There is a small – but significant – difference between self-love and self-care.
You can care for yourself without loving yourself, but you can’t love yourself without caring for yourself. A paradox? Possibly. I have personally experienced moments where I care for myself by exercising, trying to eat well, or doing other things that are considered “self-care,” but I would then look in the mirror and realize there was no positive emotion behind my actions. They were only ways to hide what I didn’t want to admit: I needed to learn how to properly love myself.
Proper self-love takes vulnerability, courage, and personal analysis. It’s not a mathematical equation. There is no right answer, but there are ways to discover what is right for you.
Since everyone is different and every perception is a personal reality, I’ll be writing about my own reality and what I’ve experienced with this concept.
For a long time, I had been struggling to understand what was “good for me”. It was only a few years ago that I learned I hadn’t been treating myself well, and I decided that I needed to take better care of myself.
It began with truly listening to how I was feeling. I allowed the feelings and asked myself “why don’t I feel good, and how do I want to feel instead?”
This was a key factor in how I decided to take steps toward actively loving myself. I call this advancing from short-term self-love to long-term self-love.
Short-term self-love is about doing activities that bring us immediate satisfaction, but may not necessarily help our wellbeing for the long haul. This often looks like simple self-care activities done without much extra care put into them. For me, sitting on the couch with a glass of wine and a pizza would make me feel content after a rough mental health day, but the moment I got off the couch, I would still feel the weight of my negative mental health. I was practicing self-care by trying to relax, but I was also not acknowledging or addressing the root cause.
Long-term self-love is treating ourselves with respect by courageously doing what will help our wellbeing in the long run.
What I’ve learned (over much wine and pizza) is that I want to feel good all the time. Even though it’s unrealistic to always feel that way, I can work toward that feeling by being vulnerable and asking myself “why do I feel bad?”
Once I began to understand why I was feeling a certain type of way, I began to make goals to achieve a feeling of relaxation and accomplishment.
Below are activities that help me love myself in the long-term:
- Daily meditation
- Surrounding myself with people who make me smile
- Reaching out to people I trust when I’m feeling anxious or down
- Taking medication
- Doing things that I’m passionate about, and that allow a release of anxiety
- Eating “healthy” for myself – this is all about what makes me* feel healthy when I eat
- Setting goals and constantly working towards them
- Positive affirmations
*This is an ambiguous statement that works for me personally and is not intended to be advice for all
A lot of these can be a part of one’s short-term self-love, but when I couple them with self-reflection, they lead me toward actively loving myself everyday. Being vulnerable is one of the most challenging things someone can do, but it is critical in the journey toward self-love. Vulnerability requires letting go of all the shields that we use to block bad feelings. But, putting those guards down will help us learn to mend what seems to be “broken.”
I began focusing my energy on taking steps forward. I went to see a therapist (well…I saw a few actually) and I was officially diagnosed with ADHD. I was nervous and didn’t know what it meant, but I started going regularly and taking medication, and I started to feel better.
Trying to help ourselves is difficult, but if it’s broken down into segments it can make it feel not as scary. Let me be clear — for me, it’s more often scary than not, but fighting for my wellbeing is worth the fear.
By accepting my ADHD, I allowed myself to become more vulnerable than I had ever been before, and I could feel the positive impact. I was able to understand my weaknesses and strengths, which helped me better understand myself.
Now that I knew my strengths and how to ask for help, I was able to begin analyzing what was making me feel good or bad. I thought that medicine and self-confidence were the end-all-be-alls, but I was mistaken – the real work had just begun.
By listening to my body and mind, I was able to fully understand what self-love means to me.
For me, self-love is about truly listening to and understanding how I feel. It’s actively caring about myself in ways that drive me to constantly work on my wellbeing. Self-love is finding strength in self-vulnerability and learning to thrive off of what I discover.
There is no right or wrong way to love yourself, but it does require you to truly understand yourself. It’s extremely difficult, and I am still on this journey; this is simply what I have experienced in my short life so far.
To everyone that is afraid to begin, remember that you deserve to love yourself, and all that matters is that you take action, big or small, every day. Start in the short-term and work your way up one self-care activity and one question at a time.
About the Author
My name is Cole Swanson, I’m a young creative who loves to follow my passions and aims to make a mark on the world around me. Through my love of writing, I have paved myself a path that allows me to always tell stories. With each blog post, I desire to share a story in hopes that it allows others to find the courage to share their own.
I’ve been actively working on my own mental health for the past three years. During that period, I learned of the struggles of wanting to give up trying to improve myself, as well as of the joy I feel when I know I’m becoming healthier.
At NAMI, I act as a volunteer for their Ending the Silence program where I talk to students about the power of vulnerability, empathy, and self-advocacy, so they can find the power to redefine the stigma of mental health.
The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of NAMI Eastside. NAMI Eastside will not be held liable for false, inaccurate, inappropriate or incomplete information. The content should be used for general information purposes only.