Over the last decade, the term “self-care” has been co-opted and used to sell luxurious products and services to “treat yourself” with. While these things feel good temporarily, they are no substitute for self-love, which cannot be bought and offers a lifetime of value. I consider self-love the deepest form of self-care, and a valuable means of finding the way to joy and fulfillment.
Self-love is an elusive goal because it is as individual and unique as each one of us. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but there is one crucial common first step we all must take down the path towards it: recognition of our true self, and what that self needs to feel whole. Whether through meditation or journaling or thoughtful counseling, we must identify the parts of yourself that need healing so that we may begin to do the work.
“Doing the work” sounds like drudgery, and sometimes it is, but it can also be the door to the most liberating and joyful experiences of our lives. My own self-love journey began in the wake of a breakup. After many years in a difficult and fraught relationship, I walked away and suddenly found myself alone, pushing forty, and acutely aware of the fact that I might never have the marriage or family I had longed for.
I realized that I had always sought partners to “fix” instead of addressing my own issues. Feeling utterly shattered, I promised myself that I would not fall back into my old patterns– that I would become the partner to myself that I wanted rather than seeking yet another relationship with yet another damaged person.
The year that followed was excruciatingly painful, as I confronted my childhood traumas and began to heal them. I cried every day, after a lifetime of rarely shedding a tear. I stopped trying to be “tough” and started to embrace my vulnerability. I made time for meditation every day, even if it was only for five minutes. I lovingly prepared myself a four-course meal once a week, imagining that I was cooking for someone I deeply loved. I read books about childhood emotional neglect, and I saw an excellent therapist weekly. If friends asked how I was, I shared how I felt, instead of just saying, “I’m fine.” At the heart of it all: I accepted myself as I was, and tried to love myself fully.
Doing this work was a job, but as the year unfolded, something magical happened: I really did start to love myself. When I was honest with friends about my feelings, they expressed their own deep feelings, and we each felt less alone in the world. My friendships grew stronger and more meaningful. I experienced many moments of both liking and loving myself. After a year, I reconnected with a partner from decades before, and embarked on the most rewarding relationship of my life.
Once you begin to truly love yourself, you may be amazed at how broken you once thought you were. Achieving self-love is the gateway to stronger relationships, more joyful living, and a more rewarding life. No matter what your personal journey towards loving yourself looks like, the destination is one that will enrich you indefinitely.