Disclaimer: I am not a licensed mental healthcare professional, so please make sure to speak to a licensed therapist or your doctor if you are in a rough place. If you are in crisis, please call 988 or 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
We live in a culture that is in love with love. Whether it's to the moon and back or better to have done and lost than never at all, romance seems to be all around us from books to ads to well-meaning family advice.
And it makes sense! We are a social creature, and there's nothing wrong with looking for companionship. It impacts so many areas of our lives, after all. Whether we want to build a family. Our living situation. What we can and can't afford. Partnership ties into so many truly important aspects of our lives.
However, while we're told that love is all you need, that doesn't really tell the full story. And of course most of us already know that. Relationships - not just the romantic ones - take a lot of time and attention, both of which are in high demand. We're run down, exhausted, stressed, and juggling work, home, hustles, and the insanity of the world around us. At the end of the day, we have to decide where to put our energy, and, if you're anything like me, self-love and care are too often placed at the end of the to do list.
Many times I find myself overbooked and overwhelmed, and while I'm a people pleasure by nature I struggle to find the will to give myself the same attention or respect. I don't want to disappoint or give a bad impression, so when push comes to shove I would rather let myself down than anyone else.
I'm not the biggest fan of the saying "You can't love anyone else until you love yourself first," but I do think making self-love a priority is vital. Especially when it can be so hard to know how.
The Five Love Languages is a book written in 1992 by Gary Chapman. It explains that there are five ways that we each receive and give love to others (words of affirmation, quality time, gift giving/receiving, acts of service, and physical touch). While I don't people necessarily fall into any one category at the total exclusion of the others, I do think we will tend to find some more meaningful and others less so. More importantly, making sense of someone else's love language gets us thinking about caring for someone in ways that are most meaningful to them. It helps us to get outside of our own mindbox and really understand someone else's perspective, which can be pivotal in relationships.
Of course part of the idea behind love languages is that not only do we receive love in certain ways we also show love in certain ways, and so do others around us. It helps us to recognize when someone is showing us care and communicate our love language differences so that we can hopefully meet somewhere in the middle.
This is a wonderful took for navigating relationships, but can it play a role in self-love?
It was during the midst of an anxiety-fueled stress fest, that I began looking for new ways to self-care. I'm an introspective person, wanting to understand as much as I can about what makes me tick and why. Why am I reacting a certain way to a situation? What part of my early-childhood relationship to my mother does that link to? In the same way, I'm always looking for ways to be a better me. How can I organize my time more effectively? How can I help soothe myself when in a bad place?
When it comes to caring for yourself there are many bits of advice floating around, and it can be hard to figure out what works best for you. That's why approaching love for yourself in the same deliberate and caring way you would for another can be so useful.
As we get into it, remember: love for yourself and those around you can't be put into simple categories, but hopefully this can be helpful to you along your journey!
The 5 Languages of Self-Love
As we begin exploring which self-love languages speak the strongest to you and different ways to show them, here are some questions to think about.
When you've had a really stressful day, what could a friend do to make you feel better?
Talk you through what's going on
Take you to a movie
Surprise you with a new book, movie, or game
Bring you food
Give you a big hug
When you've just had a fight with someone who means a lot to you, what helps patch things up for you?
Sitting down and having a conversation to hash things out
Spending a beautiful day on a hike together
Receiving flowers, a stuffed animal, or accessory you love
Not having to do a home or yard task you were avoiding
You have a full day free from work and other obligations, what would make this day perfect?
Journaling in an airy cafe
Taking a walk through a park or checking out a new exhibit
Going shopping at your favorite stores
Tackling a home project or organizing your things
Getting a massage
As you think about these questions, rate your answers from what speak to you the most to what speak to you the least. Mostly 1's are words of affirmation, 2's are quality time, 3's are giving/receiving gifts, 4's are acts of service, and 5's are physical touch. Remember that you can't fit into any single box, so take what speaks to you from each of these languages and mix together what works for you.
