Demystifying Self Love with 7 Elements
The term “self love” gets thrown around a lot. So what is it? And why is it so important?
Photo by @vandearde Juniper St. Pedro
One reason why self love is hard to define is because it looks different for everyone. Whether it’s taking a bath, saying “no” to that party, saying “yes” to that party, self-pleasuring, taking space from toxic people...self love is not defined as the thing you are doing or not doing.
It’s a mindset! Self love is about your inner landscape. It’s being in a consensual relationship to yourself.
I have definitely struggled with this most intimate of relationships. I’ve bullied myself, questioned my self worth, battled anxiety attacks, and gotten lost in depression. My relationship hasn’t always been and isn’t always all excellent and all loving. But I have learned somethings. These elements of self love and kindness have extremely helped me find a more consensual relationship with me...a relationship that I now centralize and prioritize in my life!
Here’s what I’ve learned...
1st Element of Self Love:
You Are Inherently Worthy
Knowing your inherent worth means you love yourself unconditionally. You don’t love yourself only post-orgasm, when someone just told you that you are beautiful, or when you ticked an item off of your “to-do” list. As a Virgo, it's hard not to equate my efficiency to my self worth.
Photo via @especialtys
Unconditionally means you love yourself when you feel completely shitty, when a partner admits having attractions for someone else, and when you have been intensely procrastinating doing that thing, you know, that thing.
Capitalism says you need to consume or produce to be worthy. Furthermore, this very flawed system emphasizes that you need to be white, skinny, young, brilliant and desirable to be lovable. That’s bullshit. Your EXISTENCE itself is not only worthy of love and belonging...it is absolutely extraordinary!
I have to remind myself of this element over and over and over again...otherwise my mind will bully myself. “Luna, you are not doing enough. Luna, you don’t sound eloquent enough. Luna, your feelings are too much.” I will start comparing myself to others and will inevitably fall into a spiral of shame!!! AAAaaaah. What helps me is to take a few deep breaths and remind myself that capitalism is a flawed system and that I am inherently good...just by my existence alone.
Which leads me to my next element...
2nd Element of Self Love: Differentiate Between Shame & Guilt
Thanks to Brené Brown for articulating a concept which I have found profoundly helpful in loving myself more deeply. In Brené’s famous Ted Talks about vulnerability, she emphasizes the importance of separating shame from guilt.
While guilt says, “I made mistake,” shame says “I am a mistake.”
See the difference?
Photo via @especialtys
Guilt is taking ownership for my problematic and negatively impactful behavior, but shame is believing that my existence is inherently bad. Guilt is actually really helpful for self love because it means I understand that I am powerful enough that my actions do have impact on other people, but that I am also capable of change. Guilt helps me separate myself from behaviors, habits and patterns so I can change them. Yay!
Shame isn’t so useful and it can be very subtle and VERY insidious. Shame says I am inherently bad on a core level. (Some religions support this idea.) When I believe this, it doesn’t allow room for growth. Unfortunately, shame is correlated with increased amounts of self harm and harm to others. It’s hard to be hopeful when I believe no matter what I do or don’t do, my core identify is unworthy...and wrong.
On the other hand, experiencing guilt is inversely related to the perpetuation of harm! It’s a responsible, wise, and self loving place to come from. This element is about reminding myself that I am never a mistake. I am inherently good and there is ALWAYS room for change and healing.
3rd Element of Self Love:
Boundaries. Boundaries. Boundaries.
Photo for Janelle Monae's Music Video "PYNK"
Self love is also about BOUNDARIES. It’s about being in touch with your “yes” and your “no” and respecting the fuck out of them.
But what does that mean???
To me, it means, saying “no” if someone asks me for a favor if I know I am going to resent them later if I say “yes.” Self love is the opposite of self-sacrifice...it’s knowing and stating my boundaries.Another gem from Brené Brown is her mantra for boundaries.
“Choose discomfort over resentment. Choose discomfort over resentment. Choose discomfort over resentment.”
As a recovering people-pleaser, I know quite well that the path of self love isn’t always easy, but why is that? Why is this so challenging?? Well, one big reason is due to our dominator capitalist colonized culture.
Essentially, you and me were taught to distrust our own bodies, minds and intuition. As a little kid you may have been told, “No, you can’t touch that.” “You MUST eat this.” “That’s enough.” “Be quiet.” “Speak up!” “Sit still.” That’s just in our own homes and schools! I’m not a parent/caregivers and this is NOT about shaming parents/caregivers. Yet, it is important to acknowledge how prevalent punishment and reward systems are embedded in our culture. This is one reason why it may be hard to listen to and trust your own feelings and needs when you are afraid of being punished if you don’t get it “right.”
Beyond this, it’s important to acknowledge ALL systemic oppression that impacts your ability for self love. Due to sexism, racism, classism, ableism, ageism, fat phobia, and all other forms of oppression...it can make it real challenging to see yourself as worthy of love and belonging.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” -Audre Lorde
Photo by Ashley Armitage of @ladyist
If you don’t acknowledge all of the reasons WHY it may be hard for you to love yourself, it would be hard to forgive yourself for not always being in touch with your boundaries and advocating for them. Not knowing or respecting your own boundaries is unfortunately normal. So if it’s a struggle for you, it’s totally valid! It’s also a helpful to remember that self love is something we are all learning. To put it in a very meta way, the journey of self love is something you can have COMPASSION for yourself along the way of learning how to have compassion for yourself!
4th Element of Self Love:
Your Body is Your Ally
“There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.” -Friedrich Nietzsche
The “Body As Ally” element really helps me listen for and be in touch with my own boundaries. Remembering this element means remembering my body’s inherent intelligence. My body tells me pretty much everything I need to know. When I am in touch with its cues, I can be guided in life.
