• Victoria Chwa

The Self-Love Predicament: Being Kind To Yourself

Glass of wine in one hand, Instagram story running in the other.

“Happy New Year’s Eve!”, I shout with feigned excitement as we wave goodbye to a year fraught with textbook modern-day chaos.

At this point, I think the barriers to joy have been both simplified and raised. By that, I mean we anticipate a dinner out with friends in as much enjoyment as we did a weekend getaway. At the same time, celebrations and occasions require twice the effort for half the fun. Although, that could just be my technology overload speaking.

With the pandemic forcing a wedge into our routines, definitions of a normal life have changed for many. We’re made to reassess our priorities, to face realities before we’re ready, and to find workarounds before it’s too late. In the blink of an eye, we went from saving our leaves for holidays, to business-as-usual but online and from our bedrooms. Suddenly, we’re spending more time alone than we’re used to.

More silences to fill. More looking at ourselves in the mirror. More room to ruminate.

Really, it’s terrifying, mostly because there is no avoiding it. Clearly, a lot of mindset shifting needed to happen, and fast.

Trigger Warnings: Self-Love, Mental Health and Breakdown, Mention of Suicide

The Bingo Effect

I did a quick google search on loving yourself and this came up.

I wasn’t sure what to feel, except that the search engine algorithm might push someone over the edge with results like that.

When we start to feel overwhelmed, like the cards are stacked against us, it becomes infinitely easier fall into a downward spiral, and we all know where this spiral takes us. I call this The Bingo Effect.

trademark pending :)

With Covid-19 forcing us into a space where darker thoughts are spurred on by our real life struggles incited by the pandemic, it becomes more dangerous. Now, we are facing the threat of The Bingo Effect as a result of a situation that is out of our control.

So let’s get one thing clear – self-love is not selfish. Please put that on repeat and schedule it as a daily reminder.

While it appears to be a new trend, there is historical significance to the concept of self-love. Aristotle spoke about its benefits in Nicomachean Ethics, and Taoism advocates for a version of it known as Zi Ran. Still, the idea of loving ourselves and putting ourselves first was not always praised. Perhaps it is easily misunderstood and interpreted as Greed, or lobha, and hence its connection with narcissism on Google. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Evidently, self-love has always been important, and just because it is a popular hashtag on Instagram does not mean it isn’t. It might, in fact, be more crucial in this climate. Someone said to me quite drastically that if the virus doesn’t end lives, its effects might drive people to take away their own.

I actually firmly believe that.

One question remains: How can we let go of our inner critic and be kinder to ourselves?

5 Very-Doable Steps to Practice Self-Love

I am no expert and don’t claim to be, but I have compiled a few of my favourite, very-doable steps, and I thought I’d share them with you.

I think self-care is linked to self-love, and that the two are interdependent. Also, another caveat, self-care is not about expensive skincare routines or must-do yoga classes. However, that is also not to say that if you decide to invest in skincare or yoga where your financial situation allows that it isn’t self-care. I think self-care is really about mindfully taking care of yourself and being conscious about your personal, mental and physical wellness, whatever that means for you.

1. Keep A Self-Love/Gratefulness Reflection Journal

What are you grateful for today? What are you proud of? What is one thing you love about yourself?

These are difficult questions to answer, but I find that really consciously asking yourself these questions and writing down the first thing that comes to your mind can help you build greater self-esteem and bring that into your consciousness.

There is no hard-and-fast rule here. If you are like me and you like writing, you can consider writing them in a journal or notebook. You could also get creative and maintain them as an Instagram story highlights, your iPhone notes, or even just sitting down for 5 minutes and listing them in your mind every night. On those days where you find yourself really struggling, you can go back to that journal or list or story as a reminder.

2. Change Your Inner Dialogue

We are our harshest critic. That is well-established but also somehow normalised and allowed to continue.

