A note on self-love

By Sakuni Weerasinghe

Self-love is a topic spoken of by everyone, from mental health practitioners and self-help coaches to social media influencers and celebrities. The views on how to engage in self-love might differ depending on the person you ask. For some, self-love comes in the form of indulgence and for some, it relates to a deeper exploration of oneself in all its complexities and intricacies, while for others it is about serving a purpose greater than oneself.

Whether you buy yourself a nice perfume or donate your resources to a charitable cause, self-love includes engaging in actions that enable you to feel good about yourself. Whichever shape or form it may be engaged in, we can all agree that self-love is much needed now more than ever before.

Self-love can be defined as “a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological, and spiritual growth”. It includes valuing yourself, your qualities, and your morals and values, and viewing yourself as a person deserving of love and respect. It is a form of acknowledgment of your self-worth.

Self-love is necessary as it has been linked to greater happiness, being more optimistic, and generating positive emotions. These in turn generate more motivation to thrive, improve your willingness to actively participate in life, and be more open to experiences. Furthermore, it can enable us to cope better with stress and can serve as a protective barrier against self-criticism, isolation, and feelings of depression.

As a society, we’re still in the process of normalising self-love. Every now and then, we see the notions of self-love being equated with narcissism. Authentic self-love stems from valuing yourself and being proud of who you are and your accomplishments without the need for comparison and putting others down to make yourself appear to be on top. It is about understanding and accepting that you can have flaws and doubts, but giving yourself the validation you need to manage them to be the best version of yourself possible. At the end of the day, self-love focuses on your growth as an individual.

So how do we practise self-love?

Engage in self-soothing

Self-soothing can be practised as a form of healing. When experiencing stress, as we are right now because of Covid-19, our body naturally responds as if the situation poses a serious threat to life itself, and the intensity of our response can be disproportionate to the situation itself. This is mainly due to the activation of our fight or flight mechanism. We tend to experience a host of physical sensations like shortness of breath, heart palpitations, trembling and chills, nausea, and more. Hyperventilation in itself can result in an increased heart rate which can further our worries and stress.

Therefore, controlled breathing can help manage the palpitations, which is a good first step in self-soothing. Taking deep breaths, breathing in through your nose, slowly and deeply until your tummy protrudes, holding the breath for a few seconds, and then gently exhaling by breathing out through the mouth is a quick way of self-soothing that can be practised anytime, anywhere. You can also engage in activities like re-reading your favourite book, watching a movie, gardening, or grabbing a colouring book and filling up the pages with the colours of the rainbow. 

Actively practice self-compassion

It’s easy to put ourselves down for the myriad of mistakes we make throughout the day. What we often don’t remind ourselves is that it is only human to err. Therefore, practising self-compassion is necessary as it allows you to be more humane towards yourself and thereby accept your flaws and forgive yourself for the mistakes made along the way. It is best to constantly remind ourselves that we are all doing the best that we can.

Here are some statements to help you become more compassionate towards yourself:

I accept myself as I am.

My best is always good enough.

My values define me.

I made a mistake and I feel bad about it, but it doesn’t make me a bad person.

I am allowed to experience life at my own pace.

Engage in journaling

There are many benefits of putting pen to paper when it comes to your thoughts and feelings. Studies have shown that journaling boosts mindfulness, enhances immunity, promotes self-confidence, reduces stress, and improves problem-solving. You can use journaling to explore your core values, the things you love about yourself, the things you have accomplished over the years, and what brings you satisfaction in life, as well as explore the ways in which you want to change and the specific actions you can take to achieve the change. This is the first step towards building self-discipline which in itself is a form of self-love. You can also try gratitude journaling or keep a journal of self-compassion to empower yourself. 

Use reminders

When we face stressful circumstances in life, it is easy to dwell in the perceived negatives within ourselves and in our lives. Constant reminders of your worth can serve to shield us from giving into these distorted thoughts we have about ourselves. Try putting a few sticky notes around your room, perhaps on the mirror of your dresser that reminds you of who you are and what you can be proud of. Writing letters to yourself can also be incredibly helpful. For example, a letter to your younger self acknowledging the experiences that you have gone through and the pride you feel for having endured everything, or a letter to your future self that reminds you of your potential, or even a simple letter of appreciation of your present self can be sources of healing.

Asking for help

Another form of self-love is asking for help when needed and relying on your social support network. This could include your family, friends, or even your work colleagues. Sometimes taking care of yourself and giving yourself the love you deserve comes in the form of asking for professional help. Here are a few helplines to guide you along: 

1333 – Crisis Support Service

1926 – National Mental Health Helpline

011 22696666 / 22692909 / 22683555 – Sri Lanka Sumithrayo

071 7639898 – Shanthi Maargam

071 0898473 – Sri Lanka National Association of Counsellors