It’s time to engage in real self-care, beyond a bubble bath. Learn how to set personal boundaries, respect yourself and encourage self-love.
I had a realization recently that distilled a lot of self-help into one simple phrase:
“Whatever you’re seeking outside of yourself points to something you aren’t giving yourself.”
Man: “What’s your problem?”
Nic: “I’m an addict.”
Man: “No that’s how you’re trying to solve your problem. What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?”
Nic: “I guess that I have this gaping hole inside myself that I’m trying to fill.”
It’s as if the pain and hurt from our past carve holes inside us that we try to fill with the comfort of another person, the haziness of a drink, the taste of a meal, or the hit of a drug.
There’s a lot of talk about love languages; people talking about the ways in which they give and receive love. I always associated this with other people, and it was only recently that I realized that I could apply this to myself.
“Love yourself” has become a cliche that largely goes uninvestigated. How do we love ourselves? Is self-care really just an appointment to a massage therapist or is it something deeper? Here are a few ways I believe we can engage in a deeper sense of self-love.
1. Regularly check in with how you’re feeling.
The majority of addictions or maladaptive behaviours are reactions to our feelings. We’re either trying to feel something with stimulants because we’ve repressed bad emotions for so long that the good ones were repressed to the point of numbness. Or, we’re trying to quiet and stuff down bad feelings with depressants and distractions.
On a regular basis, I’m trying to check in with myself and ask, “How are you feeling in this moment?”. This goes beyond words. If I’m feeling anxious I get curious about the sickness in my stomach, the sweaty palms and the shortness of breath. I realized that emotions are clues from our body about our deeper intentions and subconscious beliefs.
2. Regularly ask yourself what you want.
I spent a lot of time dismissing my wants and needs to appease others. I’m trying to check in with myself on small and large desires. There are countless jokes about women saying they don’t know what they want to eat and then shutting down every suggestion. Does this mean we don’t know or are we too afraid to acknowledge what we want? I want to be forthcoming about what I want, but first I need to investigate what that is.
3. Trust your instincts.
Instincts can be suppressed with emotions. Once I get in touch with my emotions on a deeper level, my intuition will be heightened. A big part of genuine self-love is trusting your instincts and following them. The mind likes to get involved and use rationalization to devalue our gut feelings. Sometimes we just know what the right thing to do is in a given situation, and it’s important to pay attention to that.
4. Have high standards.
I used to go into a relationship or situation without expectations. I told myself I was easy-going or laid-back and didn’t understand the concept of a dealbreaker. It’s helpful to enter a situation with a set of standards that you need to be met. If you’re applying for a job, determine the minimum salary you’re willing to accept or the distance you’re willing to commute. If it’s in a relationship, determine basic standards of respect and effort that you’re willing to accept.
5. Uphold your standards by creating boundaries.
Boundaries are an essential part of self-love. Boundaries are the lines you draw and maintain to show people how you want to be treated and the treatment that you deem unacceptable. When you fail to uphold boundaries and stay in a situation or relationship that is hurting you, you’re abandoning yourself. Abandoning yourself is not an act of love. Self-abandonment is an indicator that you’re looking for something outside of yourself to fill your needs.
6. Give yourself what you seek from others.
I’ve recently taken inventory of my own behaviours and realized that I seek validation from people when I fail to accept myself. I soothe myself with food when I refuse to acknowledge my own feelings. I seek attention from others when I fail to give attention to myself. We’re capable of giving ourselves the love we seek from external sources.
7. Be gentle with yourself.
I’m regularly told, “you’re too hard on yourself.” I realized there’s a voice in my head that acts as an authoritative parent; when I get home after a long day from work it tells me I’ve been sitting on my ass all day and need to go out for a run. This voice doesn’t encourage breaks, it’s always pushing me to do more and be more. It’s okay to thank this voice for all it has helped you accomplish and then dismiss it.
If we go back to point #1, listen to yourself and what you need. If you’re exhausted after a long day, give yourself permission to enjoy a home-cooked meal, wrap up in a blanket and read a book. If you’ve been lethargic and laying in bed all day, encourage yourself to go to a fun workout class or do a little at-home yoga. Self-care shouldn’t feel like a punishment or an overindulgence. Practice self-compassion.
8. Be the parent and the child.
We learn a lot about relationships from parent-child attachments. As adults, we have a responsibility to care for ourselves. You’ve probably heard about “the inner child”. We carry around the thoughts and behaviours of our younger self and we act on them without conscious awareness that they’re old programming.
Imagine you are in emotional distress, in those moments treat yourself the way you would treat a baby. Would you stuff a baby with food? Would you use a harsh substance to silence the baby’s feelings? Nurture and soothe yourself as you would soothe a child. In this way, you are both the parent and receptive child of your own love and attention.