We crave unconditional love, but do we love ourselves unconditionally? In my coaching sessions on dating, I ask people to name five things they love about themselves. More than half respond by saying, ‘I’ve never really thought about that’.
Self-neglect seems to be among the few universal trappings of modern-day living. But the foundation of a strong relationship begins with self-love. Self-love means that you acknowledge and accept the importance of your own happiness and well-being. It implies that you are taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your well-being in an unhealthy quest to please others.
It also means you know yourself, and are comfortable with who you are, warts and all. That you are kind to yourself, and forgiving of mistakes.
One of the most iconic expressions of self-love is the line said by Kareena Kapoor as the character Geet, in Jab We Met: “Main apni favourite hoon”. It may seem ditzy, but there’s a reason that line became so popular. Deep down, we all want to feel like that.
It isn’t easy. Two things we are exposed to very early in life come in the way of our loving ourselves. The first is comparisons. We’re urged to be the best in class, the best at sports, the best at extracurricular activities. Most parents act like they can’t even see — let alone make peace with — the truth: That there can only be one ‘best’ in each class. Rather than identifying the specific gifts and talents of each child, we set them all off on an impossible trajectory right there.
The second factor then piles on to the first — the idea of ‘log kya kahenge’. As a society, we continue to be preoccupied by what others think or may think of us. Many major life decisions are made based on what the collective ‘others’ might say.
The truth is, no one lives your life on a daily basis. So forget the comparisons. Replace the voice in your head that says you have to ‘be the best’, with one that reminds you to ‘do your best’. Set your own standards for success and happiness. Define what you desire.
This is true especially when it comes to finding a partner. The flawed idea that you may only marry a person with a specific resume, limits your own chances at happiness.
One way to expand your chances at happiness is to know and love yourself. Set aside time, money and mindspace to take care of yourself. If for some reason you end up feeling selfish, remind yourself of those flight-safety videos that instruct you to “put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others”.
Many years ago, I had the fortune of being mentored by the motivational guru Jim Rohn. He famously said that you are the average of the five people you spend most time with. So surround yourself with positive people. It is common for people to seek validation from those least likely to provide it. Break that pattern. Spend time with those who love you and want to be with you.
Remember, you cannot be in a loving, lasting relationship unless you’re able to love yourself first. Make a list of the things you love about yourself, and keep adding to it. Look at it every day. Own yourself with pride and let the world see you in that happy state.
This article was first published in Hindustan Times