“If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” ― RuPaul
Loving ourselves is our primary responsibility. It seems to me it may be our only true responsibility in life. What I do know is that we are inundated with this “love yourself first” messaging, but struggle to practice what it actually means.
For a long time, what I thought looked like loving myself looked a lot like trying to control things beyond my control.
Sometimes I think we learn best through negation. We come to know what something is by knowing what it isn’t.
Here’s what loving yourself doesn’t mean.
1. Loving yourself doesn’t mean being selfish, it means being self-oriented.
Being selfish means you disregard or don’t even bother taking a sincere interest in other people’s needs, hopes, fears, desires, and hopes. Being selfish means you believe you’re more important than anybody else and it shows.
Being self-oriented means taking responsibility for your happiness. It means identifying and communicating your feelings, insecurities, aspirations, wants, and needs. It means putting your relationship with your higher self first (you know, the one that extends beyond the incessant chatter between your ears). It means starting from the only place you really can: a wholesome recognition of who you are, what you stand for, and what you’re about.
2. Loving yourself doesn’t mean you control your environment and plan your life inside-out and backwards, it means being prudent and having boundaries.
Controlling your environment means requiring changes to your circumstances, and hey, there’s a lot of shit you’re inevitably going to find yourself in. That’s life. Planning your life inside-out-and-backwards requires you to focus on what could go wrong. It means you’re not present and you get attached to what you do and don’t want. You start seeing things as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and react with frustration, gluttony, or vanity.
Being prudent and having boundaries means making the ongoing effort to identify what is safe and not safe for you and working as best as you can to troubleshoot that on a day-to-day basis. It means establishing and communicating what you will and will not tolerate (i.e. boundaries) with conviction, not aggression. It means seeing events not as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but as learning opportunities for you to respond to honestly.
3. Loving yourself doesn’t mean you put pressure on yourself, it means you’re compassionate.
Putting pressure on yourself means you get obsessed with your goals. It means treating your body and mind like well-oiled machines, gruelling through workouts and drilling through to-do lists. It means getting attached to measures of success and fixating on what’s wrong or not good enough. It means being cocky about what’s working and what you’ve accomplished and being devastated about what’s broken.
Being compassionate means you talk to yourself the way you would a loved one. It means focusing on the process—on the how—so you enjoy your pursuits for the purpose they provide in your life. It means forgiving your mistakes and shortcomings, being humble, and generously leveraging your strengths. It means sharing your expertise for the betterment of others and encouraging them to do the same.
4. Loving yourself doesn’t mean you need approval from others, it means you keep it 100 when it comes to interconnectedness.
Needing approval from others means your validation lies in the hands and eyes of trusted advisors, mentors, coaches, etc. It means your sense of self-worth lies in other people. It means counting likes, comments, and DMs, idolizing what you don’t have, and being indulgent with what you do.
Keeping it 100 when it comes to interconnectedness means that you understand no one can fix you—that you don’t need to be fixed. It means that you believe you are good enough just the way you are, and that you deserve the best. It means you enroll others in what you are up to and show interest in what they are working towards. It means you understand that we are social creatures, that we need community, and reaffirm that we don’t need righteousness or arrogance.
It means you value relationships for the ways they provide you with the opportunities to feel part of something better, like love. It means you value your pursuits because they allow you to feel self-expressed and expansive.
Loving yourself doesn’t mean you’re more important or honorable or valuable than anyone else. It means you accept that you are one instantiation of a shared human condition, and your evolving experience with it is a privilege you get to live with.