In today’s world, there is no shortage of discussions and resources on the topic of that over-commoditized term, “self-love.” We are constantly encouraged to love ourselves, have self-compassion, and treat ourselves kindly… but how?
We typically already go about our lives pursuing what we want, seeking pleasure, indulging our desires, and (usually) demanding love and respect from others. We buy stuff we want, do things we like, and compensate for negative feelings in all kinds of healthy (and not-so-healthy) ways. Isn’t that self-love?
Well, maybe, sort of. But I think there is a crucial aspect missing when it comes to practicing genuine self-love, and that is the act of allowing. Allowing ourselves to deeply feel love takes something more subtle than anything we “do.” Inherent in this allowing is a fundamental recognition and acceptance of our own needs and desires.
A client of mine recently raised an important question: Why is she deserving of self-love, and isn’t that selfish? She wondered why her own needs mattered. It is a valid question worth exploring.
Before we can love ourselves, we must believe that we are entitled to that love. Unfortunately, many individuals, as children, internalize the notion that they must earn love, or, sadly, that they do not deserve it at all, leading to a denial of self-love. This self-denial manifests in myriad ways in their adult lives, affecting their relationships, professional development, health, and overall life satisfaction. No matter what they acquire, achieve, or strive for externally, they find it challenging to allow themselves to experience love from within, without needing justification, apology, validation, or even feeling guilt about it.
Self-love is an inside job; it requires nothing from anyone or anything else. Rather, it is grounded in a deep and authentic appreciation for what is already here. The happiest people seem to embrace the joy found in a good sleep, a baby’s smile, a soft rain, a serendipitous discovery, the soulful eyes of a dog, an intense sky-blue, a sweet sound, the earthy scent of nature, or just eating a fruit… They allow these experiences to feel good – for no reason at all. They grant themselves permission to be fully present to these moments, which are offered to everyone passing through this life – regardless of the pain that is also part of the human experience. This is self-love, and because we are programmed to constantly do, acquire, expect, deny, and earn, it takes practice. Lots of practice.
To answer my client’s question about whether this is selfish, I say yes. It is focused on the love of self. And to the question of why her needs matter, I ask, why wouldn’t they? We have this one life, one chance to love, and allowing ourselves to practice self-love is the only way we can genuinely offer love to others. We cannot give what we do not possess. We must first fill our own cup in order to show up as our best, self-actualized selves, fully connected to this life, this experience. This is our birthright.