"Self-love is an act of revolution, of liberation. It can be almost anything that truly makes your heart sing. Self-love is the freedom that it brings to each unique individual."
– Ceallaigh Pender
Self Love. I've struggled a lot with it. I used to avoid being vulnerable with people around me because I was scared that once they knew who I truly was inside they would put me down, and tell me I’m worthless; that they would call me the names I secretly called myself, and that I would believe them.
My insecurity kept me feeling small, and I struggled around doing things just for me. Everyone else deserved my efforts, but I was not enough. The outside world saw a confident and capable woman, but I so often didn't feel that way. Not at all.
Does this sound familiar to you? I bet for a lot of you, it does. I can say that because in my time as a massage therapist I have heard my own story echoed in the stories and traumas of my clients time and time again. It is a feeling that seems almost universal, in one way or another.
We each have our own road to journey, and while the landscape and circumstances might look different, it seems that the emotions we all feel are the same. It can be easy, or maybe a better word would be that it feels familiar, to allow others to dictate what we do or how we view the world, just like our parents did for us as children. But as we grow, those parameters are like limiting strictures to our potential as wonderful and wondrous adults.
Self-love is an act of revolution, of liberation. It doesn’t need to look a certain way, it can be almost anything that truly makes your heart sing. The most important aspect of self-love is the freedom that it brings to each unique individual.
One of the books I read that was truly and profoundly impactful was by Gloria Jean Watkins, better known by her pen name bell hooks, and I've since based my own understanding of self-love on her definition:
“Love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust” – bell hooks
bell hooks was talking about the love of other, but I look at these aspects in respect to the love of yourself. Here are the ways I have applied these tenants on to loving myself; hopefully you can find something that will help you to find more freedom to love yourself as well.
Yikes, what a huge word!
To care for something has so many facets to it, when you think about it. It starts with a foundation of importance. We don’t take care of the things we think of as disposable. We toss them out, put them last, or forget about them completely.
So for me to get to care, I have to think about all of the ways I am important. I am important to my husband, to my family, to my clients, and to my friends. When I have a hard time thinking about why I am important I might ask them - “How important am I to you?” (or any variation thereof). It's a beautiful question and I have always been surprised at the beautiful love I receive from those around me. Then, I ask myself that same question “Why am I important to myself?”
If you are someone with depression this can be a tricky road, but sometimes just reiterating the words of the people who love you can help. If you feel like it would make the process easier, try writing them down.
I don't know about you, but I have tried every fad diet out there. I want immediate gratification and I have like, no patience. Lol. I want it NOW!
And usually… that's just not how things work. Not the things that really matter. Not the things that have staying power. The things built to last take time. This might not mean that we just forge ahead, like a bull - anything in our way be damned, this might mean that we take small steps, slow and steady, towards a thing we believe is possible, even when we aren’t sure or we get scared.
In a class I took one time they said: “commitment is taking an action, even when you don’t feel like it.” That has sat with me. It's harder than it sounds. Especially when there is pizza and I’m on a juice cleanse. In the past few years, I have gotten deeply acquainted with commitment. It's why I have all the things that matter to me in my life - because I take actions towards those people and those things, even when it’s hard and I don’t feel like it; because love is in the actions we take, not just the feelings we have.
This consistent gentle walk towards getting to know myself and doing the things I know will serve me, is truly the way I love myself.
When I get into an argument with my husband, it’s SO EASY to get defensive. I never want him to be unhappy, especially with me. So it’s really easy for me to be all like, “Wait! Let me tell you why you shouldn't feel the way you feel!” It's futile and silly when you think about it, and yet I’ve done it more times than I can count. But! I have been learning a new way to approach this. I have started to learn to get CURIOUS instead of defensive and OMG ITS MAGIC. This is one example of a REALLY HUGE concept.
Knowledge, to me, is all about getting curious. We all go through emotions we don’t like and most of us have been taught to avoid those emotions. But when you lean into those uncomfortable feelings, there is a whole plethora of reasons and stories about the world that can help you make huge strides in knowing yourself and consequently loving yourself in a deep and true way. We make things way bigger and way scarier in our minds than they are in real life. All those things that have truly scared me in my life were never quite that bad once I took them on.
Another part of knowing myself is spending time alone. And I don’t just mean “without other people”, but being ALONE. I mean completely alone, no computer, no phone, no TV shows: just you, alone with your thoughts and dreams, getting really curious about all of them, can reveal the quiet and necessary parts of who you are.
Ask yourself questions. It sounds esoteric and maybe it is. But it’s totally worth it! I ask myself questions like, “Why do I like certain things but not others? When did that start? How did I learn that?” By doing this reflective and sometimes uncomfortable practice, I have found the freedom to try new things, put down old things that no longer serve me, and I have grown into someone I actually really like. If you don't try this, you’re still an awesome person who is worthy of love.
Ugh, sometimes responsibility is no fun. It can be tedious and arduous.
