The bible teaches us to die to self and to lay down our lives for others, so every time someone mentioned the word self-care or self-love, I would cringe because I thought they are promoting selfishness and being self-centered. I thought to myself, surely everyone loves themselves, no one hates themselves. And those people who commit suicide, they are definitely cowards because they are unable to face hardships and choose death as an escape. That is cowardice to the core.

I am sure there are people who still think like I used to and I am thankful to God that my ignorance days are over. One day someone asked, ‘would you talk to someone else the way you talk to yourself?’ and my immediate response was ‘heavens no! That person would think I am mean, derogating and arrogant.’ I stopped in my tracks because I realised how I had been treating myself. I was a pro at loathing and hating myself for the longest time I can remember. I didn’t know how to stand for myself, look out for myself, always putting myself last.

It was easy for me to walk away from tough situations than face confrontation, and while there are many reasons to that, one of them was my inability to see my worth. I blamed myself for everything, even when it rained suddenly and I got soaked I would wonder if I am being punished for something I did earlier. It was horrible to live in my head, so I numbed with work, TV, music, reading, anything that would stop me from facing the failure that I was in my head. Thankfully, a series of events led me to be rebellious, isolated with no choice but to face myself. I unpacked everything that I had believed and how most of it was a lie and discovered the art of loving myself.

And this is what I learned and still learning:

Self-love is loving yourself. Unconditionally. Prioritising yourself and caring for all of you. It doesn’t have to come at a cost of others, it simply means that you are pouring from a filled place and offering your best self.

Self-love is caring for your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs. The same way you wouldn’t starve your child and would do anything for them, is how you ought to love yourself. It is getting to know and protecting yourself. What triggers you? What are your behaviours based on? Why do you believe what you believe? Why do you have the values that you hold? What traumas are you carrying and are you aware of what triggers them? Why do you act a certain way with some people? Why do you hate or despise certain things or people? It is setting boundaries and guarding your heart above all things. It is going on dates with yourself and enjoying your own company without feeling lonely, it is embarking on a journey of discovering and establishing yourself. It is knowing your flaws intimately, accepting them, learning to do better and giving yourself a break when you fail.

Self-care is checking yourself. It is asking yourself if you are the toxic one. It is asking yourself why you enjoy drama and gossip. Is it the instant good feeling that you get when someone has it worse than you? Is it the adrenaline you get because that is all you know and don’t wish anyone any good? It is understanding why you keep running back to the same people that treat you like garbage. Is it because you don’t deem yourself worthy of being loved? Is it because you are so afraid of being on your own that you would settle for anyone?

You cannot give something you do not have. Yes, you can lay your life for others. Yes, you can sacrifice the best for your children and loved ones. Yes, you are capable of loving others and giving your all. However, it will always come with a condition. You will always remember what you gave even if you don’t tell anyone. You will be bitter and spiteful because no one loved you back to the same extent. You cannot give what you do not have. And loving yourself does not mean you are putting others aside, it simply means that you value yourself as much as you do them.

Sometimes we do not know that we are projecting our inner feelings onto others and we end up hurting them because we are hurt and we don’t even know it. We require perfection from others because we hold ourselves to a higher standard, we are so hard to please because inside we do not deem ourselves worthy. We are afraid of accepting others without conditions because ourselves, we do not feel enough.

Self-love is a lot of work and an endless journey. There is constant learning and unlearning but the freedom we get from it is priceless.

Self-love is surrounding yourselves with the right people. Your heart knows the right people for you, trust your heart and not just your hurt. It is talking with a trusted one and processing things together so that you do not get swallowed in this life’s hurdles. It is also saying no and not feeling the need to explain yourself.

Self-care is seeing a therapist, if you can afford one. It is taking solo trips, getting yourself ice cream, taking a break from a week’s hard work and sitting down with a cup of tea and listening to your favourite music.

Self-love results with us giving others permission to be, to love them with no conditions. It results in abstaining ourselves to judge others and knowing that everyone is fighting a battle. It results in feeling empathy for those suffering because we realise we are not immune to pain and we do not consider ourselves stronger. It is to communicate our feelings and expectations to the people we are in relationship with. It allows us to have external healthy relationships because we are healthy inside.