The Literary Mind

Life, literature, and politics, from the inside out.

How Do You Define Self-Love?

How do you take care of yourself?

What does it mean to be kind to yourself or "love yourself"?  People say you should do it, but how?

A list of prototypical acts of self-soothing might help define what people mean by self-love:

Take a slow hot bath.
Eat cake (not too much).
Go for a walk without a destination.

Those acts of self-soothing look a lot like "practicing patience." Maybe loving yourself, especially these days when people are asked to work for so much of the day, often includes slowing down. Because working so much means subordinating or hiding the passive side of ourselves, we have to recapture that side of self through a bit of self-love. In this form, self-love can look like indulgence, or escaping the pressure of work.

Or do you ever "love yourself" by speeding up?

Dance without self-consciousness.
Be assertive with a boss without worrying about how you sound.
Go out very late.

If your moments of self-love come through speeding up, maybe it's because you've been denying a different part of the self: You've lived with the brakes on, and you deserve to let the beast out now, to take risks, to have less fear. Maybe self-love is just finding that side of the self which has been shut down and allowing it to roam free for a bit.

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Or maybe self-love is more generally a break from self-judgment. When I do something that feels self-loving, I can feel as if I'm taking sandbags off my shoulders which I wasn't even aware I was carrying. Everything becomes lighter. Maybe lightness is like an escape from judgment, from feeling unworthy, guilty, or behind the game in some way. Here are some examples of self-love through decreased self-blame:

I call my work today "good enough."
I dress sexy and believe I am.
I know that "I've already done enough in my life to feel proud."

But what's self-love for you: slowing down, letting the monster out, escaping blame, or what? What defines "being good to yourself"?

Ilana Simons, Ph.D., is a literature professor at The New School as well as a practicing therapist.

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