Words of Affirmation
Most of us enjoy nice words, complements, and hearing positive talk. It almost goes without saying that words of affirmation are important in any relationship, romantic or otherwise. But how often do you build yourself up with words?
If you're anything like me, the answer is not often enough.
Do words of affirmation speak to you?
You may be a word person if you find comfort and reassurance from encouragement, complements, and hearing just generally how awesome you are. If that is the case, consider the following as a way to show some word love to yourself.
Speak to yourself
Mirror, Mirror, on the wall...
Find a mirror and stand in front of it. Put a timer on two minutes. Look yourself in the eye and until the timer goes off, give yourself some words of affirmation.
Say some positive things about your personality and character. Tell yourself what you are good at. What are some things you have made it though? What are some things you've accomplished.
If you find that you don't know what to say, try the following:
I love you.
You are worthy.
You are valuable.
You deserve respect.
I am a badass.
I am powerful.
I can achieve my goals.
The world needs me and my story.
Once you say the above, continue with whatever comes to your mind. If you get stuck, just keep repeating these statements. Remember to say them while making direct eye contact with yourself.
Time alone can be a wonderful space for rejuvenation and reflection. While some of us thrive in chosen spaces of solitude, there are others of us who find it more uncomfortable and difficult. Whether you are an introvert, extrovert, or anything in between, spending quality time with yourself is a wonderful way to show self-love.
Does meaningful time alone move you?
You may be a quality time self-lover if you seek alone time to find comfort and peace. Maybe you thrive with the space to introspect and perhaps enjoy the companionship of your thoughts. If this speaks to you, give the following a try.
Show yourself a good time
One is the loveliest number...
Look at your calendar for the upcoming week. Find a time when you have two hours free. Block that time off in bold.
Make a list of things you'd enjoy doing. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Is there a museum you haven't visited in a while? Check their website to see what their current special exhibits are.
What live music is playing during the week? Remember, some bars and cafes often have free live music on certain days/nights.
Are there any parks nearby? For a longer walk, look online for scenic hikes in your area.
What recent movies are out? Whether you go to a theater or watch at home, be sure to make it special beyond just vegging out on the couch! Maybe obtain a favorite snack or drink.
Do you have a hobby like painting, knitting, or model-building? Perhaps work on a project you haven't had time for or get yourself materials to start something new.
Is there a food you've been craving? Treat yourself to a meal!
Check sites like eventbrite.com and local event calendars to see what is happening near you. If you're interested in spending time on the stranger side, sites like atlasobscura.com list unusual sites by city!
Gifts can be a delightful and deeply meaningful way to show - and receive! - love. For those of us who speak the love language of gifting, we know that it's more than just items and tchotchkes. Gifts represent a tangible act of being considered and thought of. Those really good gifts show that someone really paid attention to what we enjoy and want. It can feel like they really see us, and it is a wonderful way to 'see' yourself.
Do gifts really grab your attention?
You may be a loving gifter/giftee if you are always finding things that make you think of other people. When someone even casually mentions a like or thing they're in need of, you may store that little tidbit of information in your brain. Perhaps you've heard that you're an amazing gift giver. Perhaps you collect many things. If you find love and comfort in gifts, try this.
Give yourself a little something
Pick a length of time that can be divided into a repeating day - for example once a week for a month, once every other week for two months, or once a month for a year. Choose your first day for gifting, and mark it along with the repeated days on a calendar.
Once you decide on a time, figure out how many days in your total length of time - for example once a week for a month = 4, once every other week for two months = 4, once a month for a year = 12.
A very important note: For those of us that love gifts and things, it can be very easy to slide into using things and objects to ease stress - aka shopping or spending a little too freely. It's very important when speaking this love language to yourself to be deliberate and take your financial situation into account. I'd really suggest doing a little budgeting beforehand.
Look at your budget and decide how much you can spend on that amount of gifts. Keep in mind, each doesn't have to be the exact same amount, but you shouldn't go over your budgeted amount for the total spent.
