I grew up watching Oprah on television and she often returned to themes of self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth. Everyone has heard of “self-love”. I always thought I loved myself, after all isn’t that an innate human trait? How can you not love yourself? I remember often I would roll my eyes listening to talk shows and reading self-help books and think, “Get to the good stuff, what’s going to make me skinny?” I said affirmations. I wrote letters to myself. I journaled my feelings. I told myself that I was capable of being anything I wanted. Nothing changed.
It wasn’t until a few years ago when I looked up the definition of “self-love” that I so clearly saw the problem.
Self-Love: regard for one’s own well-being and happiness.
I remember actually smiling when I saw this because at that moment I knew the final piece in the puzzle was not only identified, but ready to be played.
The problem all along had been lack of action. My walk did not match my talk. You can say affirmations all day long, but if your physical actions deplete you, then the message you are sending to YOU is, “I am not worth my own time and effort.”
Having REGARD for your own well-being and happiness is self-love. Unfortunately most of us do not practice this, instead we put our own oxygen masks on last.
You can’t feel love when you wear ARMOR. So many people walk through life wearing protective shields of armor made up of busyness, martyrdom, housekeeping, over working, errand running, people pleasing, partnering, parenting, caring for pets, perfectionism, taxi driving and more. We don’t need protecting, we need to be able to FEEL and release emotion and stress. We’re not capable of receiving love, warmth and nurturing, if we are wearing armor.
Somewhere along the way we have been conditioned to believe we need to put on a happy face, get it all done (and more) PERFECTLY, stoically, and just keep swimming. This is not possible though as we are humans designed to feel, process and show emotion. As a result of shutting down our feelings and emotions, we become toxic. We have no ebb and flow with our environment, nor within our own spirits. We simply intake. Day after day we take on more, take in more and often feel more isolated and unappreciated.
Instead of thinking about self-love, think self-care. We all understand what that is, and most of us do a really poor job of making time for it. Self-care is the way out, the way to better health and the way to self-love: regard for your own wellbeing and happiness. If YOU cannot make your own wellbeing and happiness a priority who will? No one. I promise, because we teach people how to treat us.
Many of my clients come to me practicing no self-care. They take exactly ZERO time for themselves. Even the obligatory manicure/pedicure is now filled with frantic texting, scheduling, and task elimination thanks to our smart phones. Remember the days when you just read a magazine, talked with a girlfriend, maybe made a new friend, or gasp…even closed your eyes? Those days are gone. There is always one more thing that can be done, and we should get that done now….right now.
When is the last time you took a walk, not to sweat but just to breathe? Had a massage? Read a book without your phone in the other hand? Sat in your own backyard alone? Took a yoga class? A cooking class? Signed up for something for no other reason than it would bring you JOY?
We have finite time here. For some of us it may be down to months, days or hours…we just don’t know and that’s ok. What is not ok is wasting the time you do have NOT being happy and staying trapped in the armor where you just exist, stifling your authentic self.
If you wear one of these suits of armor and you want to dismantle it allowing yourself to become more present, aware, and yes healthier, then you must start with self-care.
FIRST, protect your time. Almost every person I work with at some point says, “Well if I don’t do it, who will?” I get it because when I was a toxic, unhappy, angry, martyr this was my slogan! I often used it more than once a day, I was “Queen Martyr in charge.” Here is the thing: change is hard. Dialing back your commitments, your kid’s activities, your work schedule, the frantic pace at which you live your life will take some work. You will have to become a firm advocate and fan of the word NO. It will be your protective weapon as you start to pry off the pieces of your armor and let your authentic self step out into the world. But like anything it gets easier. Soon your overuse of the word NO makes room for more YES, but now when you say YES it is to things you actually want to do. This is self-care; this is self-love.
SECOND, rethink your legacy. Your current traits will have to change and this is also hard and uncomfortable. Perfectionism is the trait I had to release. I remember when I would walk by a pile of laundry and fight the urge to drop my keys and purse, cancel my “me time” and just get it done. Now I am a reformed over-laundry-doer and I simply shut the door. Laundry, dishes, and all the rest really can wait. But can you? If you drop dead tomorrow no one will speak at your funeral about how good you were at laundry and dishes. They will talk about who you were as a person and what you loved doing, what made you happy and most importantly how you made them FEEL. The catch is they have to know these things; they can’t stay stuffed down in your suit of armor. You simply cannot stay the same and change. You cannot expect your current attributes will deliver you to a new way of existing. If you want a different life, one where you are more present, one where you practice self-love, then you will have to dig deep and resolve to let go of some of your long standing attributes.
THIRD, think “we” instead of “me”. Harder than yielding your NO sword and dropping long-standing traits like perfectionism, is asking for help. The only way others in your home, your life, can be of assistance is if you ASK them. Kids actually thrive on being given responsibility. Your kids can make their lunches, make their beds, do their own laundry and pack their own bags for games (their coaches actually encourage this). Your partner needs to know you need support and help, you can’t resent them if you haven’t used your words to express your needs. (If you have expressed yourself and they don’t help then you have my permission to 100% resent them!) Your co-workers will keep piling on the work if you keep saying yes. People won’t offer to help you if they think you have it all handled. Think community, lending support, and receiving support. There is no gold star for going it alone. What you gain is stress, toxicity and a depleted soul.
I will never go back to being angry, toxic, unhappy, nor a martyr (even though I excelled at all of those things) because I will never give back my self-care. I will never stop loving me. When I was able to begin caring for me, filling my own cup first, my armor fell to the floor and I actually felt free for the first time in my life. My weight also fell off because I was practicing self-care. Sleeping more, listening more, being more present, fueling my body with better foods, and moving more. For the first time in my life I understood self-love as I had regard and care for my OWN wellbeing, and I felt this love envelop me like a warm blanket. I knew I was going to be ok.
I have gone from “Queen Martyr in charge” to a happy, imperfect mother, sister, friend, daughter, wife, business owner, and student who is healthy and loves herself, unconditionally. I wear many hats, and I have many roles in my community, but only one trumps the rest and that is being a human who practices self-love. This practice allows me to do everything else with energy, vitality and authenticity.
Don’t tell yourself you love yourself, show yourself. Parent yourself. Be kind to yourself. Make time for yourself. When your soul is content the rest falls into place and your authentic self can step out and shine.
I am Jennifer. I am @HappyBodyFood. This is my journey from unhealthy to healthy…but more truthfully this is my journey from self-hate, to self-love.