No woman would tell her daughters or any other woman or girl, "Hey you, don't love yourself, that's selfish." Chances are that if asked, "Do you love yourself?" most women would say, "Yes, of course I do," when in fact the majority don't really have a clue what self-love actually means, or requires.
This lack of understanding about self-love isn't surprising when you consider that the current definition of self-love on dictionary.com is 'conceit, vanity and narcissism' (no kidding!) Or when you look at the pressures today's woman faces knowing she can do anything, but is exhausted by her attempts to do and be everything.
So how do you know if you really love yourself?
First you need to know a few facts about self-love:
1. Self-love isn't something you have, self-love is something you choose in every moment of every day. In your daily choices and thoughts, you can either choose fear, guilt, shame, stress and criticism for and towards yourself, or you can choose to give yourself love, such as compassion, care, respect, and acceptance. And that can be hard to do.
2. The challenge is not in knowing what you should do to love yourself, but in giving yourself permission to take the loving act. Most of us know what the self-loving things are we should do - like take good care of ourselves, only have respectful relationships, believe in ourselves and go for our dreams to name a few- but we let guilt, fear and shame deter us from making the self-loving choices.
3. Self-esteem is not the same thing as self-love. You can have self-esteem and still not really love yourself. Self-esteem is a part of self-love - 1/10th to be exact! You need all 10 areas of self-love strong and growing. Because even with high self esteem, without self-compassion, self-care, self-respect and more, you will still make unloving choices for yourself, things like over-giving/over-doing/over-working, staying in bad relationships, or settling for less.
After studying self-love now for over a decade - living it and teaching it - what I've noticed is "Do you love yourself?" is not a yes/no question.
It's not either you love yourself or you don't love yourself. But instead there are ways that you really love yourself well. Ways in which you totally show up for yourself, areas in your life when you easily choose the loving act or thought over fear, blame, shame, guilt, pressure, stress and criticism. And, there are other ways in which you sell yourself short, put your needs last or don't honor them at all, and don't accept yourself. These are the places where it is hard for you to give yourself permission to do what a best friend would tell you to do.
Our power - and your happiness - comes in knowing where you are weak in self-love and where you are strong, and then making conscious choices and taking simple but mighty actions to grow that area of self-love that most needs your attention. What you focus on grows.
The 10 Branches of Self-Love: Take a Self-Love Pulse Check
Sometimes self-love can feel so vast and esoteric, too big to even know where to begin. But self-love can be broken down into 11 distinct parts, that give you clues and specifics as to where to focus your attention and growth (I call these the branches of self-love, which I wrote lots about in Madly in Love with ME, a self-love guidebook. Think of self-love like a tree, where you need all branches and the roots to be strong to be healthy and vibrant.)
Every person has some area where they need to strengthen their ability to make loving choices for themselves.
For you maybe it's self-compassion, being compassionate with yourself when you fail, so instead of berating yourself you console yourself.
Or for you perhaps you are a rockstar at work, lots of self-esteem, but a disaster in romantic relationships, lacking self-respect and self-honor.
Or maybe you play small, live life repressed instead of fully expressed, or look to other people for answers, not trusting your own Inner Wisdom, lacking self-empowerment, self-expression and self-trust.
Or maybe you over give, over work, over do, exhausting yourself, suffering from weak self-care, self-pleasure and self-worth.
The question to ask yourself is "What branch of self-love most needs my attention, love and focus this year, so that I can grow stronger in my ability to take the self-loving acts that supports me to create the life my heart and soul desire?
As a starting point, you can take this short self-love pulse check and see which branches of self-love feel the weakest or like it needs the most attention? Ask yourself on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being strong and 1 weak, how you rate in each area of self-love:
- Self-awareness & honesty: You know who you truly are and who you are not, and you have an unwavering commitment to truth about how your actions, thoughts and choices affect your reality and the people around you.
- Self-acceptance: You like who you are, and you don't compare yourself to others, or wish you could be someone else, including a younger version of yourself. You adore and appreciate who you are, including your body. You acknowledge yourself, often.
- Self-care: You make sure you get what you need everyday on all levels - emotional, physical, spiritual - every day, without guilt, sacrifice or needing to be a martyr. You don't over-work, over-give or over-do.
- Self-compassion & self-forgiveness: You open your heart to be a loving witness to yourself, without judgment, by sending yourself waves of kindess, understanding and forgiveness that touch, heal and transform your imperfections and humanness through the presence of your unconditional love. You don't have a constant criticism or perfectionism machine running in your mind.
- Self-trust: You listen to and follow the guidance of your inner voice, believing that you know what is right for you even when other people think or say otherwise. You trust your inner wisdom over conventional wisdom.
- Self-esteem: You have a strong belief in and regard for yourself, a strong confidence in your ability to do and be anything and you believe your gifts are valuable.
- Self-expression : You let the world see you, fully, truthfully and without apology or holding back. Full, free expression of your heart and soul.
- Self-empowerment: You take charge of and responsibility for your life by acting to create the life you really desire, without apology or requiring approval from others.
- Self-respect & self-honor: You only make choices that respect and honor the sacred soul that you are, especially in relationships. You only have loving, respectful relationships.
- Self-pleasure: You consistently create, receive and experience joy, no matter how much work there is to do, ensuring always that your soul is fully fed and nourished.
- Self-worth: You value yourself immensely based on who you are inside, not on what you achieve, amass or what other people say. You know what motivates and drives you, and you are not motivated for a need for outside validation, recognition, approval, affection, etc. You live your life by your internal value systems not those of society or other people.
My recommendation is to find one area of self love you are strong in, and keep cultivating that part of your relationship with yourself. Then find one area of self-love in which you are weak, and choose to focus on that area all year long, day by day making choices that reflect you giving yourself love in that way.
Self love is one of the foundations of everything in our lives - our relationships with others, our health, our career, our finances, everything. Focus on the foundation and the rest of your life gets stronger.