I've been seeing the term 'self-love' being thrown about more and more these days as I'm sure you have too. At first, I thought it was just about things like giving yourself a pamper night every so often, eating healthily and just being kind to your body in general. After reading up about it though, these things are actually a bit more to do with the category of self-care which comes under the wider umbrella of self-love. So, self-love; what is it? According to 'Psychology Today', self-love is a term used to describe the appreciation that we can feel for ourselves that develops through actions that positively support and nurture our psychological, physical and spiritual growth. Ultimately, as our love for ourselves grows, we are better equipped to accept our flaws and weaknesses alongside our strengths. We don't feel ashamed or feel the need to justify our short-comings, instead we feel compassion for ourselves just as we would for other people. Through this love, develops a contentment and feeling of fulfillment within ourselves as we go through life. I've been thinking a lot recently about my purpose; my purpose in this world and in this life. Sometimes I just wish that I could ask God straight up what the plan was for my life and he could give me a straight answer. Unfortunately, that's not possible...although maybe for me it's a good thing - I have this bad habit of watching movies halfway through, not liking the suspense so I google the plot not thinking that it'll stop me from watching the movie, I read what happens at the end and then wouldn't ya know it, I don't want to watch the rest of the movie anymore. I suppose God knows what he's doing when he doesn't tell people their whole life plan in one go.
When I'm struggling with big life decisions like finding somewhere to live or looking for a job I often find that these are the times when I need to practice self-love most. It can be easy to be hard on yourself when things aren't necessarily going your way and when you're feeling a little lost. However, it's in these exact moments of waiting when it's actually most important to be positive and nurture yourself physically, psychologically and spiritually. Now in terms of self-love, there are various different spiritual contexts that it can be put into, but what I find works for me is the more Christ-centred approach. This doesn't really change the fundamentals of what self-love is and how to practice it, I just think that it's important for me to remember to weave God into everything that I do because I believe that true fulfillment ultimately comes from Him. "Don't worry about anything; instead tell God your needs and don't forget to thank him for his answers. If you do this you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand" - Philippians 4:6-7 Loving myself and loving God go hand in hand essentially - I don't really feel like I can have one without the other. The practice of self-love can be broken down into 7 easy steps as explained in an article that I read by 'Psychology Today'. I genuinely think that they are really beautiful teachings to implement into your life especially when combined with teachings from the bible. So here is my take on this self-love prescription: 1. Be mindful. Mindfulness is about being aware of who you are, what you think, what you feel and what you want rather than acting on the wishes of other people. In the bible we are taught something very similar: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" - Romans 12:2. God doesn't want us to be doing certain things just because everyone else is. He want us to be individuals, be different and be unique, so own it! 2. Put your needs before your wants. It can be so easy to want things that are bad for us...and I'm not just talking about food. In order to love yourself it's important to turn away from the activities and behaviours that can feel good in the moment, but leave you feeling rubbish at the end of the day. Even sometimes things that start out good can turn bad, and then it's important to recognise when you need to move on - boys, jobs, friends; I've been through it all. Putting what you need first might be difficult, but in my experience, I've never regretted it. The good thing about God is that he already knows our needs and is always working hard to provide them for us. I've learnt that he is also always there to pick us up when we do have the courage to put our needs before our wants. In the bible it says that "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit" - Psalm 34:18. God also says in Isaiah 66:9 "I will not cause pain without something new to be born."
3. Practice good self-care. I truly feel my best when I'm eating healthily, sleeping well, balancing my work and social life along with carving out some time for a good book. We have to show our bodies and our minds love in order to feel positive, productive and fulfilled. "Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul" - 3 John 1:2
4. Set Boundaries. This one definitely goes hand in hand with number two. In order to put your needs before your wants, you will need to put in some boundaries - again, this can be difficult but you will always feel better for getting rid of the negative things in your life that bring you down. "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can endure it" - 1 Corinthians 10:13
"Be on your guard. Stand firm in faith. Be courageous. Be strong. Do everything in love" - 1 Corinthians 16:13-14.
5. Protect yourself. It's important in life to be surronded by people who genuinely love you for you. It makes it a whole lot easier to love yourself when you're surronded by others who have a positive impact on your life. I've been in situations before when I've had various people in my life who really weren't good for me; they secretly rejoiced in my downfalls rather than building me up and celebrating in my successes. There is an element to self-love of not caring what these kinds of people think but why should you always have to put up with them? You don't. It is possible to cut these people out of your life so that you don't have to waste energy 'just putting up with it'. Even the bible says "some friendships do not last, but some friends will be more loyal than brothers" - Proverbs 18:24. "As long as you know that God is for you, it doesn't matter who is against you" - Romans 8:31.
6. Forgive yourself. Honestly, my harshest critic is usually myself. If I mess up or make a mistake I will go over it and relive it 100 different times. But the simple fact is; we are all human, we make mistakes, the important thing is to learn from them and move on - we have to accept that we are not perfect. Once we understand this, it becomes a whole lot easier to love ourselves despite our flaws. Anyway, God forgives straightaway, so why shouldn't we? "Your mistakes do not define you" - Psalm 37:24. 7. Live with intention. A certain love and acceptance for yourself, no matter what is happening in your life, will grow the more that you live your life with purpose and intentionality. This doesn't mean that you necessarily need to know what your life's purpose is, but if you have the intention to live a healthy life, always be nice to others or see the positive rather than the negative in everything, then you will make decisions based on these intentions which can result in so much happiness when you accomplish what you set out to do. Like I said before, I don't know what the grand purpose in my life is yet so whilst I figure that out I'm going to live by my intentions for my life which are to always be creative, be loving to everyone, spark inspiration where I can and just live happily in whatever situation I find myself in. In the bible, God says that "for the happy heart, life is a continual feast" - Proverbs 15:15. How wonderful is that?! "Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up" - Galatians 6:9. We musn't forget that God also has intentions for our lives and these are the ones that will fill us with true joy and fulfillment. In the book, The Shack by William P. Young, the character of God says "a bird's not defined by being grounded but by his ability to fly. Remember this, humans are not defined by their limitations, but by the intentions that I have for them; not by what they seem to be, but by everything it means to be created in my image." At the end of the day, the bible teaches us that God loves us, and always will love us no matter what mistakes we make or how we live our lives. It seems like this should then make it pretty simple for us to just love ourselves, however, in true human style, we don't like keeping things very simple. That's why practicing self-love can be pretty useful for the days when you're feeling a little lost in yourself - work through the steps, focus on yourself for a little while and remind yourself that you're fab, because you are! - S xo