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Cultivating love and compassion for oneself

Guide to self-development (part 2) - learn to allow yourself the courtesy of love.

Photograph: Unsplash

Text: Aina Masood

Throughout my training and work as a mental health professional, I have seen people struggling with concepts of self-love and self-care. I have noticed them wanting to be loved by others while forgetting to do the same for themselves. Thus, it felt natural to talk about self-love as the second part of this guide to self-development. I would like to begin with Brene Brown's quote, "Owning our story and loving ourselves through the process is the bravest thing that we'll ever do."

Self-love refers to owning and loving yourself wholly. It means accepting and acknowledging your weakness and flaws as much as your strengths. It is about being yourself unapologetically and showing up for yourself when needed. Finally, it means that you show yourself the same love and care you might give to a person close to you.

The route you take to show love to yourself is self-care which means every time you prioritise resting on the weekend instead of having social commitments because you feel drained, you are doing an act of self-love, and that's your self-care. What route one might take differs from person to person and from time to time for the same person. Some days, you might need to have a morning routine to ease into your day and other days, you might need to wake up earlier to check things off your list. For some people, saying no might be an act of love, and for others, going on a vacation with friends could be it. The point is that there are various ways you can achieve the common goal of filling your cup.

Some tips to help you start your journey

  1. Be curious: Committing to being curious about yourself is essential to know yourself and therefore, to love yourself. This is the first step in any self-love journey. There are multiple ways to do this, but you must start with curiosity. Ask questions, notice how you react to situations, what do you like to do, what are your values and how do you prioritise, what do you prioritise. Think of it like you are meeting someone for the first time and would like to know them better.

  2. Listen to your body: Our bodies are constantly communicating with us, but if we are not attuned to our bodies, we can't listen to what is needed. Some ways to become more aware of our needs include taking some time off to slow down every day. It can be through yoga, meditation, mindfulness practices or breathing exercises. You can also bring slowness to your mornings or evenings by purposefully adopting routines that help you reconnect with yourself.

  3. Express yourself: Find ways to be expressive and creative. Putting your thoughts and feelings to paper, into music, in stories, in any form of art is one way to go about this. Humans are creative creatures, and that is why a significant way of loving oneself is giving yourself the freedom of expression and satisfaction of mastery. Be creative with it. You might be fabulous at making jokes or throwing parties, or making coffee. Try to look for what you can do that you thoroughly enjoy and do it.

  4. Feel your emotions: Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Our feelings are how we react to situations and our brain's and body's tools of communication. They aren't inherently good or bad but are simply messengers or guests. So, please don't ignore it when you feel anxious, angry, or sad; instead, be inquisitive. What does this emotion feel like? What does it tell you? Where do you feel it in your body? These are all questions that will help you be more self-aware and attuned to yourself.

  5. Using self-talk: It is pivotal how you talk to yourself. What's the language you use? Is it kind or harsh? Learn to engage in positive self-talk. You can do this by using positive affirmations, but use mindfulness techniques if they don't work for you. Whenever you find yourself being harsh or using negative words, actively stop yourself and find the reason behind negative self-talk. Change it to a kinder and more compassionate way to talk to yourself. You can also turn it into something you share with your friends and catch others when stuck in negative self-talk. This brings awareness and external validation. The goal here is to cultivate compassion and change our narrative about ourselves.

The journey of self-love takes commitment and patience. Give yourself the space to take detours and return to the journey. It is all good if you continue taking small steps with intention.

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