Falling in Self-Love

“how you love yourself is

how you teach others

to love you”

― Rupi Kaur

In honor of the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday, I’d like to focus on the most powerful relationship you will ever experience: the relationship you have with yourself.

Being that we are social animals, we are neurobiologically attuned to other humans. Whether or not we are conscious of it, we are deeply sensitive to social dynamics. Much of our cognitive effort is directed at trying to interpret the social world around us, identifying potential dangers and potential connections (romantic or platonic) to provide us with a sense of belonging and purpose. We also spend a great amount of energy trying to manage or control how other people perceive us, highlighting the positive qualities about ourselves, and covering up the less desirable qualities to the extent that we can.

These days, it’s easy to get so distracted by the social world that we lose track of our own feelings. Much of our personal and professional lives are centered around social networking: where and how we are seen in the world. Either we try to be everywhere at once, never missing out on the opportunity to have fun or make a connection, or we can feel completely overwhelmed by the whole thing and choose to disengage entirely.

In the midst of these social demands, we might end up unwittingly forsaking our intuitive connection with our own bodies, prioritizing instead our need for relationships with others. For example, we might feel obligated to say yes to social events even when we are exhausted or not feeling well. As a result, we show up without the ability to be fully present in our relationships with others. I believe that we can create deeper connections with others by first cultivating the relationship we have with ourself. When you are nourished physically and emotionally (i.e., your personal needs are met), you are creating the conditions for more meaningful connections with others.

I am challenging you this Valentine’s Day to focus on actions that will sustain a plentiful relationship with yourself. After all, this relationship sets the tone for all other relationships we can experience. Find some simple strategies here to help you fall in self-love.

  • Strike up a conversation. We all know how important it is to have good communication in any relationship. We do it all the time with our friends and family, we check in with them regularly and we choose our words wisely. It is equally important to have a similar conversation with ourselves. Journaling is a great place to begin.

    Many of us still hold on to very outdated concepts of ourselves. So the first rule in striking up a conversation with yourself is to be curious. Ask yourself: How are you? What do you need? What makes you feel loved and supported? How can you offer yourself more love and support throughout the day? Your answers may vary day to day. The important thing is just to create space for this honest and friendly self-talk, becoming more aware of your personal needs without having to worry about what others expect of you or how others might react.

    The next most important rule for a successful conversation: be kind, choose your tone carefully. Implement gentle humor and give yourself plenty of grace.

  • Take a step back. Third person self-talk is the practice of talking to yourself as though you were talking to someone else. Instead of using pronouns such as “I” or “me,” you can refer to yourself in the third person, like “she” or even referring to yourself by your name, like “Nice work, Arezou! You are doing great.” Think of this as a reverse Golden Rule: treat yourself as you would want to treat others that you love.

    Researchers examined brain activity of people who practiced silent third person self-talk as they were presented with emotionally painful images or asked to recall painful past experiences. Studies find that those who practiced third person self-talk showed less distress in response to these emotionally challenging tasks. Researchers believe that this kind of self –talk allows us to take a little bit of distance from our problems, taking on a bigger, less egocentric perspective. Unlike other efforts to control our emotions, third person self-talk requires relatively little cognitive effort; part of the reason why this strategy is successful might be because it is so simple to do. [1]

  • Take a hands on approach. However you can get it, physical, soothing touch is not just a special treat, it is a vital component of health. It is linked to the development and survival of newborn babies [2] and a major buffer of stress in adults [3]. As we experience stressful events in our lives, the fascia or deep tissues that wrap around our muscles, are often imprinted with the patterns of chronic tension, resulting in scar tissue. Regular maintenance of the body requires that we address these areas of pain. Whether it is a professional massage, a big hug from a friend, or some nice smelling essential oils and a self-massage, we all benefit from more soothing touch. Soothing touch provides us with a dose of oxytocin “the love hormone, ” which buffers against inflammation and helps to keep our physiological reactions to stress healthy [4]

1. Moser, J. S., Dougherty, A., Mattson, W. I., Katz, B., Moran, T. P., Guevarra, D., Shablack, H., Ayduk, O., Jonides, J., Berman, M.G., & Kross, E. (2017). Third-person self-talk facilitates emotion regulation without engaging cognitive control: Converging evidence from ERP and fMRI. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 4519.

2. Field, T. M., Schanberg, S. M., Scafidi, F., Bauer, C. R., Vega-Lahr, N., Garcia, R., Nystrom, J., & Kuhn, C. M. (1986). Tactile/kinesthetic stimulation effects on preterm neonates. Pediatrics, 77(5), 654-658.

3. Cohen, S., Janicki-Deverts, D., Turner, R. B., & Doyle, W. J. (2015). Does hugging provide stress-buffering social support? A study of susceptibility to upper respiratory infection and illness. Psychological Science, 26(2), 135-147.

4. Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Handlin, L., & Petersson, M. (2015). Self-soothing behaviors with particular reference to oxytocin release induced by non-noxious sensory stimulation. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1529.