The next two weeks on the podcast we tackle the subject of self-love, or loving ourselves. This week we focus on what it means, why we often struggle to do it, and why it’s important. Next week we talk about how you can go about bringing self-love into your life.
What does loving yourself mean?
When people think of self-love they might imagine somebody looking in the mirror saying ‘I love you’ to themselves: a very big ask for most of us. We want to move away from the idea of love as a feeling, towards bell hooks’s definition of love as something we do (a verb, or doing word).
Feeling or stating love for another person isn’t necessarily a loving thing to do, for example if we act on the feeling in an entitled way, or say ‘I love you’ when we know it discomforts them. What is loving is to practice love: to act in ways that treat them kindly and consensually. Similarly, if we take the pressure of being able to feel love for ourselves, or say that we love ourselves, we can simply practice doing loving things towards ourselves. We don’t have to be able to feel it or say it to be able to do it, but doing may expand our capacity to feel it in time.
Why don’t people do self-love?
Self-love is not prioritised in our culture. It’s often seen as selfish or self-absorbed, as a weird or ‘woo’ thing to do, or as making you a bit of a loser or sad person because being loved by others is regarded as more valid than loving yourself (a bit like the way sex with others is seen as superior to solo sex).
The Ancient Greeks saw self-love as one of the main kinds of love: Philautia. Various forms of Buddhism regard befriending yourself, or cultivating gentleness and loving-kindness towards yourself, as vital. So there are models for self-love across time and around the world.
Our struggle with self-love is rooted in our consumer capitalist culture where selling products relies on making people feel that they are lacking and need something to fill that lack: A culture focused on having rather than being. In fact in such a culture even self-love itself becomes commodified: we’re told that we aren’t good enough at it and need to spend money and time on it on top of everything else.
Self-love is likely to be harder for some groups than others. For example, women are particularly brought up to locate their worth in their relationships with others (being good, desirable, and loved by others). It’s broadly seen as more appropriate for men to focus on their own goals and ambitions, expecting others to support those.
People whose lives, bodies, and labour are treated as less valuable than others may struggle to self-love because wider society teaches them that they aren’t as deserving of it as others. People who are marginalised in all kinds of ways may have internalised shame and stigma in ways that make it hard to love themselves. Disabled people are often taught that they are a burden and shouldn’t ask for things that would be self-loving for them, or that they need to demonstrate how hard their lives are in order to access support so being self-loving is hard to do.
Why is self-love important?
It would be great if we could just accept that we are worthy of love to the extent that this question didn’t make any sense, but few of us do accept that. So here are a few reasons why it’s better for other people too if we do self-love:
- Being loving and kind towards ourselves generally increases our capacity to be loving, kind, and real with others around us
- We need to replenish ourselves to have energy and support to give others
- When we focus on doing things for others we often do it in ways that don’t really take account of what they want (non-consensual) and ways which obligate them to give back to us or leave us resentful or worn out
- Learning to be gentle and compassionate with ourselves is vital if we’re going to look honestly at our patterns and how they hurt others, and how we’re implicated in systems and structures that hurt others – which is pretty vital that we all do right now
Systems, structures and spaces to support self-love
Last week we spoke about how the current systems, structures, and spaces around us often make it hard to practice self-love. So it’s good to first think about how we might shift these things in our lives – creating micro-cultures that support us and our people to practice self-love.
For example we might think about the spaces we occupy everyday and whether we can carve out nurturing spaces and times for ourselves (e.g. a corner of the house for us, a nice spot we go to every day to be alone). Can we cultivate communities of friends and close ones where we mutually make time for self-love and help provide the times, spaces, and resources that support each other (e.g. peer-to-peer support sessions, journalling alongside each other, meeting in a group and sharing about our lives).
Rhythms, routines and relationships to support self-love
Related to this are the rhythms and routines of our lives. It’s good to play with this for a time before we settle into what works for us. For example, what routines might we have around getting up, mealtimes, travelling, and going to bed which make those particularly self-loving times? How can we invite the people we live with, colleagues, and others in our lives to help us self-love, and do the same in return for them?
The idea of love languages (the ways we like to give and receive love with others) can be useful to apply to loving ourselves. For example, do we like to self-love with quality time, gifts, words, service, touch, and/or other things? Again we might play with different ideas to find out what works for us. On the podcast we talked about nourishing ourselves with tasty meals, making regular solo time somewhere pleasant with a hot drink in the morning, journalling, getting gifts for ourselves, and looking after our bodies in various ways.
Loving our plural selves
It can be easier to love parts of ourselves than the whole unit. For example, we might do loving things which we know our future self will appreciate, or send love back to past versions of ourself. We could access compassionate sides of ourselves to look after more vulnerable selves, or visualise a compassionate person in our lives – or fictional character – talking to us.
Meg-John explores the idea of plural selves more in this zine and spoke on the podcast about giving gifts between different sides of themself, and doing different activities which nurture – and give expression – to different sides too.
Self-loving as self-loving
Solo sex can be a great way to practice self-loving. This might involve deliberately making space for it, and perhaps slowing it down rather than just doing it to have a release. We’ve talked about solo sex on the podcast here if you want ideas about how to go about this, and will do again no doubt.
Go easy on yourself
Finally please be gentle with yourself around this. Self-love easily becomes yet another stick to beat yourself with in our self-critical culture, and that’s so not the point. Different things work for different people, and we do need help and support to do it. Play with the idea and go easy if it’s tough at times.
© Meg-John Barker & Justin Hancock, 2019