Getting Serious About Self-Love (and a little irony)

‘You can only love someone else as much as you love yourself’ – cue collective groan.

Why do we find this phrase so irritating (and believe me, many people do)? Perhaps it’s because so few of us had self-love modeled for us by our parents. Maybe it’s because self-love is rarely defined. What does it even mean? Probably it’s because we’ve all been conditioned to believe that ‘good’ people love others and selfish people love themselves.

Let’s take a look at definitions …

The Miriam Webster dictionary defines self love as:

a : conceit

b : regard for one’s own happiness or advantage

Synonyms for self-love include: bighead, complacency, conceit, conceitedness, egotism, pompousness, pride, self-admiration, self-assumption, self-conceit, self-congratulation, self-esteem, self-glory, self-importance, self-opinion, self-satisfaction, smugness, vaingloriousness, vanity

Eek!! No wonder our relationship to the phrase is ambiguous.

Yet Miriam Webster also includes related words, which include: assurance, confidence, self-assurance, self-confidence; self-righteousness; arrogance, disdainfulness, haughtiness, imperiousness, lordliness, self-assertion, snobbishness, superciliousness, superiority; hubris, overconfidence, presumption; pretense, pretentiousness; self-centeredness, selfishness; self-pride, self-respect.

How are confidence, assurance, and self-respect listed alongside arrogance, imperiousness and snobbishness? We are clearly confused!

Why should we look at the language around self-love?

Language defines the way we see ideas and concepts. There’s no getting away from it. Each of the words listed above has an energy. If arrogance is associated with self-love, it can’t be good. If snobbishness is married to self-love, we’re in trouble. This is our conditioning and it’s up to each of us to see it and forge a new path that is kinder, gentler and more inspired.

Conversely, in psychology, self-love is about having regard for one’s well-being and happiness. Nowadays self-love more commonly means a willingness to look after oneself, whatever that looks like to the individual.

Is it really true?

So is it really true that you can only love another as much as you love yourself?

Let me tell you a story …

Last week, working my tail off to complete time sensitive offerings, I slipped into workaholic mode. It’s easy for me; both my parents are workaholics and, like them, I love my work. When this happens, I can be a little extreme. I’m lucky if I eat. My consciousness whirrs like a crazy clock. I’m super-creative. My sleep is restless. I forget about friends. I resent making dinner. I have limited time for the people I love. In short, I am driven. It’s a bitter-sweet state to be in – it feels wonderful, purposeful and slightly manic.

Hilariously, this happened whilst preparing a document called Getting Serious About Self-Love (see the end of this post), an irony I didn’t notice at the time. For me to stay creative, inspired, loving and present, I need: great sleep, good food, lots of water, plenty of time with my feet on the Earth, spaciousness and loving presence (and preferably laughter) with my children and partner.

This I did not have! So I did what I’m conditioned to do in these circumstances … I looked to others to care for me. My focus slipped from my work to my partner; was he caring about me, was he making time for me, was I being nourished by our connection?

Obviously, in the driven and disconnected state I was in, the answer was NO. I became upset. Why doesn’t he care about me? Here I am working my tail off for our family and he doesn’t even notice, much less care. In this environment, the children started acting out (the four male children – imagine for a moment). Things deteriorated.

My self-talk was thus: what the hell, no one cares about me, I deserve better than this, can’t they see I need support, blah blah blah. My partner and I started having ‘those conversations’; you know the ones that involve late nights, recriminations and lots of endless circles?

During one of these conversations, he actually said to me: “… but are you taking care of yourself?” (imagine my irritation!)

‘Well of course I am. I eat well, I go to bed early …’ etc. Which I do, normally.

But I wasn’t doing it at that time. It’s so easy to let self-care slip, especially if you’re someone used to taking on responsibility.

You can see that in a state where self-love is not present, love of others is also not present. Am I loving that man when I’m berating him for not caring about me? Am I loving my children when I am denying them my loving presence? Of course the answer is no.

To love others, we must first love ourselves.

Despite Miriam Webster, this doesn’t mean being selfish, taking advantage or pompous prioritising of our desires and wants. It means taking tender loving care of our most basic needs FIRST. For me that’s being well-nourished, well-slept, prioritising connection to the Earth, a mindset practice, spacious free time, and deep relaxation. These things leave me feeling present, connected and open. In this state I have ENORMOUS love for everyone around me (including you).

Without self-love, I am whiny, complaining and dangerously irritable! And more importantly, I don’t enjoy this precious life I am privileged to be living.

Are you prioritising self-love and self-care? What does it look like for you? What do you really need to give yourself so that you can live connected and present? Tell me in the comments.

And if you’d like to dive deeper into this, you can download my Getting Serious About Self-Love pdf (yes that one) HERE.


  • Laura

    Reply Reply April 7, 2017

    Reading this made me chuckle, because I see so much of myself in your words! We work so hard to rid ourselves of these old patterns, then as soon as things get complicated we slip right back into them!

    “Constant vigilance!”

    (as “Mad-Eye Moody” liked to exclaim!) is the only way to keep noticing & gently correcting our paths back to ourselves.
    Thanks for the timely reminder! xxxx

    • darling_lover

      Reply Reply April 8, 2017

      Indeed Laura!! Constant vigilance is definitely the thing. It would be lovely if there was a ‘softer’ term for it that didn’t imply so much discipline. Any hint of discipline and I get all rebellious!! I guess it’s really about staying connected to knowing how beautiful life can be when the mindset stuff is getting airtime, and how cruddy it can get when it’s neglected!

