If I asked you to make a list of all the people in the world you loved, would you include yourself on that list? And if it was on that list, would it be number one or how far down would it be? “Why is self-love important?” you might ask. You probably think that self-love is an indulgent luxury rather than a necessity — or a new-age fad for those with too much time on their hands.
Showing compassion and self-care, kindness and recognition are essential for good mental health and wellness
In this case, you are unfortunately incorrect. Showing compassion and self-care, kindness and recognition are essential for good mental health and wellness. Spending time being driven, trying to be a perfectionist or living up to external ideals or norms makes us so hard on ourselves. We become our own internal bully, striving to excel and do everything right. Our persecutory inner voice criticizes us and dials into the voices of those around us, who chorus the same pressures.
It is normal to have periods in which we feel better about ourselves and periods in which our confidence and self-esteem dip
I recently had a 50 year old male client who was bullied mercilessly at school. And to this day, he still identifies himself as the “fat Irish redhead with glasses”. This belief has led him to never feel safe enough to have friends, to feel confident in the workplace – so has never gone for a promotion, is afraid of meeting a woman and most of all – he still sees himself as that worthless, fat Irish redhead with glasses that has not amounted to anything. His thoughts and beliefs have sabotaged him. He has been plagued by thoughts of worthlessness and hates every aspect of himself. He has never allowed himself to genuinely trust anyone, enjoy any relationship or to feel loved. Essentially, therapy needs to uncover his damaging beliefs and teach him to learn to love himself, show kindness and compassion towards himself. Learning to show ourselves compassion, kindness, self-love is a constant work in progress. It takes active intention and mindful behaviours to foster this practice. Effort and attention, mindful attempts to affirm and accept oneself for whom we are. It is normal to have periods in which we feel better about ourselves and periods in which our confidence and self-esteem dip, but the journey is in being mindful – pay attention to that inner critic. Pay heed, turn it down and tune in to that kind, compassionate voice of self-love and acceptance.
Kristin Neff, a professor of human development at the University of Texas, Austin, believes that self-love evolves from self-kindness. She explains that rather than flagellating ourselves and criticising ourselves when we fail or feel less than, we ought to show warmth and understanding, kindness towards ourselves. And this, ultimately translates into improved mental health and wellness. We feel better about ourselves, and our improved mood leads us to take healthier actions which in turn leads to far more positive outcomes.