Self Love: Selfish or Self Responsible?

Nine days ago, Layne and I were down just south of Coffs Harbour, Australia celebrating the wedding of our son Tim to Emma, who has felt like family for many years. It was a magical weekend with wonderful friends from all over the country, and a poignant reminder of the significant role of love in our lives.

We can think of love in terms of romantic love, of course, but love is a much bigger concept than just that. All the different aspects of love begin with the ability to love yourself. Growing up as I did smack in the middle of America’s heartland, Self-love was not a topic that was discussed. Ever. We (particularly women) learned very early to put others first. There was this unspoken idea that self-love was selfish or narcissistic, and that martyrdom and self-sacrifice were virtuous. Nobody taught us the importance of keeping our own tanks full so that we could love the people in our lives fully, and more importantly, without resentment.

But love for yourself is the foundation upon which everything else in your life is built.  As Jeffrey Borenstein, President of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation puts it: “Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth. Self-love means having a high regard for your own well-being and happiness. Self-love means taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your well-being to please others.”

At the heart of it, yoga is the process of recognizing that you are nothing less than a miracle – a perfectly unique and exquisite human being. On your yoga mat, loving yourself starts with the acceptance of what is; both the joy of finding a new pose and the frustration over the limitations you encounter. When you have the courage to acknowledge the things you perceive as ‘imperfections’ without beating yourself up, you develop an authenticity that allows for real connection.

Learning to be completely at ease in your own skin, being equally comfortable with your highs and lows, and tending yourself gently so that you can offer your gifts to the world is probably one of the most important things we can do. Not just for ourselves, but for the people in our lives. It’s the opposite of being narcissistic or self-centered. It’s being self-responsible.

As author Margot Anand writes: “Loving yourself does not mean being self-absorbed or narcissistic, or disregarding others. Rather it means welcoming yourself as the most honoured guest in your own heart; a guest worthy of respect, a lovable companion.”

© Julie Smerdon 2022

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