It’s been said that we can’t learn to love other people until we learn to love ourselves–and for some, that may be true. Far more often, though, I see people who have no problem loving and serving others but struggle with putting their own needs and priorities first (myself included.) Yet, when we continually put ourselves on the proverbial back-burner, we can end up exhausted, sick, and resentful.
While many people I work with agree in theory that self love is important, putting it into practice in the midst of the chaos of everyday life is a real challenge. I teach that the most important thing, at any time and in virtually every circumstance, is to be gentle with yourself. Why is this so important?
1. Internal validation
It can feel extremely rewarding to put smiles on the faces of the people we love, but it can also get tiring and exhausting if we keep striving to please others without leaving anything for ourselves. For some of us, the thought of even mildly upsetting someone can be quite debilitating; it can make us feel small and insecure. But the truth is, the person whose opinion matters the most is your own. No one is better suited to set the standards for how you want to be in the world than you are.
If giving to and pleasing others comes from a genuine desire on your part–as opposed to living up to the expectations of others–that’s okay. And luckily, most of the time you will know the difference purely based on how you feel. If you feel energized, that’s a yes; if it drains you, that’s not so good. This can be a great clue for when it’s time to step back and recalibrate. There’s no point in continuing to please others when you feel like you’re having to force yourself to do so.
Validation does not have to come from external sources. Constantly looking to validate your self worth from the outside world can be exhausting and severely damaging. Instead, try to find it within yourself!
In practice: Make a note on a post-it that says "If it's not a hell yes, it's a no!" and put it somewhere you will see if often. (Mine is by my front door.)
2. Pride in self
Pride, like almost all things, has good and bad elements but tends to get a bad rap. Proud doesn’t always equal obnoxious. When used in the right context and when paired with self-awareness, self-pride can be immensely empowering. It can give us the courage and permission to check out when we need to, so that we can come back invigorated and excited to serve others from a place that’s true to ourselves.
Humility and humbleness can be great practices (especially when it comes to checking our own personal and systemic privilege!) but there is absolutely nothing wrong with being proud of yourself, of what you’ve done, or of your character. Pride can allow us to just be without questioning each and every action. Taking pride in yourself, celebrating your victories, admiring your own ability to get through difficult situations, and a genuine love for yourself can be grounding and centering.
In practice: I challenge you to say to yourself out loud and in the mirror, one thing you are proud of today. (Maybe even start your mornings with this thought and see how it sets the tone for the rest of the day. Wink at yourself if you feel like!?)
3. To be of service to others
Finally, putting ourselves first has the beautiful side effect of allowing us to be our best selves for others as well. You’ve heard the oxygen mask metaphor: we have to take care of our own needs before we can be there for other people. (Yes, we can put our own needs aside, but only for a limited time; eventually we will reach burn out or worse.)
For many of us, the ability to show up for other people, to do something good in the world, is a daily driver. When we gently prioritize self love first, we are able to genuinely offer ourselves to other people in a way that sets us up to do the most good over the long term.
In practice: Make a list of 3 ways you want to make the world a better place. To each one, add a small action you can take this week to take care of yourself, so that you can be of benefit to others.
We can love others more than ourselves–but we can love others more when we chose to love ourselves first.
Liza Kindred is the founder of the EFF This! Meditation community and the author of EFF This! Meditation: 108 Tips, Tricks, and Ideas For When You’re Stressed Out, Anxious, or Overwhelmed. She sends out a popular weekly newsletter and can be found on Twitter and Instagram (and on the active EFF This! Meditation community Instagram.)