Heartfelt: Treating Ourselves with Love
Self-care has been a booming buzzword for the past few years. During the height of the pandemic, people were working to ensure that they could stay productive and take care of themselves. Today's installment of the Heartfelt series is about self-love; what it is, what it isn't, and what we can do to ensure we treat ourselves like a loved one.
What is Self-Care?
I was curious how this type of phrase would result in an image search, so I took to Google and Unsplash to see what images appear when typing in the words "self-care". For the Google search, along with plenty of charts and listicles, I also found images of people (mainly women) washing their hair, sitting with their eyes closed, meditating, watering plants, and so on. Then I moved on to Unsplash and did the same search. Sure enough, I see images of women drinking water, taking bubble baths, stretching, or being wrapped up in blankets. I also saw images of cups of coffee, journals, or encouraging quotes.
However, the literal definition of Self-Care is "the practice of taking actions to preserve or improve one's own health" or "the practice of taking an active role in protecting one's own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress". Even though this is the definition of 'self-care' I believe that we still tend to have typical images in our heads of women drinking coffee and having relaxing bubble baths.
Could all those things be considered self-care? Definitely! But they aren't for me, and I'm sure they aren't for a lot of other people. Honestly, self-care is simply doing things that are good for your mental and emotional being. It can be journaling and meditating, but it can also be engaging in some of your favorite activities. It can be having time for yourself to read, clean, dance, or simply sit and think. Also, unlike what a lot of these image searches will tell you, the act of self-love and self-care is not exclusive to women, and it is not a 'feminine' act. Caring for oneself and loving oneself is necessary for literally everyone.
Caring for ourselves can also be about making sure we're not absorbing things that are--at best--unhelpful and--at worst--harmful. Maybe there are people around you who are extremely negative, they have nothing kind or productive to say and would rather complain. Maybe you're "doom-scrolling" on your phone about all the bad things happening in the world and it's giving you feelings of despair and hopelessness. Maybe you are overwhelming yourself with too many (unnecessary) obligations and responsibilities. We can show ourselves love by understanding our limits. We can also show ourselves love by limiting the amount of time we surround ourselves with negative people and activities that cause negative thoughts.
Self-care is ultimately allowing yourself to do things that fill you. Pouring into (showing love to) others is much easier when we're not pouring from an empty cup.
Loving Ourselves First?
This is a phrase that I know we are all familiar with: "You can't love anyone until you learn to learn to love yourself". As cliche as it sounds, a lot of us have accepted this belief as fact. And, to the annoyance of single people everywhere, it's often tossed out a word of "encouragement" in their pursuit to find a significant other (assuming they even want one to begin with).
However, in recent years this idea has been getting challenged. Psychologists point out that many people learn to love themselves by first being loved by another. The biggest example of this is family. Our earliest orientation of what love is and how to show love comes from our parents or parental figures of our childhood. Familial love and romantic love are obviously different, and maybe that's the reason why people don't think about the fact that the love they experienced (or didn't experience) during childhood heavily influences their present-day relationships/friendships. People even argue that popular concepts such as love languages and attachment styles are determined by one's childhood.
It doesn't really seem like "loving yourself first" is a requirement before finding a fulfilling romantic partnership. However, those who possess a secure sense of self tend to have better dating experiences. This isn't "better" in terms they never experienced a bad break-up or never get their heart broken. By better, it just means that they tend to have a set of standards that they aren't likely to yield from, and the recovery time between heartbreaks is not as long.
How do We Love Ourselves?
I like the idea of us being able to treat ourselves "like a loved one". What's interesting about most of us is that we completely understand the concepts of grace, understanding, patience, and love when it comes to other people. However, when it comes to ourselves we are very likely to overcriticize and say terrible things.
Imagine the last time you criticized yourself. Reflect back on a time where you called yourself stupid, careless, or pinned any other negative trait on yourself. Now imagine you were saying all of those terrible things to the person you loved most. Are these things that you would easily say to a loved one? If not, then there's no reason to say those things to yourself.
When I was venting to a friend and explaining some of my struggles, she quickly responded: Are all the things you're saying about yourself things that God says about you?
Whenever I'm tempted to badmouth myself, I keep in mind that 1) talking down to myself does nothing to help and 2) God likely doesn't appreciate me criticizing his creation the way that I do.
I've also thought that we can't replace bad thoughts with good thoughts. We have to replace bad thoughts with good words. That means speaking out loud things about ourselves that are good, or things about ourselves in the present tense that we aspire to be.
Using myself as an example, I was very annoyed with myself at the fact that this blog post is coming out late. I didn't manage my time correctly during the week and it had me writing/editing much later than I usually do. There are things I could have said about myself that are contradictory to what I want to be and contradictory to what God says about me. But instead I said this:
"I give myself grace when I make mistakes"
"I am great at time management and calendar planning"
I admit that when first trying affirmations/positive self talk it made me cringe. Despite being completely alone when I tried it, I still felt weird and embarrassed about it. So I would say that it can take some getting used to.
Showing ourselves love is a daily practice. Taking care of our bodies with sufficient sleep and physical activity, speaking positive affirmations, engaging in our favorite activities, surrounding ourselves with fulfilling relationships, etc. There's no one single way to go about it. When we make it a daily practice to show ourselves love, we make it that much easier to be a loving light to others.