The term “self-love” has become ubiquitous in our modern world. From meditation to spa treatments, we’re constantly being told about the importance of caring for ourselves.
But has self-love just become a marketing term used by brands to peddle their products? How can we truly benefit from an individualised and introspective attitude?
Esther Perel is a couples therapist who explores the interworkings of human psychology and relationships. She’s known for her many books on this topic, as well as her hugely popular podcast Where Should We Begin? where she lets listeners hear real therapy sessions with couples.
“Western culture is obsessed with the exhortation of individualism,” she explains in her article The Myth of Self-Love. “While the idea of selfhood is not new, different cultures map the self on a continuum: unique or varied, separate or together, independent or conformist.”
While pop culture likes to tell us that self-care and self-love come from within, the reality is that this idea of ourselves is made up many things.
“The self is also entangled in a cosmic connection with the people around us and with social, political, and economic structures,” says Perel. “We don’t just learn to love ourselves by ourselves.”
Taking time alone, getting a massage or cooking a nice meal for oneself are wonderful things to do. But this is not self-love, says Perel. “It’s self-reliance and self-sufficiency.”
So, what is self-love and how can we practice it on a healthy way?
As Perel explains, loving ourselves means being able to see our flaws and still hold ourselves in high regard.
“Self-love is the ability to not fall into a puddle of contempt even when we mess up,” she says. “It’s trying new things knowing that we could fail, without thinking of ourselves, therefore, as failures. Can we take that understanding and self-compassion into our connections with others?”
This also means exploring the complexities of human nature. “Human beings are simultaneously dependent and self-reliant,” says Perel.
“Self-love is less about the ability to withstand loneliness or establish independence and more about awareness and acceptance of our incompleteness. It’s about letting others love us even when we feel unlovable because their version of us is often kinder than our own.”
Esther Perel’s 6 questions to ask yourself:
- Can I acknowledge that I messed up without telling myself I’m a mess?
- Can I take responsibility without blaming myself?
- Can I apologize for a mistake instead of hoping everyone will just move on?
- Can I acknowledge a time when I could have been a better leader in my own life?
- Can I accept that I will be okay even if someone who hurt me—a parent, former partner, friend, or stranger—never acknowledges the pain they caused?
- Can I hold my point of view without being validated for it?