The key doesn’t lie in silencing that inner voice because that voice is useful. When people say to trust your gut, what they are really referring to is that inner voice, because it helps you make decisions and form opinions. The key actually lies in managing and changing it. It takes time, effort and practice, but changing your inner dialogue can help you gradually silence your inner bully and build an empowering voice for yourself.

One thing that works for me is rephrasing my speech. Being aware of how I speak and then rephrasing it from a negative angle to a positive one.

For example, I hated looking in a mirror because all I would hear in my head is how ugly I was. Changing my inner dialogue meant stopping myself from saying things like “I am so fat and ugly”. Instead, saying something like, “Although I have a bigger body, I am happy, healthy, and unique, and I deserve to feel proud of how far I have come.”

The “Although…, I…” technique is a real gem. Give it a shot!

3. Mindfully Practice Positive Mindset Shifts

The world is made of many different people with different bodies, cultures, genders, sexualities, skin tones, and stories. There is absolutely no reason for us to make each other feel less of ourselves for those differences. That is not right. There is even less of a reason for us to feel inferior about ourselves for those differences as well.

Stereotypes often grow into prejudice. As our social consciousness expands and improves with diversity and inclusion, there is no more room for such attitudes to breed. I think mindfully practicing positive mindset shifts can empower us in terms of stopping society-incited prejudice from seeping into our minds and affecting our self-image. That often entails a deep breath, and some courage.

For example, I never gave myself the opportunity to move my body because I was afraid of being fat-shamed at pools and gyms. When these fears come up, I tell myself to disassociate being active from weight loss. That means using some key speeches as reminders, such as:

  • Just because I have a bigger body does not mean I have to be ashamed of it.

  • I don’t need to change my body to satisfy someone else’s narrative.

  • I deserve to do the things I want to and love.

What are some affirmative statements that you love? You can set them as your phone lock screen, your desktop wallpaper, your social media bios, and even your journal cover to really drive them home.

4. Set Boundaries and Regular Social Detoxes

What do you do when your community starts to feel toxic, uncomfortable, or overwhelming? Don’t swallow that pressure. It is important that you feel safe, understood, and acknowledged in any relationship.

If your partner, friends, family, colleagues, or other acquaintances overstep your boundaries, take it as an opportunity to communicate your needs. That doesn’t mean you’re selfish. It might actually benefit the relationship to have a mutual understanding.

Advocate for yourself in a way you're most comfortable with, whether that's by physical conversations, text or call. You might approach the conversation with an emotion/experience-focus, like "That makes me uncomfortable" or "I don't feel comfortable engaging in this conversation/activity and I hope you will respect that." You can also say things with an action focus like “I was actually disappointed by (experience). Could you please (desired action) in future?”. If things turn bad, know that it is not your fault for wanting to feel understood. You can say “I’m sorry we can’t come to a common understanding” and then give each other some space. If you feel comfortable, you can check back later.

There might also be cases where the people you follow on social media put out disconfirming narratives. Don't be afraid to unfollow, restrict or block these people. Cultivating a positive space is crucial to maintaining the energy around you. Positive energy, I find, can be a great motivator.

5. Extend the Kindness to Someone Else

I find that being a friend to others encourages us to be a friend to ourselves. This is perhaps because we might sometimes draw similarities in the experiences of others. In our attempt to comfort someone else, we might find that we should also listen to our own advice. If you have the mental capacity, reach out to the people around you and check in on them.

Some essential skills include active-listening, minimal encouragers like "mm hmm" and "tell me more", effective questioning, and paraphrasing to demonstrate understanding.

And there we go! These are my go-to steps to cultivate self-love. Feel free to share with me your experiences and thoughts as well.

In all seriousness, I think 2021 will bring with it more surprises and challenges. The pandemic might not be over, but our stories aren’t either. Thank YOU for reading this, for being here, for taking that step, for simply waking up in the morning. Thank you. ♥️ You are appreciated, valued, and loved, and I wish you and your loved ones a most wonderful new year.

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