Self-Love – What Does It Look Like?

Do you love yourself? - graphic of a woman hugging herself

Em of From Famine to Feast wrote recently about why self-love is a good call, whereas my friends at WeDIDit wrote about feeling relief that self-love wasn’t required to move forward. Around the same time, Andy of Eden in Babylon was talking about the clusterfuck entailed in the word love and the many different things we use it to refer to. Pulling that all together, I thought I’d chime in with some of my own thoughts.

Different kinds of love

The English word love is weird because it refers to so many things. I love my guinea pigs, peanut butter cups, cheeseburgers, the movie Girls Just Want to Have Fun, my family, Steven Pinker (one of my academic crushes, but I’m also in love with his hair), Casper the guinea pig’s hair, talking about purple people eaters, the comedian Trevor Noah, Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall, Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, Liquid Sunshine essential oil blend, the colour blue, my maternity leggings from Gap, my knee-high boots that are warm and comfortable and perfect with said leggings, my cozy slippers, and the pair of hospital socks I still have. What do all those things have in common? Not much of anything. Do I feel the same kind of love for them all? Not a chance.

Okay, so if love, in general, can be that many things, what can self-love be? Well, I strongly love the guinea pigs, but they’re cute and cuddly as can be, and I am decidedly not cute and cuddly. Trevor Noah? No, he’s people, and I don’t actually like people. Liquid Sunshine? I like it, but I could live without it, and I can’t live without me. How about talking about purple people eaters? That’s quirky, and I’m into quirky. Maternity leggings? We’re getting closer.

I don’t think self-love is generally, if ever, like my love for Mr. Darcy, Brad Pitt, or Steven Pinker’s hair. It certainly never has been for me.

Comfortable self-love

But I do have self-love. It’s just a different kind of love. It’s a comfortable kind of love. A maternity leggings, cozy slippers, and hospital socks kind of comfortable. There is nothing and no one I have spent more time with than myself. I’m most comfortable in my own company, and much prefer that to being around anyone else.

My self-love isn’t pretty, it doesn’t try to be, and it doesn’t want to be. Sure, it’s not perfect, because I’m not perfect, but that imperfection is what makes it so uniquely me. It’s like a flannel onesie with a butt flap, but also a hole or two or in the butt area because it’s worn out. It’s got stains on it from where guinea pigs have peed on me. It was blue a long time ago, but it’s faded to a nondescript greyish hue. Between all the guinea pig hair and my own hair that’s stuck on it, it’s a lot heavier than it used to be, but I’m indifferent to that.

I like my self-love. There’s nothing fancy or flashy or exciting about it, and the only time it causes any tingles is when I’m just starting to feel the dampness of guinea pig pee soaking through it. It’s not something to be paraded out into the world; it hangs out at home with me and the guinea pigs. Unlike the brief appearances that Trevor Noah, Mr. Darcy, and Brad Pitt make, it’s settled in for the long haul.

Self-love doesn’t need to be pretty

Pinterest and Instagram and advertisements galore make self-love look like this beautiful thing that we’re all supposed to have that makes us shiny and sparkly. Perhaps some people’s self-love is like that, but I’ve got some pretty strong doubts about that. And really, why would you want shiny and sparkly when you can have flannel butt flap?

Now I’m curious—do you love yourself? If so, what does that look like? If not, what do you feel like it’s supposed to look like?

58 thoughts on “Self-Love – What Does It Look Like?”

  1. I agree with your self love in plying the simple comforts of cozy slippers and lounge wear, the restful bits of morning meditation and a healthy respect (a work in progress), of my real abilities and more importantly, my Limits. Great share. Quite thought provoking.! Thank you Ashley Leia.

  2. I was just thinking about this very thing yesterday. I had a very bad day and was questioning a number of things. I guess, any self-love I have got interrupted by life and people… toxic people. But, then I told myself that I had responsibility in the situation I was upset over. Ugh. If self-love, for me, were so easy. In a nutshell, I find it hard, if for no other reason than mental illness.

  3. I loved this. So clever and quirky. I so enjoyed the pointing out of the challenges of language: you’re so right – my love of mint milk chocolate is very much different from my feelings towards my kids or my cat. A truly fantastic post 💗

  4. If I am tired or having a bit of a bad day, then I after to be aware of myself, so that I don’t become a nasty bitch to myself, like calling myself stupid bitch for example.
    This is something I have worked on for a few years now and got better with. But I do have to still check myself sometimes.

    If I was to love myself the same way as if I was in a relationship, loving someone, then I would say, no I don’t love myself. Not that I will ever go down the route of being in a relationship again.

    But my self love is the same as self care, making sure I take time out and have a break. Stopping for at least 10 mins, but more likely much longer and watch dvd’s and nothing else.
    Or a pampering session at home.
    If I do self care, then I feel I am giving myself self love at the same time.
    As well as not stopping myself, from pulling myself down.

    1. Relationship love can definitely lead to a lot damage.

      Being kind to ourselves and prioritizing self-care are so important, even if they’re not always easy to remember or feel entitled to.

