The self-love bug bit me in early 2019 when it popped up on my internet searches so often that I could not ignore it anymore.
Unlike other inward journeys, I realized early on that I was well out of my depth in this one. I had to slam the brakes, take a sharp u-turn and start from the beginning, from self-acceptance, which was a cumbersome and windier path in itself.
Later in the year, after spending a considerable amount of time getting to know me while removing the cobwebs — the years of misconceptions that I had collected about myself, I finally started to understand the real purpose of loving myself.
It’s a pretty straightforward concept, a buzzword, and everyone talks about it incessantly, but unlike most trending topics, this one has a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Self-love means putting yourself first. It means extending a hand to yourself when you are down in a pit of doubt. It means embracing yourself when you are cold and alone. This love is never conditional or optional.
“Love is almost never simple.”― Dejan Stojanovic
Shedding the selfish tag:
I grew up in a conservative and patriarchal environment, where I was taught from a very young age that a good girl doesn’t desire things.
Women shouldn’t begin their sentences with “I want…” or “I believe…”. We shouldn’t live our lives for ourselves. We should frequently prioritize others’ needs before ours, and continually make sacrifices with a smile on our faces.
Despite the constant pressure resulting from pearls of wisdom which were passed down to me and lengthy comparisons with other ideal women, I remained different — weird was the popular opinion if I recall correctly.
I asked for things like the good side of the bed, a gift for my birthday, and for my favorite food to be prepared occasionally. I couldn’t give something up, just for the sake of it. And no matter how much anyone tried, I couldn’t stop caring about myself.
Thus, I created and awarded myself the “selfish” tag. I started telling people up-front that “I am selfish”; I think for myself and about myself, and please do not expect much from me. As nobody disagreed with me, I began to believe in this tag. I accepted it as a part of my personality.
When I interacted more and more with the larger world around me and less with the one I grew up in, I realized that I didn’t really need this tag.
Putting yourself first is not the equivalent of being selfish. In fact, it is essential to living a content and fulfilled life. If we all started caring for ourselves, accepting ourselves as we are, and improving ourselves from a place of love, the world would be a much kinder place.
And just like that, somewhere in the middle of my journey of self-love, when I cemented this realization, I discovered the most important milestone of all.
I wasn’t selfish.
If I don’t love myself, who will? If I am not content within myself, how can I extend affection to someone else?
Now, I no longer care if anyone from my previous world or even this new one calls me selfish. Being selfish is not necessarily a bad thing. Loving and protecting myself will always come first, and everything else is secondary.
And that’s that, for me.
“Life is too short to waste any amount of time on wondering what other people think about you. In the first place, if they had better things going on in their lives, they wouldn’t have the time to sit around and talk about you. What’s important to me is not others’ opinions of me, but what’s important to me is my opinion of myself.” ― C. JoyBell C.
What does self-love mean to me now?
After performing a celebratory dance congratulating myself for being right about this all along, I was back on the foggy road.
There was information aplenty for a woman entering the search terms “self-love” and “self-care,” but I couldn’t figure it out. And for some reason, I couldn’t get myself to agree that loving myself should involve a ton of effort.
Let me clarify, essential things like resolving an issue that is causing me pangs of anxiety can require a tremendous amount of time and effort. But something simple, like uplifting my mood or making myself feel better, should not feel like effort.
The popular solutions, such as physical self-care, exercise, engaging in hobbies, or even shopping, didn’t cater to my needs.
Putting on a face mask and wiping it off is effort. Asking someone else to do it for me involves spending money. Decluttering my room requires monumental effort, and how does this help me again…? And with hobbies, expecting myself to relax while obsessing over a decoupage project’s next steps is nearly impossible.
I know I have spoken about this before, but trust me, I cannot fully express the amount of frustration I felt while trying and failing at these numerous practices in one rant, or two or three. Anyways, I digress.
I had to believe that the fix was hidden somewhere in this trial and error process because I didn’t have an answer myself.
Despite growing anger and tiredness, I kept exploring, and I kept trying. I made notes, observed my behavior, and kept asking myself this question, what does “self-love” in its purest sense, mean to me?
Sometimes in life, one needs to take the long, unkempt, and unattractive route. You never know when you might find the right milestone, which will bring you a life-changing realization. Love is often just around the corner.
