When I researched this topic, I found many definitions of self-love ranging from the instinct or desire to promote one’s own well- being (doctionary.com) to feelings of excessive pride (vocabulary.com). But, my favorite definition, and the one on which I will base this article, is as follows:
Self-love is the “proper regard for and attention to one’s own happiness and well-being”.
Thank you Merriam – Webster.
This is a great definition of self-love. It does not identify a person as selfish. It’s not narcissistic in nature. And, it’s not self-promoting (which many consider to be a negative). This definition is humble, clear, and concise. It puts the responsibility of your own happiness and well-being where it should be – on you.
I believe this definition to truly speak to the inherent difference between men and women.
Women traditionally define their value, self-worth, and therefore their happiness, by how selfless they are. We put our children, our husbands, and our work before ourselves. We think and have been taught that by doing so, we will be loved. We are trained to do this at a young age and it carries with us into adulthood. We are not taught to give ourselves “proper regard for and attention to our own happiness.” In fact, we are taught that the women who do this are selfish.
Men can put themselves first as if it's second nature. They just do self-love better. It’s easy for them because they are not taught to be selfless. Their value is defined by how they use their bodies, by the goals they achieve and the independence they have. Self-love is naturally built into these behaviors. They must attend to their own needs because they are taught that is how they receive love, and through this both success and performance are inherent.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that self-love is the single most important thing we do as humans. It affects our outlook on life, performance, and how we function in society. Can you imagine what life would be like if everyone took control of their own happiness? It would be so beneficial to our children, and our children’s children, to instinctively put our own oxygen masks on first. There would be less blame, less shame, and less victimization. Both men and women would feel empowered in their lives and children would learn this behavior by example.
It’s a shame to think that anyone has been taught that taking care of themselves is selfish. The good news is that times have changed and I’m hoping that, as women, we can all agree self-sacrificing should no longer be worn as a badge of honor. If this is something you are still doing (which you might not even realize), I am here to give you permission to stop!
I was a self-sacrificing good girl for most of my life, and let me tell you it did not serve me or my children. I stopped because I realized that putting myself first was going to be the only way that I would be able to truly take care of my children’s needs. As they grew into adolescents, I witnessed my daughter putting others' needs before her own and valuing herself through this. The ONLY way to change that was to lead by example, to show her that I value myself by taking care of my health and happiness. I had to fully embrace loving myself, and while it wasn’t easy at first, over time it became my norm and my children followed suit.
If this resonates with you, here are 4 ways to start on the road to self-love and owning your happiness.
Pay attention to why you do things. Are you always taking care of someone else? Do you consider other people’s needs before your own? Then ask yourself WHY. Awareness is half the battle! You might not even realize how often you are putting yourself last, or maybe not even considering your needs at all. The only way to stop doing something and make a change is by first becoming aware of your current behaviors so you can make a conscious decision to change them. Once you are aware, you can start making the changes and then correct yourself over and over until taking care and responsibility for your own happiness becomes your normal.
Nothing says you love yourself more than a self-care routine. For me it looks like meditation in the morning and going to the gym on a regular basis. To you it might look like yoga, walking on the beach, getting your nails done, or taking time out of your day to drink tea. The important part is that you make consistent time for things that take care of YOU- and you stick with it. Sticking with it can be challenging, but it’s the consistency that you are giving to yourself on a regular basis that is important.
Women are so hard on themselves. We are constantly judging and comparing ourselves to a past version of ourselves, or to someone else. We just need to stop doing this. It’s one thing to be self-aware and have a desire to become the best version of ourselves. But, it’s a whole different story when we over-analyze, overthink, and are hypercritical of who we are. This is the opposite of self-love and it perpetuates our inability to truly accept ourselves for who we are (our light and our dark) and keeps us perpetually unhappy. As Brene Brown suggests, “Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.”
All too often we put so much weight into what others think of us. We see ourselves through their eyes, with their values, opinions, and judgments. This is way more typical of women than men for the reasons stated earlier, and it hurts us repeatedly. When we do this, we aren’t even thinking for ourselves. Take a step back and put your opinion first, stop listening to others' unsolicited advice and, quite frankly, stop asking for their advice or opinions. Make it a point to listen to yourself, to your heart and to your desires, and then live from this space. The more you practice this, the more you will trust yourself.
At the end of the day, self-love is a choice. We all come from different families, cultures, and have our own challenges, but we can choose to be happy. Whether you’re a man or woman, self-love is the foundation on which your happiness is built. Without it, you are not living YOUR life. So go on, start living!