What is self-love, truly?
In the last decade, the term ‘self-love’ has gained popularity and normalcy—but what does loving yourself really mean?
As someone who has been on both sides of the spectrum—struggling with an eating disorder and absolutely hating myself, to actively cultivating a healthy relationship with myself—I feel what I have to say about self-love is of value.
Self-love is not just chocolate and bubble baths—although I do love both of these things! Corporations pedal us products marketed with buzzwords such as ‘self-love’, ‘self-care’ and ‘treat yourself’. But, when we buy these things, are we really practising self-love? Are we really taking care of ourselves? Or are we just helping some white man take home a seven-figure salary?
It is totally okay to enjoy these luxuries—please do! As a hygge practitioner, I have plenty of these simple luxuries: fluffy blankets, scented candles, aromatic teas and delicious baked goods, to name a few.
But, ultimately, I know acquiring material possessions will not yield true happiness. Nor will collecting worldly treasures improve my relationship with myself. And learning to love yourself is, essentially, learning how to relate with yourself.
And learning how to relate with yourself is the most important thing, the most foundational thing. Research shows that the quality of your life is determined by the quality of your relationships. Well, what about your relationship with that person you are destined to be with, always, until your dying breath? You.
Your mind is your home.
See, your outer-world is a reflection of your inner-world. Now, I know this sounds as though it is a radical statement, but I can make this statement with confidence because, as mentioned earlier, I have been on both ends of the spectrum. In a sense, my life has been an experiment of whether or not this is true, whether or not the perspective one holds affects their quality of life.
In the past, I have laboured under the delusion that my perspective—my beliefs, my thoughts, my attitude—had little to no effect on my life. I would consistently think terrible things about myself and the world—and then I would wonder why I was not happy! I thought there was something wrong with me, that I was unlucky, maybe even cursed.
But, really, this ‘bad luck’ was just my shitty way of relating to the world, and my shitty way of relating to myself:
I used to tell myself I was not talented enough of a writer to execute the idea I had for my high-fantasy manuscript—so the words never got written.
I used to tell myself that promoting my writing would be hard, scary and boring—and doing so was, somehow, all of these things at once.
I used to nag myself to practise spirituality—yet simultaneously, I would tell myself that spirituality is a waste of time, and that that time would be better spent doing ‘productive’ things—and then I would always feel guilty, and as though I had failed, regardless of whether or not I took time to practise.
Worst of all, I have told myself that I am unworthy of love—and, in the past, this has kept me stuck in unsatisfying relationships, because I genuinely believed those relationships were all I deserved.
Of course, I still struggle with some of these limiting beliefs, and others; I still struggle with my own mind. As someone with borderline personality disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder, my mind regularly attacks itself with intrusive thoughts.
However, I know that, ultimately, if I want to create a beautiful life—one with a creative career, a deep spiritual practice and a satisfying romantic partnership—then I must slay these intrusive thoughts. These thoughts are the gatekeepers to my happiness—my ability to manifest said happiness, yes—but also my ability to enjoy said happiness, to surrender to said happiness.
Everything that happens to you happens through your consciousness. The most wonderful things can be happening externally, but I know, if my consciousness is contracted, none of these wonderful things will make any difference. Everything will appear to be lacking, because my consciousness will be lacking. Without consciousness—without an expanded consciousness—no amount of external bullshit will ever be enough.
Your mind is your home. Do you want that home filled with clutter and grime? Or do you want it clean and organized? The choice is yours.
Drafting IV: Aurora and Luna
I want to expand on my first anecdote, the one about my high-fantasy manuscript…
When I first received the idea for The Sun and Moon Saga, back in the Summer of 2015, I was very excited. I had wanted to try my hand at writing a fantasy book for many years, but I had never come up with a good enough idea—or at least what I felt was a good enough idea—to warrant getting started. But now, the prospect of writing IV: Aurora and Luna had me inspired. What inspired me further was signing up for a creative writing course at my college later that Autumn.
So I started writing; I started putting words to paper. But when my creative writing professor returned my work to me, her response was not what I had been hoping for. She had not understood my idea—and, in her defence, how could she have understood it? The prose in that ancient version of chapter one was terrible!
But instead of accepting the level of skill I was starting my writing journey with, I told myself that I simply was not a good enough writer to execute my ‘great’ idea, and I hid The Sun and Moon Saga in a drawer.