When it comes to self-love, I have to go back to bell hooks. Ms. hooks said, “Love is a verb, not a noun.” Think about that for a second. Really, love is in the actions we take; not just our feelings. I can feel like I want great health, and I can talk about it until I am blue in the face, but if my actions do not reflect that, I am not actually being responsible for what it takes to have great health. If I eat healthy for one day a week, but not the other 6, I also won’t have great health. Commitment and responsibility are inextricably linked in this way.
When we are responsible for ourselves, it means we have taken control of our own lives. It means we are not subject to the circumstances of the world outside of us to tell us who we are, or what we should be doing. We ourselves decide that, and along with commitment and action, become those people we say we want to be.
It makes me think of my friend who works as a dominatrix. She makes no apologies for what she does, she really loves herself, and she is a ray of sunshine in the world. A lecture she gave the other day has made me think a lot about how I can get resigned when it comes to the things I secretly want. She used the example of someone who has a foot fetish, walking around pretending to NOT BE TOTALLY INTO FEET. And eventually, when they are responsible for this aspect of themselves, and get over what others might think of them, they are free to explore and evolve!
I think this is why Responsibility comes after Knowledge and Commitment. It takes both of them to really be responsible for yourself. What is it that you aren’t being responsible for? What are things you have been responsible for, and how have you grown from them?
What would happen if every single thought you had about yourself was loving and respectful? What if you changed all of the doubt, negativity, and fear-filled thoughts to the reinforcement of your hopes and dreams? What I am essentially saying is - what if you spoke to yourself the way you speak to your friends and loved ones?
Imagine if your best friend told you about a new job she wanted to get. What would you tell her? Generally, you would say something along the lines of, “Omg that's awesome! Go get it! You deserve it!” and you would mean it. So why then, when it comes to our own hopes and dreams, do we so often create these feelings of self-doubt and disrespect?
I’ve asked a lot of people this question while writing this article and one thing stood out to me about their responses. The general commonality between them all was that, to not feel insecure is to feel narcissistic; to be too selfish. And upon reflection, I really identified with that sense of portentousness. Where does it come from? And for that matter, why have we been taught that being selfish is bad? Just the word brings up connotations of a miserable, sad, and mean person. This isn’t a game of either/or in the world. If I focus on what I need it does NOT, in turn, mean I ignore what others need.
In fact, as I have gotten to know myself, I have learned that helping others in the ways I can, gives me satisfaction and a sense of value that I really desire. So I constantly look for ways I can honor myself by honoring those around me. I would not know this if I hadn’t taken the time to get to know myself first. To love yourself, you have to have the knowledge of who you are and what you need/desire, and you have to respect those things within yourself, treat them as real and true, and center your actions and intentions around them.
We have all been let down. We all have trusted and we all have had someone misuse that trust. That has happened to me more times than I can count since childhood. Somewhere, in my little child’s brain, I thought that meant I wasn’t valuable enough for others to keep their word to me.
From what I can gather, I am not alone...not by a long shot. We all get scared that someone is going to betray our trust, and we are generally proven right. Of course, it’s really never about us when someone else doesn’t keep their word.
We all have a lot going on emotionally. But what happens when the person we put our trust into is ourselves? Well if you exist, like I did for so long, as though you are not worthwhile enough to have promises kept, then why would you keep the promises you make to yourself?
So I believe trust is reliant on a foundation of knowledge and respect. If I respect myself and know what I need, I have a much easier time honoring the promises I make to myself than if I exist in a paradigm where I am not worth it. Trust is also based on actions. Again, it's the function of committing to doing the things you promised yourself you would do. This aspect of self-love gets tricky sometimes because I find it's easiest to let myself down. No one is getting hurt other than me when I don’t take care of myself, right?
Again this has to do with all of the other tenants we have talked about. Trust is where all of this comes together. Imagine what it is like to feel trusted and to trust. I get this soft, warm feeling in my body. I get a feeling of nurturing and care. I get to, what I believe is, the essence of love. To trust in myself, and to be trusted is such a safe space to be in. Even when I have doubts, trust is always there.
So, there it is. Self-Love does not always feel good, and sometimes it's really freaking difficult. Sometimes it's annoying and tedious, and can even feel painful - and it's always worth it. By practicing self-love (emphasis on practicing) you and I are taking the small and tender steps towards our true inner knowing. The best part is that where I am now, is not where I expected to be when I began this intentional journey, and I know that I have so much more to discover! Almost every day I experience self-doubt, and I am so glad to have these tools that help ground me and keep me moving forward.
Thank you so much for sharing your time with me as you read this. By doing so you have, in turn, included me in your journey. I would love to hear your thoughts, your actions, the way you care for yourself, your insecurities, your doubts, the way you take responsibility and the way you don’t. We grow best when we grow together, so let's keep climbing.
Ceallaigh Pender is the owner of Salvation Wellness and a massage therapist, movement specialist, yogini, herbalist and aromatherapist who is trained in over 25 techniques and who has worked in the field of massage and wellness for over 20 years. Salvation Wellness is a modern CBD apothecary and wellness studio located at both 521 Jersey Ave & 190 Christopher Columbus Drive, Jersey City, NJ 07302 in downtown Jersey City.Liquid error (sections/main-product.liquid line 378): Could not find asset snippets/CUSTOM-Amazon-SearchAd.liquid