For a long time, “self-love” seemed like a somewhat vague and questionable concept to me.
I wondered if the imperative to “love yourself” was merely an expression of our somewhat dysfunctional and narcissistic Western relationship to the individual self.
And maybe it is that, sometimes.
But I’ve also now come to see self-love as something foundational to human well-being, wholeness, and flourishing.
As something of vital importance.
Two particular definitions of self-love I encountered this year profoundly clarified for me the nature of true, healthy self-love. The first is:
Self-love means treating yourself as your own dear friend.
This simple definition framed self-love in more concrete, practical terms, and helped me to realize what wholesome self-love is, by allowing me to imagine vividly what it looks like.
Right now, imagine a dear friend or family member; how do you treat that person, on your best days?
You treat them with love, respect, and kindness.
You encourage them to take care of themselves and to practice wholesome habits.
You uplift them with words of love and appreciation, reminding them of their gifts and virtues.
You care for them when they’re sick, nourishing them back to health.
This definition of self-love suggests: All of those things you do for those you love most—you should do them for yourself too.
Practice sacred habits that keep you feeling mentally and physically vital, clear, energized.
Talk kindly to yourself; respect yourself; recognize and celebrate your own gifts and virtues.
This is what it looks like to love yourself.
Ironically, we’re often better at caring for those closest to us than we are at caring for ourselves.
When we make habits of eating non-nutritious food, abusing substances, binging on entertainment, living sedentarily and allowing our bodies to atrophy, etc., we’re not really loving ourselves, are we?
In fact we’re implicitly communicating to ourselves that we don’t really respect ourselves or our lives all that much.
We think we’re not worth our own time and effort.
Habits of self-love and self-care, on the other hand, are a deep affirmation to ourselves that we matter, that we’re worthwhile and worth our own time and care.
Practicing such habits can be monumentally transformational: Mindset often follows action, so when we begin treating ourselves like we would treat a dear friend, it becomes natural to see that we are worth the time, worth the love.
The second definition of self-love that was highly clarifying for me is quite similar to the first, with a fresh spin:
Self-love means treating yourself as your newborn infant self.
A great healing practice, which I recommend, is to find a picture of your infant self, or the youngest picture of you that you can find.
Stare deeply into this picture, imagining yourself as a young and innocent child.
Eyes full of wonder and light, learning the world for the first time.
Who could say that your infant self was not complete, whole, and utterly worthy of love?
No one could truthfully say such a thing.
As you stare at this picture, ask yourself how you would treat your child-self, if this version of you suddenly appeared on your doorstep.
Would you not nurture, nourish, and tenderly support the growth and well-being of this precious child?
Would you not love this infant with your whole heart, giving it all the things you think it needs to become the fullest and most beautiful person it can be?
I suspect you would.
Ask yourself why you don’t always treat your current self in this same way.
At what point did you internalize the idea that you were somehow broken, deficient, unworthy of your full love and respect?
The world can be a harsh place, and to varying degrees it convinces most of us that we are not whole and complete, as we were in our infant form.
And yet we are. We cannot be otherwise.
We are inseparable from the oceanic living Mystery of Nature itself—the sublime and sacred River of Being.
Tat Tvam Asi. We are That.
That innocent, inviolate infant self still resides in us, always, deep down, and when we get in touch with that part of us, we see our own completeness—our own worthiness of love.
We see that though we make mistakes and have room to grow, we are nonetheless full and whole in each moment.
A flaming spark of inextinguishable Divinity burns eternally in each of our hearts and souls.
Stare at a photograph of your young self, and reconnect with this truth.
The purity and freshness of your infant-self yet resides within you, along with the promise of renewal, reconnection.
And the path to renewal—to re-realization of this precious spark within you—is the path of self-love, of treating yourself with the kindness and affection you would give to that sweet little child.
You are not broken.
You are not unworthy.
You are not incomplete.
You are You, precisely who you need to be in this very moment and every other moment.
Whole unto yourself.
One with the process of Nature.
You emerged from this Earth as a leaf from a tree, a wave from the ocean.
You are a wondrous expression of the All.
You belong here.
You have beautiful gifts, worthy of being shared.
To love, nurture, and care for yourself is to see the value of your own gifts and allow yourself to share them in the fullest way.
At the end of the day, you will do what you will do.
These words are not a dictate, rule, or command.
Know, though, that you are gorgeous and spectacular in your inimitable You-ness.
And you are deserving of all the Love in the Cosmos.
I love you.
And I hope you will find it in you to love yourself.
Take care, my friend.
To start practicing sacred, self-loving habits, take our self-liberation course.
Jordan Bates is a lover of God, father, leadership coach, heart healer, writer, artist, and long-time co-creator of HighExistence. — www.jordanbates.life