  5. We still feel how we said it recently, which we think was that we don’t have to love ourself to provide self-care. Liz said in the comment above that her self-care is self-love. We used to feel love for people. Maybe we do on occasion; if so, it’s muffled. By trauma, depression, experience, training from media and society maybe. We want to stay open to love’s positivity. Our last meal would be iced black tea and bbq spare ribs with fries please

  6. I guess the truthful answer is that sometimes I love myself and sometimes I don’t. I think I always should (in the ideal) but in reality I sometimes hate myself, and I sometimes am indifferent to the concept of love, as pertains to self.

    This is thinking of “love” as a verb applied to experience, not to identity. That is, if I am having the experience of seeing myself budget money or time wisely, not go for the unnecessary cookie or cupcake, set up a peaceful atmosphere with quiet music and incense, etc., these are acts of self-love related to self-care. I get a better pleasure out of taking care of myself than I do from vices and excesses. It’s a different kind of pleasure — Solomon discusses the difference in the Proverbs.

    If we think of self-love as applying to one’s personality or identity, I would have to say “no” — because that type of “love” is arrogant. As in: “I just LOVE myself! I’m the greatest thing since sliced cheese!”

    Interestingly, in the ancient Greek language, the word for self-love is divided into these two opposing meanings, yet it’s the same word, “philautia.” It is used both for hubris, and for the healthy form of self-love involving self-care and a healthy self-esteem.

    I do notice that the way you describe your self-love and preference to enjoy your company sounds very much like what I do when I believe I am doing God’s will for myself. My more-or-less Christian opinion is that you are probably receiving His love, without identifying it as such.

    Another very thought-provoking post. (And thanks for the link!)

    1. I like the self-love/self-care connection, especially with some self-compassion thrown in. Taking care of ourselves makes life more livable.

      Regarding self-love and arrogance, it’s interesting that our society in general seems to view loving others, warts and all, as a good thing, but loving ourselves in that same way is considered narcissistic. I think it certainly can be arrogant if one places the self above others, but I don’t think it’s arrogant to love ourselves on par with our loves for others. If love is used to elevate its targets above others, that’s likely a problem regardless of who the target is.

      1. I hear you, but I just think there should be two different words. I think if we love ourselves and love others with the same “good love” — concern for their needs and wishes, as well as for our own — there’s nothing wrong with spreading that kind of love all about humanity — and towards animals for that matter, and all living things.

        I think where you hit the nail is here: “If love is used to elevate its targets above others, that’s likely a problem regardless of who the target is.” And that word ought to be something other than “love” because “real love” isn’t about manipulating people like that.

        Let me try to clarify by using an example from my own recent experience. I learned something about myself when I was working with the Kids.

        It came to my attention that I was both a “master of flattery” and also of “self-deprecation.” It was Cody actually who discerned this, and he suggested that they were two sides of the same coin.

        In other words, I thought I was giving genuine encouragement to the Kids, but instead I was only buttering them up with transparent cajolery. I flattered them because I feared losing them, because in my self-deprecation, I portrayed myself as such a slouch or dork or doofus that I would NEED their more sophisticated energies to pick up the slack.

        Real love (so to speak) isn’t trying to get something out of someone by flattery. If Love needs something, Love is honest and courageous enough to ask for it directly. Love also doesn’t just “feign humility” by talking oneself down all the time.

        I wish I could explain it as well as he did. It was on one of the podcasts — the one with me, Cody & Kelsey. those three. In my defense, I will say that I did not KNOW I was doing this until it was pointed out to me. I thought that to continually praise them and express how lucky a lazy slacker like me is to have them was the thing I was SUPPOSED to do — for some reason. I guess I just thought it was part of keeping the group morale up.

        So it’s an example of someone placing their self far BELOW the others, and if that’s not the actual distribution of human values in reality (which it obviously isn’t) then it’s really “love.” Love has truth in it — not lies.

        And that’s the whole thing of St. Paul saying we are to “speak the truth in love.” And I believe that kind of love ought to be applied both to self and others. The idea of “using” love obviates love in the process. Once it becomes a device aimed at a target, it is no longer love.

        (More like war, but now I’m beginning to sound like the aging sixties hippie that I am, so I’ll close & hopefully return to the 21st Century.)

        1. Target probably wasn’t the right word for me to use in that instance; object is more what I was going for. But I would agree, manipulative behaviour isn’t a manifestation of love. And then whether love is more about internal experience or external behaviours is a whole other question.

          1. Yes – “object” removes the warlike flair. Love is always “directed” at someone or something — whether it’s self, others, or simply an experience. As in, I love running, and I love playing the piano. (Or even a beautiful non-human object, such as “I love Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.”)

            Whether love is more about internal experience or external behaviors really is another question, and perhaps one for another discussion. I think I did refer to Deitrich Bonhoffer as having said: “Love is not something you feel. Love is something you do.”

            When a total stranger let me shower at her house and have dinner with her and her husband when I was homeless, I “felt” more love than I did from scores of friends and family members who would say the words “I love you” and not let me through their front door to spare my life.

