What self-love really means
Today, I came across an article I wrote almost three years ago entitled Self Love, Selfish or Smart? as I read it again, I noticed how much I have personally grown since then. Three years ago, I was a new life coach. I was very early on in my own ‘finding myself’ journey.
I was also possibly one of those annoying people who vomited personal development quotes and memes to every Tom, Dick or Harry. ‘Why don’t people get this?’, ‘Why are you not doing this work?’, ‘Read this Book, it will change your life’.
Having just come out of 17 years in a senior leadership role in corporate banking, I was desperate to heal myself from the inside out. Desperate to let go of my old self, the version of me who did not know who I was. The version of me who said yes when she really wanted to say no. The girl who went along with things even though it felt wrong. The girl who felt like she couldn’t speak her truth, through fear of being judged, and rejected. The mum who was never fully present with her children, as her mind was always on work, on how she could please her boss and be accepted more.
Since then, I have been on the most invested, incredible, deep and healing journey of discovering and finally embodying what true ‘self-love’ really is.
Of course, there’s the typical bubble baths and walks in nature advice out there, and don’t get me wrong, these are very important, but the real work started for me when I finally met myself on the deepest soul level. And, here’s what the memes don’t tell you, much of it was not pretty.
Meeting every part of myself for the first time was an emotional rollercoaster.
I was met with fear, resistance, resentment, anger, shadows, trauma, vulnerability, shame, courage, compassion and, finally, unconditional love.
The truth is, even as a life coach, I thought three years ago that I didn’t need to do any of this deeper work. I could keep reading the books, listening to the podcasts and hire a coach now and then to do some surface-level work with me, but there was the deepest knowing that even though I knew this journey of ‘self-love’ may take me to the darkest of places, the light would eventually come.
As a transformational coach, I truly believe, you can only take a client as deep as you would be willing to go yourself. For me to be able to help others truly love and accept themselves, then I had to go on that journey myself.
On my journey, I discovered that underneath every feeling of fear, anger, and pain was love. For years I had neglected myself. I was living unconsciously. I would enjoy nice things including the latest designer handbag, and shoes. I would make an effort with my physical appearance, I would exercise regularly, but I would never do the inner work. Instead, I would criticise myself, I would push love away. I began to realise that receiving love felt unsafe.
It felt very vulnerable to open my heart to receive love. This was love from friends, partners, and even family. I would hear the words ‘I love you’ but felt quite numb and unattached. I now understand that because I had built up so much armour to receiving love, I could not really receive and love myself. This journey of deep connection took me to parts of myself that I had hidden deep within. Parts of my story that I had blocked out and forgotten about. But once I went into those shadows, I was able to hold space for it. I was able to connect and dissolve shame, and resentment just by feeling, and shining light on those old stories and wounds.
Three years on, thousands of hours researching, studying and doing the work has now brought me here. A point in my life where I can now lead others through their own shame, and meet themselves naked, with compassion and love.
Here is what I know to be true about ‘self-love’
Self-love is not easy. Self-love is scary. Self-love is vulnerable. Self-love is self-discipline, self-love takes courage. Self-love requires peeling off the various masks and identities. Self-love is reconnecting to the essence of who you are to your core. Self-love is meeting those shadow parts of yourself.
It is meeting shame and guilt, and being able to shine light on to those parts. It is learning to love all sides of yourself. It is leaning into your whole self, with compassion and kindness. It is connecting to your inner child and holding space for her. It is putting your arms around yourself and unconditionally loving yourself, not in spite of your pain, but because of your pain. It is unpeeling the layers of shame and seeing your intrinsic truth. It is seeing beyond what you see in the mirror.
It is being able to look at yourself in the mirror for more than 10 seconds without having to look away. It is looking beyond your body as ‘too fat’ or ‘too thin’ It is seeing that your body is more than something you criticise every day. It is seeing beyond all of that.
It is looking at your struggles, then holding space for them.
It is saying ‘no’ and being OK with that. It is trusting yourself, trusting your gut. It is having boundaries and honouring them. Self-love is seeing your imperfections as part of you, and loving each part of you as you would a child, without turning away in disgust. It is looking at your body as the most incredible thing you will ever possess.
Self-love is that pause before getting out of bed. The pause that allows you to be grateful to be alive. To open your eyes and see, to touch and to taste. It is the vehicle that allows you to live and experience life every day. It is acknowledging the part of you that shows up for you every day. It is recognising how incredibly powerful you are. It is thanking the parts of you that can heal from a cut, or illness. It is more than a number you see on the scales.
Self-love is you! You are ‘self-love’ wild and free. Free to change your life in an instant. Free to make decisions, free to choose another path. Free to connect to your own inner wisdom and strength. Free to choose to put you first. Free to speak your own truth, to put you at the heart of everything you do, knowing that once you do this, you will be free.
Embodying true self-love is a journey. I can’t promise you it will be an easy journey, but I can promise you without a shadow of doubt that it is worth it.
Jill Ritchie is an intuitive coach who specialises in love, intimacy and self healing. She is the host of She Loves Herself a podcast where she interviews and coaches clients and celebrities around vulnerability and shame. Learn more at jill-ritchie.com and follow Jill on Instagram @justjillcoaching.
If you want to start your self-love journey with the helping hand of a guide, coaching can help. Use our search tool to find a coach who works in this area and take your first step today.