It might have been Oscar Wilde who said ‘To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance’, but he certainly hasn’t been the only one to offer such sentiments. It seems self-love is the new self-help black. Everywhere you turn, everyone is talking about the importance of loving yourself more.
So, how is it then, with all this self-lovey-dovey wisdom floating around, we’re not all glowing and sparkling with love from within? How is it that with all this talk about self-love, more and more of us are feeling depressed and inadequate?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m totally down with the whole self-love thing, and I’m acutely aware of my need to generate a lot more of it in my own life. Conceptually, I’m all over the idea. But practically? Not so much. After all, my attempts to love others hasn’t worked out so well, so I’m hesitant about turning that love on myself.
The thing is, as much as I want to learn to love myself more, I’m confused as to how to go about doing that.
What is ‘self-love’ beyond a feel-good quote designed on Word Swag? Unable to answer this myself, I posed the question to someone who I figured would know – a yoga teacher. ‘So what exactly is self-love?’ I asked her.
She paused thoughtfully, as yoga teachers tend to do, before taking a deep breath and exhaling this:
‘Think about self-love as self-compassion.’
Self-compassion! Well, okay then! Now I had something to work with.
For me, the concept of ‘self-love’ has never really landed for me. Certainly not in the way same way ‘self-compassion’ does. Self-love conjures up insta-images of bronzed bikini babes with perfect smiles and perfectly perky butts splashing about in the shallows, captioned with quotes like ‘Love yourself silly’ accompanied with a couple of colourful heart emoticons. To me, ‘self-love’ feels unrealistic and therefore it’s never been something I’ve ever been able to get excited about.
Self-compassion, on the other hand, feels different. Self-compassion allows the space for my imperfections to exist. Self-compassion suggests that even despite my off-white teeth and wobbly arse, I’m still okay. Self-compassion says that while I’m not perfect and I’m not always going to feel lovey-dovey on the inside, I can still be kind and gentle with myself.
Replacing the term ‘self-love’ with ‘self-compassion’ has enabled me to find a way through my resistance to a place where I’m able to think and act in more loving ways towards myself. When I make a mistake, instead of berating myself, I’m able to remind myself that I’m doing my best and my best is good enough.
Self-compassion allows me the space to mess things up and invites me to be kind and forgiving towards myself when I do. Self-compassion takes into account my humanity.
Sure, it’s just semantics, but language is powerful. Language helps us to navigate our world. I wanted to develop a more loving relationship with myself, yet the whole ‘self-love’ craze was putting me off. It didn’t feel right. Self-compassion, however, does. It offers a detour around any expectation of perfection while enabling me to arrive at the same self-loving and self-accepting destination. Wobbly arse and all.