Warning Unpopular Opinion:
Self-love is a crock. Ok, you are probably confused as to why anyone would take issue with self-love, but let me explain. The concept of self-love is amazing, in theory! But I find the actual words themselves to be too broad, hard to define and unhelpful to truly understanding the concept.
Love is such a fuzzy word that, at best has comforted some and at worst deeply wounded others. Think of all of the hurtful things that have been done in the name of “love.” What about how confusing and loaded the word love is for so many of us? “You have to learn how to love yourself” people say. I am not sure I can even begin to get my mind around what that actually means.
Self-care is another one of those trendy terms that can die in a shallow grave, as far as I’m concerned. Think of all the big and small, intentional and unintentional wounds we all have suffered at the hands of people that “care” for us, people who were supposed to “love” us. How are we, then, supposed to turn around and magically understand what the F self-love or self-care even mean?
I find these types of buzz words so incredibly unhelpful. Honestly, they make me mad. If one more person gives me another bullshit platitude about how I need to “learn to love myself” I swear I will chuck a bathbomb at their heads. So… if self-love is too loaded and self-care is too hard to understand. Now what?
I have been bothered by this problem a lot. More recently I have been going about the difficult work of rebuilding my life, my career and my sense of self. I dont have the emotional energy, time or financial resources to lavish myself with grand gestures of “self-love” and “self-care”.
I have settled instead on gentleness. I may be confused about what “love or care” mean at the moment, but I do know what gentleness looks like. I do know what gentleness feels like. Best of all gentleness is attainable and tangible. So I have been practicing gentleness with myself. What does this mean? How is this showing up in my life?
Let me tell you about three ways I am cultivating gentleness towards myself:
- Gentleness with my emotions….
- I have a tendency to push myself from one thing to the next. Usually this is because I am trying to avoid sitting in some uncomfortable emotion. Recently when I have noticed myself doing this, I pause. I try to find or identify that emotion and just name it out loud. “I feel unsure. I feel weird. I feel embarrassed…etc.” Without justifying it or explaining it or telling myself why I shouldn’t feel this emotion I simply tell myself that it is ok that I am feeling this way.
- For example, grief is an emotion that has been very present in my life for the past 10 months. The tricky thing about grief is sometimes it arises in ways that make no sense at all. In moments when I experience a wave of grief. I stop, breath and just repeat to myself. “It is ok that Britta is sad right now. It doesn’t have to make sense to Britta or anyone else. It is ok that Britta is sad. I am so sorry for the pain that Britta has in this sadness.” Using the third person narrative is key. This is called mental distancing. This theory is backed by science. If you want to know more about why it is important to speak in 3rd person stay tuned for my next blog.
- Gentleness with my mind…
- It is so easy to look at other peoples behaviors and create stories about why we or others are unworthy. Here’s a “helpful” (note the sarcasm) story I have told myself in the past…”They dont make time for me therefore they dont care about me. I must be a burden.” or another gem “If they really cared about me they wouldnt have done…xyz. It must be so much work to love me.” When I notice myself telling these stories I try to challenge them with gentleness by reminding myself that just because something feels true doesn’t mean it is true. For better or worse, I have made big life altering descisions because of things that really “felt” true at the time.
- We are all humans trying desperately to survive this natural disaster called life. We are all clumsy with each others hearts in ways we are completely unaware of. I have realized that 99% of others peoples behavior tells me much more about how that person feels about themselves than how they feel about me. To be gentle I simply ask myself these questions
- Is the story that I am telling myself true?
- How do I know its true?
- Is there an example of a time when this thought or story was not true?
- Would the truth in this story stand the test of time?
- Gentleness with my body…
- When I am trying to learn something I like to make sure I am engaging my whole body in understanding that concept. To practice gentleness with my body I have been doing this very simple exercise when I get out of the shower. I think about my hands as someone else’s and my body as someone else’s. I think…”How would gentle hands touch this body?” Then I try to towel off slowly thinking about, channeling and experiencing what gentleness feels like. It feels strange at first to be so intentional in the moment and not to rush. It is a small gesture but it is transforming me. I see now how harsh I am with myself in ways that are so completely unnecessary.
- The best part about this exercise is that it takes literally no extra time and you can do this a thousand times throughout the day. How would gentle hands brush your teeth? How would gentle hands wash your face? How would gentle hands put on socks? How would gentle hands brush your hair? These small moments little by little have been changing the course of my days.
I am watching these little acts of gentleness change how I show up in the world. Like watching the stars come out, each of these small acts of gentleness are pinpricks of light that have given me something to hold on to when things feel dark.
I challenge you. Find one small way you can be gentle with yourself today.