For example, if I’m in a edgy conversation with a partner, I can have more awareness when I am starting to feel activated and then have more choice in de-escalating the conversation before I get totally triggered and emotionally thrown into a shame or blame spiral. Thanks, body! My body also gives me indicators for when I am excited or turned on. When I notice my acceleration in heart rate, I can be more aware to question if I am possibly holding myself back from asking for what I really want. My body also tells me when I actually need food or sleep (not just when I am “supposed to”) or else I am going to end up real fucking cranky.
Tuning into my body’s intelligent cues is a practice in and of itself. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is a strong and essential piece on my path of self love. I will also say, it’s more complicated than what is shared here, like all things. For example, when things like trauma, addiction or gender dysphoria are involved, there may be more layers to navigating your truth. All of the elements must be coupled with lots and lots of self-compassion!
Which is a beautiful segway to my next element...
5th Element of Self Love: Don’t Feel Bad for Feeling Bad
Have you ever felt bad for feeling bad? These are meta-emotions. This was a concept introduced to me by Emily Nagoski. Meta-emotions are how you feel about how you feel... and are actually more important than your "regular" emotions. Have you ever noticed yourself being embarrassed for feeling jealous? Or exhausted about feeling anxious? Or annoyed for feeling disappointed?
Challenging life experiences are normal and having an emotional response to them is a just that... a completely normal and valid response! You may have been subtly or overtly shamed for experiencing the feels...which is SO not helpful. What I think is even more detrimental to your well being is when you shame yourself for experiencing the feels. I know I do this sometimes, especially as a sexual empowerment teacher. I feel bad for feeling jealous, a lack of sexual desire, or difficulty dropping into presence and pleasure.
Photo by Ashley Armitage of @ladyist
Your mind may try to explain away why you shouldn't be having feelings. Unfortunately, what ends up happening is you just get more lost in your thoughts and stories of why shouldn't be emotional, putting even more attention on the original distress! When these emotions don’t get to be expressed and moved, they may get lodged in your body, weighing you down, closing you up, barricading your being.
Something I have learned that is often helpful for me to remember, is that along with being human, I am also an animal. I evolved to protect myself from perceived threats (by fight, flight, freeze, and appease.) When I am experiencing challenging emotions, my body is responding to a perceived threat. Instead of shaming my feelings and telling myself, “this threat isn’t real, I shouldn’t feel this way,” sometimes, I just need to “finish the stress response.”
By “completing the cycle of stress” I let my BODY know that I am not in immediate physical danger and that I am safe. I need to energetically, metaphorically or quite literally deal with the threat by running away, fighting back, or shaking off that froze state. Exercising, screaming, showering, crying, talking to a friend are all great ways to let my body know it’s safe. However youpersonally let your body know it’s safe will be unique to you. Your self loving job is to figure out what works for you!!! This is what a lot of people call "self care" and it is a very, very crucial component of self love! Read here how this practice and awareness can help increase our sexual desire!
6th Element of Self Love:
Remember Our Shared Humanity
Art by Frances Cannon @francescannon
Another way I practice self love is with the element of “shared humanity.” This is remembering that whatever I am feeling is most definitely not unique to me. Every challenging feeling you or I have ever felt about sexuality, relationship, life, anything...someone else has felt that too. Anxiety, grief, jealousy, frustration, rage, confusion...we are seriously not alone in these emotions! This element is about noticing when I am experiencing challenging emotions and to then remind myself that I am not alone in these feels, that my feelings connect me to other humans rather than isolate me.
It’s so common for me to feel isolated when I spiral down into the realms of emotions. Whether I am worrying about being liked, concerned about not having sexual desire, or feeling bad for not “doing enough for the world”… it’s so common for me to just simply feel shitty. However, when I remember the element of shared humanity and that absolutely no one has it all figured out or feels awesome all of the time, I can muster more self-compassion. I feel more woven into the web of humanity, rather than hopeless. This little point of connection can help me hold better space for my feelings and seriously shift my perspective.
7th Element of Self Love:
Art by @marcelomonreal
Finally, I want to end with the element of mindfulness. This is the ability to observe your thoughts and feelings from a wider lense with non-judgmental compassion. Rather than over-identifying with thoughts and feelings, which is supereasy to do, it’s remembering “This too shall pass” and that change is the only constant. As a Virgo, it’s natural for me to zoom in and obsess over an idea and forget the bigger over-arching beautiful and mysterious complexity of life. Sometimes all it takes is to pause and take a few deep breaths and I can incorporate that wider, kinder, and more gentle perspective.
I’ve learned during a “Yoga for the Obliteration of Tyranny” class by Jo Mosser that mindfulness alone is not always productive. While in downward dog listening to heavy metal music, Jocelyn reminded us that self-awareness without compassion can lead to anxiety. Mindfulness paired with nonjudgemental compassion is the magic sauce for a self loving existence on this rock floating through outer space.
Self Loving Conclusion
Photo by @nigerianwomendiary model is @mynameisjessamyn
There is a reason why loving ourselves is so revolutionary. It is free. It is needed. It is getting to the root of many issues in the world. I believe it’s so true that hurt people hurt people. The more that you can practice holding space for yourself, the more you can show up with that same love and compassion for the world...or at least you are less likely to dump your pain onto others leading to more pain. Instead, you can channel your passion and rage for change in really creative and hopeful ways! Maybe even more importantly, when you have compassion for what you want and need, you are more likely to advocate for yourself! When you do that, you are unstoppable. Loving yourself is realizing your actions have impact and that you are not only worthy...you are incredibly powerful.
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