            This really could open up a whole new forum here — I’m procrastinating going down to the doctor right now, so if I continue to procrastinate, that probably would not be “True Self Love” because true self love would want to know if one’s liver were inflamed, rather than continue to postpone a potentially unpleasant discussion.

            Tata for now.

            1. Only made an appointment for Tuesday. I’ll let you know, hopefully the elevated enzyme in the liver is something temporal, such as I had two strong cups of coffee in the morning after fasting before going to the hospital. I’ve never had any liver problems before (or any physical problems, to be honest, except for hypothyroidism.) But you get to be about my age & I hear things start gradually breaking down. Hopefully it’s nothing.

            2. Ashley, the low income clinic is driving me nuts! They want me to go through the same damn hoopla to demonstrate that my primary diagnosis is ADHD and not Bipolar One Hypomanic Disorder that I went through with them THREE YEARS AGO!

              I just wrote to the one doctor in town who, when I asked him if I were “manic,” immediately reeled off five knowns of bipolar disorder and articulately explained why I was not displaying ANY of them!

              Then when I started to talk about ADHD, he immediately sat down and wrote me a scrip with no further comment.

              The scrip aggravated the sleep paralysis unfortunately. Not sure if I’ve already spouted off my pseudoscience about all that, but I will only do so upon request.

              The only reason I left the obviously more competent doctor is because in the haze of pandemic hysteria, we couldn’t connect for over 14 days on a levothyroxine refill one time, and the quickest way to get the levo was to go back to the low income clinic.

              Well let’s keep our fingers crossed.

            3. Here’s my letter to the portal of the previous doc I should not have left. I reference Steely Dan because he & I both like their work. (He’s also a musician, been a bass player in a punk band and a lead singer in a ska band):

              Hi Doctor P—-
              I’m sorry to come across like a broken Steely Dan record, but these guys at CHAS are into making me go through a whole big hoopla to prove that I am ADHD and not bipolar, and I already went through this with them three years ago through a frustrated period of self-advocacy. The only reason I went back to CHAS was because at the time I was having a difficult time getting a levothyroxine refill. Well now it’s CHAS that is giving me the hard time, and I mainly am writing because I have 4 levos left, I’ll be out again on Monday, and my dosage for quite some time has been 137 mikes. Anyway I can just get my levo and say goodbye to these guys? I will admit to my own sometime frustration with the medical profession, but if you knew what that misdiagnosis did to me in 2004, you would understand why I am frustrated that it has followed me on pieces of paper not only for 17 years now, but that it even followed me from California to another State. The words coming out of my nearly 70-year-old mouth are true. I think they’re used to people trying to pull some scam or something, but I am not one of those people.

              About ADHD & Paralysis, my experience is that the Deficit in ADHD is pretty identical to the Paralysis in Sleep Paralysis – I mean, in sense experience. Probably when the Deficit is treated in the waking state, it somehow migrates over to the sleep state where it is 100 times more uncomfortable. Granted, my theory may be pseudoscientific, but it would explain why I’m having difficulty finding ADHD meds that do not aggravate my pre-existing sleep paralysis condition (pre-existing from the age of 14.) From my research, I must have had untreated ADHD my entire life. Can somebody call 2– ——3 and/or reply to this message. I’ll try to stay with one doctor if I can find one I click with, and you’ve come closer than anybody else so far.

            4. All Dr P did was pass the buck, brush me off, and throw me back to the low income clinic. I just got 3 mos of levo there, had a long talk with the doctor, and concluded by thanking him for the levo and asking him to give me a week to think about the rest. I’m starting to wonder if the ADHD ought to be dealt with by some kind of natural solution, and I’m starting to question the value of having abandoned my pre-2008 practice of jump starting my day with a super-strong cup of coffee, so as to spare me the half hour or more of literal hell that doesn’t end until I get caffeine in my system. It would up my levo dosage, but it might be the lesser of all evils. If you SAW me during that early morning hour, I’m sure, like the rest of my friends and family, you would sympathize.

              I’m thinking Dr P dumped me off on the low income doc because I’m a poor boy and that place is only for rich guys, but that’s probably only a “Stuck point.” He did seem an excellent diagnostician, I just don’t like being blown off & jerked around because, to coin a phrase, I’m too old for that shit.

    1. I worry less now about being presentable when I take out the garbage, check the mail, etc., but do to try to avoid commando-style exposures. That being said, I have several well-loved items with holes in the crotch, but they’re not visible when standing so I’m okay with that… 😉

  7. I don’t understand trying to visualize, in concrete terms, an emotion…Or even thinking about whether or not I love myself – then again the concept of self-care – what is that?

  8. Self-like? Yes. There are some aspects of myself I’d like to change, but on the whole, I like myself.
    There was a book title a few years back, I’M OKAY, YOU’RE OKAY. I never read the book, but yeah, I’m okay. Most days 🙂

  9. I’ve clearly held assumptions about self love, when it’s probably going to be very individual!

    I can’t say I love myself, I’m still working on self acceptance. But I reflect a lot on what a friend told me when I started becoming aware of my alters:
    “Your brain has given you the chance to do that yourself… You can love yourselves the way people should have loved you.”

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