For two whole years, I did not work on the project, not once. Still, the idea would creep its way into my mind, almost tauntingly, as though it was saying, “I am such a fun idea! Wouldn’t you love to write me? Oh, but you can’t! Because you are a terrible writer!”
Using my analogy from earlier: if my mind is a house, then let’s pretend my creative practice represents one room of that house; and at this time in my life, this room representing creativity was filled with junk! It is no wonder why I never wanted to enter that room; it is no wonder why I never felt inspired to write.
However, midway through 2017, the idea for The Sun and Moon Saga had haunted me so much, nagged at me, that I decided to try again. But I was scared, because trying again meant sorting through my clutter. I was scared, because trying again meant humbling myself.
See, I had spent these last two years identifying as a ‘perfectionist’, but in that time I had not written a single word toward The Sun and Moon Saga. I was starting to realize that my so-called ‘perfectionism’, was really just procrastination in disguise. I had been procrastinating cleaning up my mind. I had been procrastinating developing the required humility.
This time around, I decided to take a new approach: I gave myself permission to write a bad first draft. No matter how terrible each chapter may have turned out, I was allowed to put words to paper—or rather, Pages document. I could always revise, edit and improve upon it later. But the first step was just getting a rough draft.
I was no longer telling myself that I was not talented enough to write my ‘great’ idea. Instead, I was telling myself that I would only get better the more I wrote, the more hours I put into my craft.
The truth is: I put my idea for The Sun and Moon Saga on a pedestal. Yes, I do think it is a pretty neat idea—I have spent the last six years working on it, after all. But what really made my high-fantasy manuscript something I am genuinely proud of is not the idea itself, but all the hard work I have put into it.
Actually, if I could, I would go back to before I even received the idea for The Sun and Moon Saga, and I would tell myself to write those other ‘bad’ ideas anyway. I would tell myself to trust that my ‘bad’ ideas would, organically, become good ideas as I wrote them, as I worked on them.
Or, even if my ideas never lived up to what I wanted them to be, writing those manuscripts would have at least given me some of the crucial experience needed to become a good writer. Writing those manuscripts, even if they went unpublished, would allow me to practise my craft.
Nowadays, this is the mindset I approach my writing with: the Master’s mindset. I know that my ability to create the work I want to create has very little to do with my ‘talent’, and much more to do with how many hours I put into my craft, with how much love I pour into my practice.
I identify as a writer who writes everyday—and, guess what, I write everyday, or damn close to that! I believe, if I sit down at my desk, the words will come—and they do.
Creativity is the area of my life I excel in. This is not because I am some creative genius. Rather, this is due to the psychology I have regarding creativity: a limitless psychology.
Again, using my analogy from earlier: if my mind is a house, and my creative practice represents one room of that house; then that room is clean and organized, free of distracting clutter and toxic grime.
I see a cozy den, with a big bay window, allowing the Sunlight to trickle in. The walls are lined with shelves of books. My desk is adorned with candles and crystals. On top of said desk, sits my computer and my notebook, both ready for me to fill them with words.
Yes! Here my creativity can flow!
Making A Fundamental Change
I tell you this anecdote, not to boast, but to show you how I went from a ‘blocked artist’—as Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, calls the condition—to a liberated artist. I became someone who writes damn near everyday, and is building a body of work they are proud of. This happened for me because I made some fundamental changes.
A fundamental change is a change in identity or belief—and this is how you make any sustainable change in your life. Of course, you can use will-power to change things, usually on a mere surface level. However, I have not found employing will-power to be all that effective.
Firstly, willing yourself to do something is not particularly joyful. When you will yourself to do something it implies that you do not have much, if any, intrinsic motivation to do the thing you are attempting to do—in which case, why are you attempting this? Yes, from time to time, we all have to do things we do not want to do. But if you really despise what it is you are investing your time and energy into on a daily basis, then it is worth asking yourself why you are in this pursuit at all.
If you are only in this pursuit for the end result, then you definitely need to question how you spend your most precious resource: your time. For, if you cannot enjoy the journey of manifesting something, you are destined for misery. And even if you do manifest said thing, if you fail to enjoy the process of manifesting, the end result simply cannot give you the happiness you expect it to.
Secondly, will-power only gets you so far. If you are using will-power to move towards your vision, eventually, you will burn out, lose motivation and quit. This is bound to happen; it is inevitable.
Unless, of course, you have made a fundamental change. If you have made the choice to see yourself and the world differently, in a new way that is aligned with your vision—then everything will flow nicely from there. No, the journey will not always be easy, but it sure will be simple.
