If someone asked you to write a list of things that you love, what comes to mind? Most often, among the first to pop up is people. Perhaps you think of your partner or your children and eventually move on to family, friends, pets, and other loved ones. You imagine their faces and it brings warmness to your heart. Unless you are mad at your sister for stealing your clothes or making a rude comment, then maybe you don’t feel so warm and fuzzy after all, so you move on. Then the miscellaneous begin to trickle in and perhaps hobbies come to mind. Maybe you love reading, or yoga, or ballet, or doing celebrity impressions. The possibilities are endless! (And I’d like to see that last one.) In all seriousness, the question I pose is this. If you were asked to write a list of things that you love, how long would it take for you to write yourself?

I argue that a lot of people would not think to write themselves at all. I know that when I was first asked this question, I was stunned. The number of items that I thought of before my own existence was astounding. Puppies and macaroni & cheese are great and all, but the fact an entire novel’s worth of random things raced through my brain without a single thought for myself was eye-opening. How backwards is that? I think that at least part of the issue has to do with the mixed messages we receive from society. We live in the selfie age, and yet we are told that if we put ourselves before others that we are selfish. We are also told that if we show admiration for ourselves that we are narcissistic. Society sends us the message that only public displays of confidence, beauty, or self-appreciation are appropriate. If you didn’t Instagram it, did it really happen? Exhibit A: “Oh, look Jane posted a selfie. She is so confident.” Vs. “Oh, Jane said she couldn’t come tonight because she is taking a night to herself. She is so selfish.” How does this make any sense? As a society, we have placed value on public, and often filtered, presentations of self-love and tend to look down upon the more authentic, private displays that can be so beneficial to our mental and psychical health. I have read a lot about the benefits of self-compassion focused meditation and yoga, but so far have not come across any literature that praises the selfie for boosting mental hygiene.

So, if not selfies, how do we do this self-love thing? In the field of mental health, we talk a lot about self-care. So, what is the difference between self-love and self-care? Self-love and self-care are two different sides of the same coin. Self-care is primarily about taking time for oneself to do activities that are physically and/or mentally soothing. Some people self-care by exercising, others by doing a puzzle, personally I am more of a journaling/bubble bath girl. Self-love is not too different from this. The main difference between self-care and self-love is the intention. Self-care is generally accomplished through an activity, whereas self-love is usually paired with a self-care activity. Self-love is about truly showing appreciation, admiration, and gratitude for oneself and one’s body. One example of a self-love activity might be applying lotion after a bath. When applying the lotion, massage each part of the body and express your gratitude. How often have you thanked your legs for carrying your body around all day long? Probably not that often. So, mentally thank them. “Hey legs, sorry about that whole stair incident today, thank you for carrying me through!” Thank each part of your body for doing its job in keeping you alive.  I know this can sound odd and foreign, especially when we have been conditioned that loving ourselves in such a way is strange and uncomfortable. If this activity is too much for you, try simply writing a list of things you like about yourself. Start small and the more you introduce that self-love into your life, the easier it will become. The more self-care and self-love that we show ourselves, the more we are able to extend that love to others. That puts quite the hole in the narcissistic argument against self-love does it not? So, next time you feel the urge to grab your selfie stick, maybe consider another demonstration of self-love instead.

-Hayley Nelson

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