Buy or make yourself as many gifts as days you've picked. If you are going shopping, try getting things that you feel drawn to as soon as you see them, especially if they are just for fun and you don't need them! Some places to check out are thrift stores, dollar stores (believe it or not Dollar Tree is a true treasure trove!), and antique shops.
Once you have your haul, wrap each item - similarly if you can - then as you go through your month, few months, year, etc., open a gift on each scheduled day!
Acts of Service
Getting breakfast in bed or being surprised with with a care package when you're feeling sick, these are some ways that love is shown as an act of service. This love language is demonstrated by wanting to do something to show someone they matter, to make their life easier in some way or another. It's the desire to care and be cared for.
Does care keep you comfy and cozy?
You may be someone who thrives in acts of service if you find you're continually thinking of how to help people. You may be on the lookout for ways to show that you care, whether it's shoveling someone's driveway or making a special meal. Perhaps you find a lot of meaning in doing for others.
Serve 'tomorrow' you
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya tomorrow...
Acts of service can be a little tricky when it comes to self-love, because by definition the idea is that as the giver you are making someone's life easier. As the receiver your life is being made easier. When you're both, it can feel like it's a bit of a wash. There are, however, ways to make it work!
Think about the you of tomorrow and how you can do an act of service today for who you will be tomorrow. This can be done in a few ways:
Prep a delicious meal of some of your favorite things
Make a spa pack complete with bubble bath, bath salts, or bath bomb, candles, glass of wine, and fuzzy robe to wrap it up
At the end of the night, clean an area that would bring you some peace in the morning, such as the bathroom, the kitchen, the dining room, etc
With care, set out anything you may use for you morning routine, such as a coffee or teacup, spoon, vitamins, glass of water, and so forth
Take some time to think about other ways you could offer yourself actionable care. Cleaning a certain area? Rearranging or organizing a space? Prep a relaxation experience?
Be deliberate as you prepare to show yourself some care. Take your time. Focus on each action as you do it. Do something for your tomorrow self or find a time to mark on your calendar that you will care for.
Physical touch can be an incredibly intense and comforting ways to share love - always, of course, with consent. As babies we bond over physical contact. And while as adults it's not everyone's language, for those who speak it, pun intended, it touches on something very deep. From a reassuring hand on the shoulder to a strong hug to sex, it is a love we give and receive with through and within our very bodies.
Does touch tickle your fancy?
You may be a physical love linguist if you find that you're always looking for a reason to be close next to those you care about. Sitting right next to them, standing close, perhaps gently placing a hand on them when passing by. Maybe if anxious or sad you find the most comfort in a cuddle - perhaps weighted blankets help you relax. You may be someone who is very tactile in general, who enjoys the feel of objects and textures in your hands. If you are someone who leans into physical love, give the following a try.
Give your body some love
Reach out and touch yourself.
Touch can be a tricky self-love language to speak. After all, much like trying to tickle yourself, touch from one's self isn't exactly the same as from someone else. However, it is important to show your body love, and there are very touchable ways to do that.
Set a timer for one minute. Cross and wrap your arms around yourself as if you're reaching for the back of the opposite shoulder. Give yourself a gentle squeeze.
Breathe in while counting to four. Hold your breath for four. Then exhale while counting to four, all while maintaining the gentle squeeze around your body. Continue this until your timer is up.
Other things to try include:
Take a 20 minute nap using a weighted blanket
Petting a fur baby of any kind for 5 minutes uninterrupted
Scheduling a massage
Do self massage by raising your arms over your head, bending your elbows, and placing both thumbs on either side of the back of your neck then alternating between sliding your thumbs firmly from the base of your skull to the tops of your shoulders and firmly moving both thumbs in circular motions at the same time.
Remember, these love languages aren't a catch-all and no one can be defined by any one category. Some of these methods may work for you and some may not, but I very much hope that it gets you thinking and helps you on your journey of self-love and care!
If you try these methods and would be open to sharing - or come up with methods of your own - I would love to know!
In the meantime, thank you as always for joining me and be well!