Self-love and self-care are getting their time in the spotlight. The usage of these phrases have been intertwined with wellness culture and new age spiritualism alike. And if you're getting your perceptions from most social media, you may think of self-love and self-care as rather luxurious--taking hot baths, putting lavender in your diffuser, eating chocolate treats, or booking yourself a day at the spa.
I will not argue that these things are a part of self-care, and therefore promote self-love. What I am here to argue is that there is more to true self-love and self-care than this fluffy stuff.
Fluff can be nice. Fluff makes you feel warm, fuzzy, sensual and indulgent. However, I want to make a distinction between pampering yourself and self-care. Fluff is mainly pampering. And don't get me wrong...everyone loves, and deserves, a good pampering. Buy those bath bombs! Get your nails done! Eat those sweet treats! TREAT YO'SELF! Because those things do make you feel good, but often only short-term. This "treat yourself" mentality is only a small part of the self-care picture.
True self-love is knowing, accepting and loving ALL the parts of yourself--good AND bad--while compassionately working towards being a better human and a better you by cultivating awareness around "negative" aspects of yourself, and learning how to integrate and use them in more beneficial ways.
True self-care goes deeper than pampering. It's taking care of your whole being-body, mind, and soul. It's healing your traumas, putting in the work, and taking responsibility for your actions and behaviors.
Below, I've listed some not-so-conventional ways to practice self-care. These practices might not make you feel warm and fuzzy, but they'll help you deepen your connection to self, allowing you to love yourself more wholly and fully.
Actively practice self-examination and cultivate self-awareness.
This one is difficult. It involves being honest with yourself. Recognize and acknowledge your harmful coping mechanisms. Explore and examine your triggers when you get angry or upset. Become aware of what you turn to or what you use when you get anxious or sad. Awareness is the first step in creating more beneficial, healthy coping strategies and healing your emotional triggers. Journaling can be a great tool, and don't be afraid to seek out a therapist if you need help!
Be an active participant in your health.
This is more than just exercising and eating well. This means checking in with your body. It means not ignoring aches and pains when they arise (and seeking out an appropriate, experienced health professional when they do-doctor, chiropractor, bodyworker, massage therapist, naturopath etc). It means getting your levels checked-vitamins, hormones, cholesterol, and so on. It means making doctor and dentist appointments. It means taking care of your mental health, and seeking out a therapist if you need help.
Make intentional choices to create positive thought patterns.
Our brains can be powerful tools, but we have to put in the work to make it a positive tool. Ever heard of neural plasticity? It's your brain's ability to change and adapt. So, the more often you think negative thoughts about yourself, the more your brain is hardwired to think those thoughts because it hardens those neural pathways, losing some neural plasticity. However, through intentional awareness and action, you can make and reinforce new pathways, improving neural plasticity! I have two tips for this:
1. Practice affirmations. Pick an affirmation that resonates with you, and then say that sh** out loud! Say it in a mirror, to yourself, daily. Say it like you mean it. Repeat it. By doing this, you are actively creating new thought pathways in your brain! Yes, it will seem awkward or silly at first. Do it anyway!
2. This one was something my therapist taught me when I was struggling with body image. Whenever I think a negative thought about my body (ie. catching myself in the mirror and thinking, “Ugh I’m so fat”), I follow up that thought with, “That’s not helpful/useful/relevant right now.” It helps me to just keeping moving on to the next thought, so I don't get stuck in the negative thought spiral. Maybe it’ll help you too!
Do things that scare you.
Now of course, I’m not talking about putting yourself in any sort of danger. But do things that are out of your comfort zone! When you face your fears, physical or mental, you create more confidence in yourself. You will reinforce the fact that you are resilient and capable. You will learn to trust yourself, and believe in yourself more.
Try some inner child work.
You may or may not have heard of inner child work before. It can be a great way to explore the underlying reasons of why we do the things we do and why we feel the things we feel. Inside all of us is an inner child, a little you, that needs to be acknowledged and loved. While part of this work is identifying your childhood traumas, so that you no longer react from that space of hurt, it is also about helping you connect to more to your childlike wonder, awe, play, and joy. There is a bunch of information on this topic, but here is a good short intro video that goes a little deeper, if you're curious: What is the Inner Child?
Most importantly, be gentle with yourself through the process. Remember that you are doing your best, and your best changes from day to day. Forgive yourself for making mistakes and for not being perfect. True self-love is a difficult thing to cultivate in today's culture. It will take time and there will be set backs, and you may always have to work on actively cultivating this love. That's okay. You're doing amazing. Keep going.
I hope some of these tips can prove useful to you in developing a deeper, more loving relationship with yourself. After all, that's the most important relationship we have!