Does the word 'self-love' bring up resistance and make you feel a bit icky? I get it. I used to feel the same. It can all sound a bit woo woo and spiritual, and of course, self-indulgent and maybe vain?
But reaching burnout forced me to look hard at my mental wellbeing and I came to realise that learning to love myself and show myself love and care was at the heart of my positive wellbeing and self-confidence, and critical for building connections and a healthy relationship with my husband and with my kids.
What does self-love mean and why do some of us have an issue with it?
When you google the definition of ‘self-love’ you get a range of responses:
Oxford Languages Dictionary: A regard for one's own well-being and happiness.”
Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary: The feeling that your own happiness and wishes are important
Collins Dictionary: The instinct or tendency to seek one's own well-being or to further one's own interest
Dictionary.com: (i) The instinct by which one's actions are directed to the promotion of one's own welfare or well-being, especially an excessive regard for one's own advantage. ii) conceit; vanity. iii) narcissism
We can therefore understand why the word ‘self-love’ can cause us some internal struggle. The word is heard by some as a basic human necessity but by others as a moral flaw, akin to vanity and selfishness, synonymous with conceitedness, egotism, narcissism.
I would like to encourage you to embrace the former definitions, where self-love is critical to our overall well-being. Unlike narcissism, which is excessive self-absorption and self-interest, self-love is a positive trait. Narcissism is generally associated with poor mental health. But high self-love has a positive effect on our wellbeing, our mental fitness, and our relationships.
When we are not feeling positive towards ourselves, we can find it hard to feel positive to those around us or even feel motivated in our work or daily tasks. Studies have shown that we need self-love in order for us to build connections with others, to take action, take chances, and embrace and explore new opportunities.
Self-love in motherhood
Feelings of failure featured very heavily in the early years of my motherhood journey: my failure to have the perfect birth, my failure to have the sleeping baby, my failure to have the perfect routine, my failure to get my child to eat the perfect nutritious meal, my failure to be holding it all together etc etc.
My inner critic ate away at my self-confidence and played a huge part in my stress, overwhelm and anxiety, which also detrimentally impacted my relationships, both with my kids and with my husband.
Awareness of that critical voice, learning to notice it and being able to challenge it and instead foster a kinder and more compassionate tone towards myself, offered me the greatest shift in my wellbeing and happiness.
That awareness was only made possible through my investigation and practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness was my gateway to self-compassion and self-care: learning to show myself love through gifts of love and nourishment on a daily basis.
Learning to tame my inner critic and show myself love, has given me so much more confidence to be the mum I want to be, and so much more capacity to show love to those around me. When my heart is full, I can fill up the hearts of others.
There is a reason why the traditional loving kindness meditation starts with sending love to ourselves first.
Loving-kindness, or 'metta', as it is called in the Pali language, is unconditional, inclusive love, a love with wisdom. It has no conditions; it does not depend on whether one "deserves" it or not; it is not restricted to friends and family; it extends out to include all living beings, and there are no expectations of anything in return.
So how can we get started with self-love?
It can be hard to know where to start with self-love, but even a shift in mindset can make a huge difference. Here are some practical ways to get you started on the journey with self-love. Even if you feel some resistance to these ideas, I encourage you to push through. Just like any well-being practice, it takes practice! We may need to ‘fake it till we make it’. But it does get easier and the rewards are plentiful.
Practical ways to embrace self-love:
Take moments of pause in your day: We all live incredibly busy lives, mostly on auto-pilot. By giving ourselves permission and consciously making the intention to pause throughout the day and drink in the present moment, even for a few seconds, we offer ourselves a moment of calm and an opportunity to soothe our nervous system and reset.
Gift yourself small acts of self-love: What brings you joy? What makes you feel nourished? Is it a walk in nature? A cuddle? A specialty oat latte? A bath? Make a list of small indulgences that you can gift yourself. Can you try and give yourself at least one of these a day? This small act of self-love might seem over-indulgent, but your wellbeing matters and you more than deserve a treat and a wellbeing boost each and every day.
Speak to yourself in the mirror: Michelle Obama talked last year about giving herself compliments when looking at herself in the mirror, particularly when she didn't initially like what she saw. I remember 5 years ago going to a talk about self-confidence and the suggestion was to stand in front of the mirror on a daily basis and say “I love you”. This can feel REALLY hard to do when you’re feeling resistance to self-love. But when we work through that resistance, those words have power, and over time you’ll find you start to say them with meaning.
Try some affirmations - Affirmations are a really simple way to get started with self-love. You will find some suggestions on the app here, but sometimes affirmations will work best if they are tailored to you. What works for you, wont always work for others. Again many people struggle with affirmations initially, but again it takes practice.
Practice mindfulness: as I mentioned earlier, mindfulness offers us awareness and as we start to notice our inner dialogue, we have the power to change our thoughts and take our inner critic. If you’re new to mindfulness check out the Mindfulness Basics on the Nourish app and you’ll also find plenty of short practices to get your started. Also check out Self-compassion basics on the app.
Getting past the resistance and the ‘ick’ around self-love can feel hard, especially if we have grown up with the idea that it is verging on narcissism. But I can promise you that taking positive action to start actively loving ourselves can shift our universe as a mother.
About the Author:
Sara Campin is mum of 2, life coach and founder of the Nourish app. Sara founded Nourish after the impact self-care had on her and her family’s wellbeing. Sara struggled with her mental wellbeing both as a new mum and in juggling the pressures of work and mothering and felt incredibly alone and unsupported in her struggles. Through the app she brings together a team of compassionate, empathetic, parental wellbeing experts to offer an accessible, multidisciplinary and relevant mental well-being toolkit and support team to parents in the UK and beyond.