Why I Don't Talk About Self-Love

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Yesterday, more people in this part of the world were musing over the topic of love (and self-love) than any other time of year. It left me reflecting on why I don't talk about self-love here on Becoming Who You Are, and I want to share a few thoughts about that today.

Part of the reason is it's difficult to define. Love means different things to different people. In the personal development world, self-love is often used to describe an idealised alternate reality; one in which we feel only positive feelings towards ourselves and experience a kind of enlightened internal nirvana.

Here’s the truth: I do not always feel self-loving, nor do I think I need to.Self-love can feel like a lot of pressure for those of us who have a more—let’s say—complicated relationship with ourselves.

This doesn’t mean I believe the voice that tells me I’m not good enough, that I’m lazy, or that other people are probably thinking mean things about me. Not at all.

Some of the times I am kindest to myself are when I feel least self-loving, because that’s when I know I most need that kindness. Some of my deepest learning comes from the times when I struggle most with self-love, because those times are where the lessons lie. But I also don’t need to wait for that voice to disappear entirely, or to be 100% free of internal conflict, to create meaning, fulfilment and happiness within my life.

The aim of personal development isn’t to strive for perfection, nor is it to be some kind of superhuman. 

When I first became interested in personal development, I was in a dark place and my goal was to get out of that dark place. At the time, I had all kinds of notions about how that would mean being immune to hurt, pain, frustration, ambivalence, uncertainty, discomfort, anger, rejection, and everything else we struggle with as humans.

But this doesn’t happen. Because we are human. When we try to shut out the uncomfortable experiences, we also end up shutting out joy, excitement, anticipation, bliss, hope, enjoyment, and all the things we crave.

If anything, the aim of personal development and self-awareness is to feel our feelings more. It’s also to learn to respond to them, rather than react.

Also because we are human, our feelings don’t fit into neat little boxes. We are capable of massive contradictions, which means we’re capable of loving and loathing at the same time. We’re capable of feeling happiness and sadness. We’re capable of feeling insecure and loved. Depending on our histories and experiences, we can find ourselves magnetically drawn to people we know we really shouldn’t love, and we can struggle to conjure any kind of deep attachment to people we know have 100% earned our love and then some.

Alternatives to self-love

Instead of self-love, I choose to focus on our humanness and everything that comes with it. I focus on the areas in which we have agency, responsibility (response-ability), and choice.

This includes self-kindness, which is an choice to show love, a conscious decision to behave in a loving way towards ourselves.

It includes self-care, which is a choice to look after our physical, emotional and mental needs.

It includes self-expression, which is a choice to share out gifts and vision with the world, to give people on the outside a peek at what’s going on inside.

It also includes self-acceptance, which is a choice to accept reality.

Accepting something isn’t the same as liking it, but it gives us an opportunity to acknowledge what is true and real.

So if the phrase self-love doesn’t quite resonate with you either, that’s OK. We’re all works in progress making our own way in this world.

However you choose to describe your experience, the most important thing is that we show up each day ready to continue exploring, learning, and growing along the way.

(N.B. This isn’t meant as an implied criticism of people who do use and enjoy this phrase. If that’s you, keep doing what you’re doing! What I want to explore and gently challenge is the notion that self-love is what we should be striving for, and to introduce some alternatives.)

Further reading: Other people's choices don't define whether we're good enough & how to cultivate self-trust (advice from Rising Strong by Brené Brown)

Why I don't talk about self-love

Why I don't talk about self-love