The concept of loving oneself is the most difficult for people to grasp. We’ve learned to equate love with feeling good, and they’re not the same. Acts of love don’t always feel good at first, especially when letting go of something that temporarily uplifts you. Self-love is about replacing the momentary hit with a permanent feeling of well-being no matter what’s happening around or within you.
Loving yourself means that you take good care of yourself and others. This doesn’t mean you indulge in things that cause you harm, including overdoing healthy activities. Just because you like to exercise doesn’t mean you push beyond your physical limits or cause yourself injuries. There’s no point in replacing one addiction with another. Self-love is about treating yourself like you would a small child — learning good physical and mental life skills.
I often go round and round with patients. Some think that if they eat sugar, spend money, gamble, have sex, drink, etc., they are loving themselves. Of course, none of these things are bad in moderation, until they become all-consuming and difficult to reverse. “I am loving myself when I drink, drug, watch porn, eat ice cream, smoke, etc.,” are often the responses to suggested behavior changes even despite the harm these excessive behaviors cause. “It doesn’t feel loving to give up what I enjoy the most. I don’t feel like preparing a meal, taking a hot bath, meditating, exercising, or talking about my feelings. I deserve to feel better now.” The quick fix might be the immediate cure for what ails you, but in the long run, it’s also the fastest way to ruin your career, health, relationships, and future. Most important, the quickest way to lose yourself.
Love is an Action — Good feelings will follow good choices, but good decisions are learned. Kids left alone tend to do what feels best. Stay up late, sleep late, eat whatever they want, whenever they want. Skip school, ignore homework, watch tv or play video games. Never do laundry or dishes, skip baths, and goof off all day. Loving our children still allows them to do some of that but with a different consciousness — staying physically and mentally healthy. Rigidity is not good, but children need structure and discipline, and it’s up to the parents to inspire their kids to have loving actions. Their bodies need the proper fuel (nutrition), rest, and physical activity, to develop healthy organs and brain functioning. Their minds need adequate guidance, including values and how to get along with others. Most important, children need parents who model healthy behaviors and take the time to explain and distinguish why some choices are better than others.
Physical Love — This means caring for your body like the precious temple that it is. Some people treat their animals or cars better than their bodies. They wouldn’t dream of giving their dogs drugs or letting their cars lose their shine. Yet, they treat their own bodies like toxic waste dumps with organs to be used and abused. Then, because their minds have been hijacked by the thing that’s getting them high, they have substituted love for escape. Loving yourself means caring for your body in the way it was designed. Feeding the body with the foods to optimally function, exercise for endurance, proper rest to regenerate, proper cleansing, and adequate clothing are all acts of self-love.
Emotional Love — Means being in touch with your feelings and processing them in healthy ways. You allow yourself to feel, and then you work through those emotions until you restore yourself to peace. You don’t stuff or medicate emotions. You purge them by releasing them. This can be done verbally or through writing. You cry when you’re sad. You talk about anger and hurt. Emotional love means releasing toxic feelings and making room for positive emotions. It means taking in the beauty around you. Emotional love is about sharing and receiving good feelings with others. It means learning healthy intimacy with others.
Spiritual Love — Being spiritual isn’t about meditating on a mountaintop or spending weeks in an Ashram. Spiritual love is about connecting with the inner divine and exuding that outward. That can be done through quiet time or inspiration through art, music, reading inspirational materials, nature, a favorite hobby, or spiritual learning centers. It’s not a requirement to learn spiritual love through organized religion. Finding a spiritual connection is possible by getting out of your head and being aware of the love and beauty around you. Spiritual love is about being the love that you want. Most important, it means refusing to be driven by your ego — the driver of chaos. You choose peace instead of stress. You choose kindness no matter what. But you don’t allow yourself to be walked on, not even by yourself. Self-abuse is the most common abuse of all. Love is strong, not weak.
You may not feel like doing the loving thing, but if you want to feel good consistently, you can learn to love yourself. Once you replace bad habits with acts of self-love, you won’t want to harm yourself anymore because it simply feels too good to do right by yourself. Here’s the question: Do you want to feel good about yourself for brief moments followed by suffering, or do you want to feel physically and emotionally good about yourself most of the time?