This article was written for The Female CEO magazine.
Self-love, what is it?
Before we learn how to cultivate self-love, we need to understand what it is. It means accepting yourself fully, treating yourself with kindness and respect, and nurturing your growth and well-being. Self-love isn't selfish, but it's selfish if you only love yourself. We need to understand the difference between self-love and narcissism.
Narcissists believe they are better than others and won't acknowledge or take responsibility for their mistakes and flaws. They also seek vast amounts of external validation and recognition. Narcissists also lack empathy for others. In contrast, self-love isn't about showing how great you are. People who healthily love themselves know that they are flawed and make mistakes and accept and care about themselves despite their imperfections.
Self-love includes how you treat yourself and your thoughts and feelings about yourself. Imagine what you would do for yourself, how you would talk to yourself, and how you would feel about yourself, reflecting love and compassion. Self-love is the home base that allows us to be assertive, practice self-care, set boundaries, create healthy, meaningful relationships with others, pursue our interests and goals, and feel proud.
Why is it important?
Without self-love, you will likely be highly self-critical and fall into people-pleasing behaviours and perfectionism. As a result, you are more likely to tolerate abuse or mistreatment from others. You may also neglect your needs and feelings because you don't value yourself enough. Lastly, you may self-sabotage or make decisions that aren't in your own best interest.
What do you show your kids you don't love and value yourself? You might say "yes" to everyone else, but you don't care about your needs. It's so easy to fall into being a martyr. While some may see it as commendable, often it backfires, and the resentment built over time can break a person- physically, emotionally and mentally. I know this very well because I was once in that place.
Six years ago, I was a new mother. I thought I had to be perfect and do everything perfectly- looking after my baby, cooking healthy foods, keeping the house clean, being a good wife, friend, and daughter, and always helping others. I was exhausted and frustrated, and it took a lot of self-awareness to realise that I had neglected my needs and self-care. Then, I learned that I needed to love myself first to be the loving, kind and compassionate mother I wanted.
When we model self-love to our children, especially our girls, they typically learn to value themselves and become more confident. They will know how to set boundaries and stand up for themselves. They will take responsibility for looking after their health and well-being and, from there, be able to spread love and compassion- not from a position of people-pleasing but from their inner strength and attributes.
As mothers, we must remember that we set an example for our kids to follow, and we can create a ripple effect for the generations after us. So that is why we must learn to love ourselves first.
How can it make you a better person and mother?
Self-love is important because you cannot indeed be a loving parent or partner if you do not love yourself first. Notice how you speak to yourself versus how you talk to your child. Do you speak with a kind voice to your child but a negative one to yourself? When your child makes a mistake, does it trigger you? Does it make you think you are not doing a good job?
You can unconditionally love your kids and partner from a place of self-love. You will not be critical of your kids because you are not critical of yourself. You will not feel bad when you mess up because you know you are doing your best. You will not feel any less than others because you know your worth.
The most important relationship you will ever have is with yourself. Love yourself FIRST.
How can you cultivate self-love?
Start by saying positive things to yourself. You don't have to be perfect. You only need to do your best and accept your imperfections. Learn to forgive yourself when you make a mistake or mess up. You can even practice positive affirmations in the mornings and tap into your unconscious mind. You will slowly but surely reprogram how you speak to yourself, thus inviting more love and kindness to you.
Prioritise your needs, health and well-being. You cannot run on empty. Learn to put on your oxygen mask, fill your cup first, and meet your needs. Be assertive, and ask yourself, what do I need now? Do I need more time off, sleep, rest, or help around the house? Take time to do things that make you happy. Ask for help from family and friends. You don't always have to do it alone.
Recognise your strengths. Grab a cup of tea, sit down in a quiet space, light a candle, and write what your strengths are in your journal or on a piece of paper. It is not narcissistic to recognise your strengths. You are just highlighting what you are good at, and sometimes we can all use a reminder. Stick your strengths on the wall where you can see them daily and remind yourself.
Set healthy boundaries. Understand your values and what is important to you—not letting others take advantage of or abuse you. Learn to politely say "no" to others and draw the line with people who no longer align with your values. You don't have to please people or be afraid of what people think of you. Their opinions of you are not within your control, but you do have control over who you want in your life. Be with people who uplift you and not take away energy from you.
Stop comparing yourself. Unfortunately, we are socialised to be competitive from being young, so comparing ourselves to others is natural. But it can be harmful and dangerous. There's just no point in comparing yourself to anyone else because there's only one you. Instead, focus on yourself and your journey. The mindset and shift of energy will help set you free.
Remember, your value doesn't lie in how your body looks. Unfortunately, the world wants to distract you from this powerful truth. Sometimes even your own internalised thoughts of inadequacy. You are valuable because you are you, not because of your body. So, be proud of your body and wear what makes you feel good. Wear what makes you feel comfortable, confident, and happy if it's a lot or a little.
Get professional help. We all have limiting beliefs, whether you don't feel good enough or don't feel lovable enough. These limiting beliefs were embedded in our subconscious from an early age, and we carry them throughout our lives. We numb them by overachieving, drinking, eating, having sex, and taking drugs not to feel that way. We developed these coping mechanisms so we don't have to face ourselves. Working with a coach can help you break free from these limiting beliefs and allow more room to forgive yourself and feel love, compassion, and understanding.
Identify one loving thing you can do for yourself today. What can you do to feed your soul? Next, write down what you will do and when you will do it, be specific. For example, "I will read a book tonight at 8 pm" or "I will take a long bath with candles at 9 pm tonight" Writing it down on paper will increase your likelihood of following through. As you add more loving, self-care actions to your daily life, you will feel better about yourself and value your needs, making you happier.