative emotions (letting them just be).
The ultimate form of self-love is to step fully into your human life and accept yourself wherever you are—only when we see where we are can we create a path forward.
If you’ve had a disruptive, difficult year, if 2021 still feels uncertain and challenging, or if you’ve just struggled with self-love in the past, know that right here and right now you are absolutely okay; there is nothing wrong with you. Remember that you are allowed to ask yourself what you need, regularly.
Research shows that cultivating love for ourselves helps lower symptoms of depression, lessens anxiety, builds resilience, helps us recover from disappointments or trauma more quickly, and helps us be more adaptable in difficult situations—all of which are really good skills for right about now!
You are the singular most important person in your reality, and everything stems from your relationship with yourself. Learning to treat yourself as someone who is inherently worthy of love, compassion, acceptance, and respect is an absolute game-changer—it will impact everything in your life.
And you don’t have to know how to do that right now. Consider starting with self-acceptance or neutrality. Consider what it might be like to ask yourself what the next, best thing is that you can do for yourself, wherever you are and whatever you find yourself dealing with at this moment.
And over time, with practice and intention and grace, you can learn to regard yourself with genuine, life-changing love.