Updated: May 30
Self-love may be defined a lot of different ways. When I asked my 14-year-old what self-love meant to her, she said having confidence and taking care of yourself; self-love is not selfish. She’s not wrong. Personally, I think of showing up for myself in the most bold and powerful way. This boldness is so refreshing and relentless that I can lay all insecurities, self-doubt, and most importantly negative self-talk, at the door.
I typically envision myself walking (really floating) across a room, commanding the attention of every being in sight. That’s what self-love looks like to me, levitating and walking in confidence. A pigeon could come and take a crap on my head, and I would still be the baddest in the room. Professionally, I know that self-love is the root to all other loves. According to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, “self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological, and spiritual growth” (2021). If we go a little deeper, self-love explores our innermost relationship with ourselves. It’s a reflection of how we carry, take care of, and dare I say, prioritize ourselves over others.
Self-love looks different per the individual as we all have our personalized ways in which we take care of ourselves. Personally, self-love looks like the following:
Setting healthy boundaries
Prioritizing my health
Forgiving myself for past mistakes
Talking to myself in a manner that is uplifting
Notice that not one of those examples had a cost associated with them. If we explore deeper, self-love can be broken down into four aspects: self-esteem, self-awareness, self-worth, and self-care. I’d like to touch on a few and spend a little more time on others. Let’s start with self-esteem.
The word self-esteem is often used interchangeably with self-worth, but the biggest difference between the two is self-esteem is more attached to our accomplishments. We live in a society where physical attributes are highly valued. As a black woman, I’ve struggled with self-esteem as I’ve often been the only black woman in the room; especially in my adult life and especially while working in corporate settings.
Instead of standing out, I would often shrink myself or try to fit in because the story that I told myself was everyone else had more power (not true) or were smarter (damn sure was not the truth) because they were a different race or simply because they had more experience. I look back on some of my experiences and realize how foolish of me it was to think this way. These people were none of the above; they simply had the audacity to use their voice. They had that boldness that I described earlier, boldness without any repercussions. If I go even deeper, I know that this lack of confidence has a longer history.
For many black women, “the lasting effects of American slavery add a complex layer to the societal burden” (Olanyinka et al., 2021). Lack of representation in the corporate space also did not help. In my head, I had no one to aspire to as no one looked like or sounded like me. Over the years, I even learned to “correct” my thick New Orleans accent because I convinced myself that my dialect was ghetto (I know…shameful). Moving to Las Vegas in my early 20s was a bit of a culture shock. It was a much more diverse place to live compared to New Orleans at the time. It took several more years before I would begin to work on my self-awareness regarding these insecure thoughts.
Self-awareness is the key to owning our thoughts, or in other words, it is the conversation that we have in our heads. Imagine how we would feel if we constantly told ourselves that we are overweight, ugly, not good enough, not smart enough, and so on. These thoughts can and will impact our emotions, which will ultimately impact our behavior (Psychology Today, 2019).
Tip to become more aware:
Journaling is a great tool to help you to monitor your thoughts and emotions. Additionally, journaling is credited with “boosting your mood, enhancing your sense of well-being, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety” and so much more (Positive Psychology, 2022).
Self-worth also derives from self-love. It represents the part of us that ruminates whether we are good enough and even worthy of the love that we crave. According to Psychology Today, “the first step in building self-worth is to stop comparing yourself to others and challenge your critical inner voice” (2019). This may mean logging off of social media for a period of time or spending less time with negative friends and/or family members. Personally, I find that when I focus on helping others or setting a large goal, it refocuses my attention on something that is bigger than myself.
Lastly, and my favorite aspect of them all–self-care. I often provide the following analogy for my clients while in session. Imagine that you are a car, and your gas tank is empty. Then I have the client tell me how far they are going to travel on “e.” Most clients won’t be able to argue that they won’t be able to get very far. Other clients may acknowledge that they can go a little bit further, but their performance won’t be as great as it would be when the gas tank is completely full. The point I’m trying to make is clear: self-care allows you to fill your tank completely so that you can tend to all of the things that you normally would do. Sure, you can still take the kids to all of their practices, prepare dinner, clean the entire house, work your full-time job, go to school part-time, complete that project for work that’s due on Monday. But could you do it better if you spent a little time with yourself doing something that you love or doing absolutely nothing at all? I think so.
Author: Atrell Patton, CPC-I, Certified Personal Trainer
Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (2021). Self-love and what it means. Retrieved from https://www.bbrfoundation.org/blog/self-love-and-what-it-means#:~:text=Self%2Dlove%20is%20a%20state,well%2Dbeing%20to%20please%20others.