‘Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin, as self-neglecting.’ William Shakespeare, Henry V
Last week we were celebrating love and Valentines, which inevitably led to thoughts of romance and different types of love.
But despite a lot of talk of love everywhere – from card shops to films to books and the media – we see evidence of a lack of love all around us. That lack of love is not only evident in the terrible things we hear on the news, but also in something closer to home. And that’s the love we have for ourselves – or self-love.
What are we talking about when we talk about self-love or loving yourself?
A good place to start is by saying what it’s not.
It’s not about being selfish or self-centred – even though it’s easy to jump to this conclusion when we talk about loving ourselves.
And it’s not about showing off or having an over-inflated ego or sense of self.
Nor is self-love about being narcissistic. In fact narcissism is the opposite of self-love because we’re seeking approval of ourselves, as this quote from Emily Levine illustrates:
‘I am a recovering narcissist. I thought narcissism was about self-love till someone told me there is a flip side to it. It is actually drearier than self-love; it is unrequited self-love’. Emily Levine
So that’s what it’s not – but what is it?
Self-love is about our ability to deal with and cater to our own needs and desires. It’s about having a healthy view and sense of our self.
It’s tied up with our sense of self-esteem, self-worth and confidence in ourselves.
Yet how often we don’t love and respect ourselves.
What does it look like when we don’t love ourselves? Here are 6 tell tell signs to look out for, clues that indicate you’re not being loving towards yourself.
This is the inner dialogue that goes on in our mind. For example:
It’s not just what we say to ourselves but also what we say out loud and in front of others, including when we put ourselves down in front of others.
This is where you’re critical of yourself e.g. ‘why can’t I do that’, or where you’re impatient with yourself for getting something wrong or with how long it’s taking you to get something right.
Think about when we’re learning something new. It might be a new or complicated skill like playing a musical instrument, so of course we’re not going to pick it up straight away. But still we somehow think we should be able to do it much quicker than we realistically can.
We’re impatient, as if it’s some defect or lack in us that’s the cause of our slowness. We get frustrated or even angry – when really it’s our expectations that are unrealistic.
The same goes for when it takes long time to do a task or our work. Impatience or criticism creeps in and we question why we can’t focus more or why’s it taking so long to get it done.
These are the signs of being hard on yourself that we both recognise only too well!
One of the classic signs of a lack of self-love is when we don’t look after ourselves physically. We might show a blatant disregard for our health and what we put into our bodies or what we do with our bodies, such as indulging in risky or dangerous behaviour.
When you love someone you want the best for them. Yet many of us fill our bodies with food and drink that’s no good for it and harmful in the long run. Is it we don’t love ourselves enough to give us the best we can, or is the quick reward of eating something we like the taste of, more appealing?
It’s a complex subject and might not apply to you – but it’s worth thinking about what you eat and if you’re being loving to yourself. Or is that little something you call a treat and reward, really the opposite?
This applies to you if you run around looking after everyone else whilst neglecting your own needs. Many parents will relate to this. Of course most people love looking after their children and doing things for their family, friends and community but there is a point at which it becomes about everyone else – which is fine until you find yourself neglecting your own needs.
Another form of neglecting your needs is when you live how others think you should live rather than following your own dreams and aspirations.
Sometimes shame gets in the way of loving our self.
You might shame yourself about the decisions you make or have made in the past. Or you try to hide something from your past because you think it puts you in a bad light or you regret it. But you might also try to hide parts of you from those around you because you’re ashamed or don’t like some aspect of yourself. Maybe you’re afraid they wont like you if they were aware of it, or you fear opening up the whole you will make you vulnerable to getting hurt.
These are examples of when we exhibit behaviour and characters lacking in self-love, but they also describe a lack of self-worth.
This is when people don’t consider themselves worthy or deserving of looking after or nurturing themselves, because or an underlying, possibly unrecognised, sense that they don’t think they’re worth it.
But they are worth it – we’re all worth it. We need to think of ourselves in loving ways and to feel and experience that self-love. Not in a selfish way but because self-love is good for us, our families and society.
What to do next
Be on the look out for how you do or don’t love yourself, especially those signs of when you’re not being loving towards yourself like your inner voice and critic.
Catch it out and if you’re serious about this make a note of it. Write down the thought or word or action and the time and date. This will help you in two ways:
In case you’re worried about being selfish, it’s not selfish to look after yourself, or want to change yourself and your situation.
The fact is we have more to offer others when we care for ourselves first. Love starts with you. Improve your life and you’ll improve the lives of those around you and have more love to give.
Episode 81 of the Changeability Podcast
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