  • Margaret Bending

    Reply Reply April 7, 2017

    Ha ha very timely Pollyanna,
    I have been having a private battle between “others” versus myself.
    Who gets looked after first?
    It gets very confusing for sure.
    Others usually win, because that is part of my pattern. Being the youngest child, it always seemed I was last on the priority list.
    I was mean’t to have an exhibition in early March which has quickly become early May, and then I had to change it to the following week because my daughter changed the date of her baby shower.
    Do I sound like I’m winging?
    So there is a baby, a wedding and a funeral that have been receiving more attention than me.
    I feel better about myself, when I exercise, make healthy juices for myself, go to yoga, and spend a little time in Nature, and maybe hang out with my camera, or visit a friend for a chat.
    It is all a bit confusing, is that being selfish?
    I can relate to your story a lot. But is it a woman’s dilemma?
    Men don’t seem to have the same sense of thinking that doing something for themselves – like going to the gym, fishing, or bike riding for instance as selfish.

    • darling_lover

      Reply Reply April 8, 2017

      Hello Margie. I don’t think you’re being selfish at all. And there are those times in life when circumstance can get in the way of self-care. They are the times when it becomes even more important to love yourself with good sleep, good food and lots of mindset work. They are also the easiest times to neglect that, so if you’re still doing it – YAY!

      I believe women have been more conditioned by society to put themselves last. I don’t think it’s an inherent trait of females. Men have been more conditioned to not show weakness (as an example). We can all shrug off these chains of conditioning once we’re aware of them. x

  • Deniece

    Reply Reply April 8, 2017

    Oh Pollyanna…where oh where was this years ago when I was in the midst of children and marriage and certainly not loving myself ..and..definately whining at times. I love that you have shared this. It all makes perfect sense.
    I also see that I have definately improved my self love over the last 5 years. My self care now involves yoga, healthy eating, good sleep, morning beach walks, family time, friends time…basically being connected to myself, the Earth and family and friends.
    Thank you so much for sharing 🌻💜

    • darling_lover

      Reply Reply April 10, 2017

      Hi Deniece – how brilliant to see how much you’ve improved your self love. And yes, it would be amazing if the message could get to more women, especially those with young children. x

  • Ellie

    Reply Reply April 10, 2017

    Oh Pollyanna,
    Such insight as ever. This really struck a chord with me as I too can let my work/study overtake my existence (and my family too). It’s really interesting because yes, I would slip into thinking I was disconnected from my loves but in fact, I am disco slipping into disconnect with myself which makes it hard to be aligned with all my treasured people! I really do need to make time for plugging in to myself and my needs..self-care for me, is downtime away from the textbooks and being on call, taking time to work with my inner life & intuition, walking in the forest everyday, gardening & drinking in nature, connecting into rhythms & earth-based spirituality and sometimes just making the baseline of eat, sleep, bathe!

    • darling_lover

      Reply Reply April 10, 2017

      Ellie, I love all of your plugging in activities! And curious, is ‘disco slipping’ a thing, or is it a weird autocorrect? 🙂

  • Lisa

    Reply Reply April 26, 2017

    Obviously, in the driven and disconnected state I was in, the answer was NO. I became upset. Why doesn’t he care about me? Here I am working my tail off for our family and he doesn’t even notice, much less care. In this environment, the children started acting out (the four male children – imagine for a moment). Things deteriorated.

    I had to laugh at this bc yes i did imagine 4 male childs acting out and u just kind of standing there in the middle of it. And aaargh u descri ed exactly what i go into. I havemt looed at the pdf yet tho how ironic!!

    I was pondering u saying to be kind to myself today and all day I was like what does that actually look like.. hello atm i loath myself was the conclusion – and i just read ur self judgement blog so thank u for a double whammy of examples of what i do and how to not do them. Ur words came straight out of my head!

    Thank u so much for sharing!! I am so so so happy and appreciate the work u do and words u write pls keep taking care of beautiful you xx

    • darling_lover

      Reply Reply April 27, 2017

      I love this Lisa! I love that you’re asking yourself the question and that you’ve named the self-loathing. It so gets in the way! So how about the question ‘What do you really need to give yourself so that you can live connected and present?’ I’d love to hear your answer.

  • Amanda

    Reply Reply June 18, 2017

    I love this Pollyanna, thank you for sharing.
    I recently became aware that I am inclined towards being an “overachiever”. I had always thought I was a slacker, and I was continually telling myself that I could and should do better, try harder, make more effort. I was comparing myself to others and I was not celebrating my achievements, mostly I was not even noticing my achievements. What I was noticing when I was down on me was how hard it all was and that no-one was helping me!
    So, to be kinder to me I am now noticing my successes, especially the small ones, and celebrating them.
    Another commitment I have made to myself is to only say ‘yes’ to something when I really mean it, meaning if I say ‘yes’ I must do it. It also means that I have to say ‘no’ sometimes which has not always been easy for me.
    This commitment has helped me feel pretty good about myself. When I have followed through on the things I have said yes to, I get to mentally tick them off and celebrate another achievement!
    Thank you and Lots of Love to US

    • darling_lover

      Reply Reply June 19, 2017

      I LOVE ‘lots of love to US’. Imagine if everyone started saying that. It feels wonderful!! And I can totally relate to everything you describe. Kudos to you for being kind to yourself. x

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