We have all heard the term self-love, and even amongst the most progressive and open-minded of us, it may raise a minuscule amount of incredulity and discomfort.
But it’s important for us to address what this really means at the neurologic and physiologic level, and not just leave it as soft self-affirming statements, devoid of any greater context.
I actually think that the concept of self-love is central to health, and not just mental health, but health in general, and it is especially relevant to many communities.
What is self-love?
Self-love is not just a momentary awareness of some positive attributes that one might possess, or thankfulness for some positive aspects of one’s life — it is much more stratified and connected than those temporal aspects.
Self-love is like a connective tissue of feeling about one’s self in the context of the world one lives in. It is the lattice network that holds all other emotions, and of course, by extension, all actions.
Self-love is about the general feeling that: “I’m okay.”
That’s the first step, which is the very primordial fight or flight and rest and reproduce aspects of humanity, the basic autonomic pathways that allow us to survive and have allowed us to survive for millions of years.
But even beyond that, it’s an awareness of one’s wellness in the lieu of one’s weaknesses, or one’s deficits, knowing that: “I’m here, I have certain tools, and at the end of the day, I have the capacity to not just survive, but to thrive and grow.”
Why self-love is important
The growth component of self-love is especially important, because the growth component is the hope component. It’s the future; it’s the change element. It is about our ability to adapt despite trauma.
How to practice self-love
So how does one develop that lattice and then that almost automatic thought process that “I’m going to be okay” even when going forward into the unknown? It’s by acknowledging the fact that “I’m present.”
This means, by actively thinking and meditating on the fact that I’m here, “I’m okay,” despite all the trials, tribulations, and even maladies and diseases, and the fact that in the past you’ve had occasions when you’ve moved, when you’ve needed to make a change — “I was able to take those steps.”
Again, this is also an active readdressing of the past while recreating that lattice. And it’s also the idea that if you take strategic planned steps forward, you’re going to even be in a better state.
The definition of self-love
Now, we’ve gotten to a point at this junction of the conversation where it doesn’t even sound like the word ‘love’, but it is.
Love is understanding, and self-love is understanding my own unique situation, my journey, my own failures, and still being understanding and empathic to one self despite the failures.
That’s a powerful combination of thoughts that one can exercise, foster, repeat, improve, and expand, until it becomes not just the lattice of emotion, but a force, a downhill force, that moves you towards greater self-love, because you are now consciously reinforcing the thought processes and emotions that actually got you there, but also seeing the path open up.
So self-love is not simply a prosaic pollyannaish self-affirmation, but an incredibly powerful affirmation of the self as an active agent of change.