Speaking for myself, I am a writer. And writers write—that is what makes someone a writer. Therefore, everyday I sit down at my desk and write. And if on a particular day I choose not to write, I am probably reading, feeding my mind with good literature, filling the well.
Staying on my path is hard work. But I have chosen this path, and I have chosen that writing is who I am—I have made these fundamental choices. Therefore, I am able to act with integrity, with discipline.
And ultimately, it is not will-power that keeps me on my journey; it is discipline. Will-power and discipline may seem as though they are the same thing, but they are not. To use will-power is to force yourself to do something you do not want to do just so you can attain a particular outcome. Discipline, however, tells a different story…
Revising, Editing And Finishing IV: Aurora and Luna
In my twenty-nine years, I have introspected deeply, done an abundant amount of soul-searching. Almost rhythmically, I take inspiration from ‘The Hermit’ and retreat inward. There have been many phases in my life, during which, my priority has been self-reflection, inner work.
Perhaps the deepest of these phases came at the end of 2019. I had lost the two things most important to me at the time: my partner, and the musical project him and I had spent the last five years working on. This broke me, and it forced me to face myself: Who am I without this person in my life? Who am I without this band in my life?
It was during that dark, gloomy Winter when I discovered myself, truly discovered myself. Like a snake, I had shed the layers of my skin, the layers of my ego. My sense of self had been burned to ash, but like a phoenix, I would rise again. This loss, this death, was all a part of me journeying to the core of myself, my authentic self.
Actually, it was not just that I discovered myself; I also created myself. Through journaling and meditation, I discovered what it is that actually makes me happy, and what just breeds unnecessary suffering. And then, by making fundamental choices, I created myself.
I decided that I am a writer. I decided that writing, creating my body of work, is, for me, the most meaningful thing in life. And I decided to position writing at the top of my priority list.
I made some fundamental choices, and from that point on, I have not once struggled with my commitment to realizing what I consider to be my Life Purpose: writing stories and essays that ask big philosophical questions.
Sure, there have been times when I have not known what the next step is. Do I write an essay on creativity or mental health? Do I draft a dystopian future science fiction novel or a psychological horror novel? But even in those moments during which I feel lost, I know I am not lost, not really. Because I have made the fundamental choice to write, and I trust the next step in my journey will present itself to me.
You may be thinking this is unrealistic: the notion that you can make a fundamental choice and that things in that regard will be simple from that point on. To this, I ask, have you tried? Have you tried making a fundamental choice? If you have not, a better question is: what unconscious fundaments does your psychology already operate on?
In other words, how do you identify yourself? What beliefs do you hold about the world? And how do these ideas influence, or even create, your life?
Please bear in mind, I do have borderline personality disorder, and one of the symptoms of BPD is an unstable sense of identity. In the past, I lacked a healthy sense of self, and I found it hard to stay committed to things. I struggled with this particular symptom of BPD until Winter of 2019, when I made these fundamental choices, when I retreated inward to discover what it is I truly value.
As of this January, I have been working on my writing almost everyday for three years. If I, an individual with borderline personality disorder can make a fundamental change in my psychology, in my consciousness, so can you.
This is how you love yourself:
Now, you may be wondering, what does all this have to do with self-love? This has everything to do with self-love, with learning to love yourself, because this has everything to do with learning how to relate to yourself. Remember, self-love is not about looking in the mirror and feeling sexy in your new bikini. Self-love is all about how you think; it is all about how clean and organized you keep your mind.
You may not want to write, like me. That does not matter; the principles from my story can still be extracted and applied to your life, to any area in which you are dissatisfied.
Heed this: your happiness is not determined by extrinsic results; your happiness is determined by your psychology, by your level of consciousness. And yes, cleaning up the house that is your mind will likely support you in the process of manifesting the things you desire. But the real magic occurs, not in the external world, but in the internal world, in the mind.
Tell yourself a horror story, or a tragedy, and you will be filled with worry and misery. Tell yourself a happy story, and you will be filled with joy.
I will conclude my essay by quoting something I recently wrote in my journal:
Inside of me, is a little cottage, like one from out of a fairy tale. Everything I need is inside my little cottage—every single thing. I can always take inspiration from ‘The Hermit’ and retreat inside my little cottage to gather what it is I need, to find the answers I need. My meditation practice taught me this Truth.”