“Why does every road eventually narrow into a point at the horizon? Because that’s where the point lies.”― Vera Nazarian
Finding my self-love language:
The five love languages was another concept that repeatedly appeared on my internet surfing sessions until I finally caved and decided to read up on it.
In contrast to my other research trips, this one piqued my interest from the get-go. I found it fascinating and agreed with its fundamental principles.
I excitedly asked my partner what his love language was and patted myself on the back for getting one of two guesses right. We discussed all of the languages and ranked some of them in our preferred order, not limiting ourselves to one box.
Then one day, about a month later, I thought to myself, do I know what my love language is for myself? As it turns out, I didn’t.
I am not sure if this was just a case of low self-esteem or a result of my ongoing battle with my social conditioning. Maybe, as women, we need to remind ourselves repeatedly, even in the form of a daily affirmation, if necessary — to think of ourselves first.
I stared at the list of personal tasks that I maintained for myself and waited for one of them to appear bolder than the rest. Unable to settle on one item, I decided to finish my list in the next fortnight and acutely observe my behavior. When did I feel pure bliss, happiness, and love?
On day seven, I found it — acts of service or acts of kindness, as I like to paraphrase for myself was my language of choice.
The highlight of that week was a night where I prepared a midnight snack for myself instead of opening a large bag of popcorn, as I usually do. I made myself a short stack of pancakes and stood in my kitchen, heating them evenly, for thirty minutes, at 4 a.m.
I felt euphoric when I devoured them seconds later. This activity was the very first time in the week, or maybe even that month that I had done something purely, entirely and solely for myself. And it felt indescribably amazing.
Don’t get me wrong; I do many things for myself every day. I am writing right now because I want to publish the first piece for this month soon. Earlier today, I prepared a delicious dinner, as I wished for the burst of flavors to uplift my midweek slump.
I did a seven-step skincare regimen this morning because my skin is drying up from the weather, taking a chillier turn. And I also spent too much time on my phone before getting out of my bed for the day.
But, I didn’t do something for myself that I consciously wanted, that would make me happy, just for showing myself some love.
I realized that these little things — the acts of kindness are the items that remain in my to-do list the longest. They get put on the backburner. Every other item gets prioritized sooner or later as they are attached to a need, a problem, or something I would label as “good to have done.”
Without fully realizing it, I wasn’t putting myself first — I was violating the first rule of self-love.
Acts of service also require effort, but I learned by observing myself over some time that this is the type of effort I need to take. I have always been a tad high maintenance. I fundamentally do not believe that a display of love is ever easy. I needed to show myself some love.
I needed to make an effort for myself where it counts.
And that was it — I had come across the right milestone. My “personal” to-do list received a redesign, and items that lingered around the bottom got dragged to the top.
Whether it is buying something indulgent for myself, watching that lengthy film from my Netflix list, or painting for pleasure, I will do it even if it involves abandoning other tasks, whenever I need a dose of self-love.
Although a simple solution, taking the longer — more challenging route seems worthy to me now.
The priceless feeling of making myself feel better by actively caring for myself has helped me forget the negativity from my past. I found my self-love language and learned to love myself better. I have started to heal.
How you would prefer to show yourself some love might be different. I believe it should be so, as all of us are distinct, unique individuals, even though we may share a gender, struggles, and journeys within life.
I cannot offer you a solution that you can directly copy-paste into your life, expecting it to work in a foolproof manner.
Instead, what I can offer you is this:
- Would you rather find a tailor-made solution for yourself, or have someone else offer you a too-generic-to-be-true answer?
- Before you try something new, ask yourself, do you really want to do it?
- What’s your relationship with this task? Are you going to enjoy it?
- After completing an activity, contemplate, what did you like about it?
- What is your love language for self-love?
Maybe your journey will be more comfortable, shorter, easier even, and you will find your answers early on, I cannot determine that for you. All I ask is that you don’t give up.
However idyllic or unruly the road, keep walking on it. Ask yourself how you would like you to love yourself better, how you can be true to yourself, how you could put yourself first.
Find out what self-loves mean to you and give yourself generous doses of it, whenever possible. Never stop looking, because love is often just around the corner.
“I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself.”― Rita Mae Brown