Self-Love: A Deeper Look into the "Trend"
On social media, “self-love” and “self-care” are glamorized to an extent that their true meanings have dissolved along with the fizz in the glittery unicorn bath bombs from Forever 21.
For the purposes of this article, “self-love” and “self-care” are used interchangeably.
What does self-love really mean, anyway? Some might tell you it’s about treating yourself to a toffee-nut soy latte from Starbucks when tasks pile up. Others might say it’s about finding the courage to go to the beach in a bikini AND post a picture on social media to document it, despite feeling insecure. To some, self-care might look like blaring music so loudly in your car that you no longer hear yourself thinking.
None of these things are wrong; they may actually be relieving. Do these acts, though, move us in the direction of self-love or do they mostly allow us to “feel better” during moments of stress or discomfort? Is there a difference?
Feeling better is certainly an aspect of self-love as we do NOT need to bully ourselves into suffering; however, perpetually reaching for relief from discomfort can get us stuck in a loop of never resolving the source. The issue, then, will inevitably keep appearing in our reality.
So how do you know whether you’re doing something solely to feel better or engaging in self-love? The first step is to identify the emotion driving the behavior.
For example, let’s say that a woman feels ignored by her partner. The lack of concern that she feels from her partner leaves her feeling bored, restless, and unimportant. To deal with these feelings, she decides to take a trip to the nail salon to get a manicure. On the surface, she believes that she’s engaging in self-love by caring for herself. She even posts on social media about doing so and receives support, which further validates her intention. Eventually, her partner reaches out to her, and she feels a sense of relief and accomplishment for taking time for herself. A week later, she feels ignored by her partner again. Now, what?
In the field of psychology, the term “reaction formation” describes a defense mechanism in which people act in ways that oppose their feelings. The [unconscious] goal is to convince themselves or others that they are not who they feel compelled to reject or do not feel the emotions that they perceive as bad. The woman in the example felt unimportant, and to compensate for this uncomfortable experience, she acted in a way that would convince herself and others that she was, indeed, important. She did not, however, address the underlying issue. She engaged in actions that brought her relief and made her feel better. Feeling unimportant is bound to come up because it was never fully embodied. In other words, this woman did not allow herself to feel the discomfort on an experiential level.
What does self-love really involve, then?
Self-love is to fully accept what IS. Acceptance is not to be confused with passive resignation; rather, it is to acknowledge what is presently happening. Self-love is to sit with your pain and allow it to inform you of what it is telling you. Notice where in your body the feeling occurs. Let the feeling rise. Ask yourself, “When have I felt this before?” Explore that. Feel it. Experience it. Ask, “When was the first time that I felt this [emotion] in my body?” You might be surprised by what your body remembers. Give your emotion a voice. “If my [emotion] could talk, what would it say?” Express it — say it, shout it (into a pillow, perhaps), or write it down. Belt out a song that matches the emotion. Flow with the emotion. Where in your body do you feel it? Shake, dance, throw a pillow at the wall. Cry. Express. Express. Express. And when you’re ready, ask, “What does this wounded aspect of myself need to hear?” “How can I nurture this very real part of me?” I guarantee the answer will not be to reject or avoid.
This process is not easy. It is necessary, though, to experience ourselves fully in order to move forward. Otherwise, we will continue to attract people, places, and things that will act as cues for us to heal. Self-love is to be present with and for ourselves.