3 Things You Get Wrong About Self-Love

Joe Donan

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“It is not love that should be depicted as blind, but self-love.” — Voltaire

Self-love is considered an essential practice for those seeking to improve their mental health and self-esteem. Not surprisingly, this topic is becoming highly popular in the vast cyberspace, especially on image-sharing social platforms.

To see what I mean, you just have to run a quick search for the #selflove hashtag on Instagram and you’ll get bombarded with over 38 thousand pictures depicting apparently-happy, self-loving people.

However, a lot of those photos have little to do with actual self-love, and plenty of people have completely misinterpreted the core concept of it. To see what I mean, here's a series of misconceptions about self-love, contrasted to what it actually means.

Ready for a trip to rediscover what loving yourself is really all about? Let’s begin.

Misconception #1: Self-love equals instant gratification.

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“Gluttony is an emotional escape, a sign something is eating us.”— Peter De Vries

I love cheesecake, chocolate, cookies, potato chips, Doritos, and soft drinks. And while we’re on the same topic, I also have a thing for instant ramen, mozzarella cheese sticks, and Margherita pizza. However, no matter how much I crave these foods, I try to keep their consumption to a bare minimum for one simple — yet obvious — reason: They’re unhealthy.

And while there’s nothing wrong with having some junk food every now and then, many people are slowly adopting a habit of regularly consuming unhealthy foods on behalf of self-love, claiming that “they deserve it.”

The problem with it:

As you undoubtedly know, continuous and cumulative feeding on saturated fats and high-sugar foods increases the odds of cardiovascular diseases and several types of cancer. You won’t see the consequences in the next few days, but you will for sure in a few decades.

Self-love has nothing to do with indulging in poor eating habits and other unhealthy behaviors that provide instant gratification in the short term, but have serious consequences in the long run.

How to show yourself some actual self-love:

  • Gradually adopt healthier dietary choices, such as fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid fast and/or overly-processed foods.
  • Reduce your consumption of sugars and refined flour.
  • Do 20 minutes of daily cardio, with proper hydration.

One of the principles of self-love is the cultivation of your physical well-being through healthy eating habits. Failing to do so results in considerable health decline down the road, making the continuous consumption of junk food a form of self-sabotage, and a betrayal to your future self.

Misconception #2: Loving yourself equals mindless splurging.

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“The one thing that offends me the most is when I walk by a bank and see ads trying to convince people to take out second mortgages on their home so they can go on vacation. That’s approaching evil.”— Jeff Bezos

Another self-love trend of questionable value is people’s overspending on material goods they don’t really need. More than ever, people are sinking deep in debt to travel the world just to show off their cool lifestyles, especially on social media. It’s no surprise a lot of Facebook profile pictures show smiling account users with the Eiffel Tower and similar landmarks in the background.

The problem with it:

While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with buying what you want or spending your money on new experiences, prioritizing such desires over personal needs is not self-love. If anything, it’s incorrect financial management.

If you want to buy material goods out of necessity, I say do it. But if you’re planning to spend half your salary on shoes and clothes you don’t actually need, just to make you feel better about yourself; then your sense of self-love is misplaced.

If you can afford overseas traveling, then go for it. But if you’re planning to blow a whole bank loan and your life’s savings on a round-the-world trip just to post a series of cool pictures on Instagram, you should probably reconsider your decision.

What you can do to show yourself some actual self-love:

  • Invest your money in your own personal development. If you can afford a video game every month, you definitely have some money to spare for a book too.
  • Speaking of books, do yourself a favor and get out of your fiction-only comfort zone. There are a lot of wonderful books on self-improvement and personal growth you could be reading right now.
  • Spend your money on courses. Go to grad school. Learn new skills. Never stop cultivating yourself.

Money is a powerful resource. Used wisely, it can help you become a better person through constant investments in yourself rather than mindless spending on things for yourself.

Misconception #3: Self-love equals perpetual conformism.

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“Our own self-love draws a thick veil between us and our faults.”— Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield

Currently, self-love is widely associated with the unquestionable, holistic acceptance of an individual in physical appearance, personality, and values. In other words, “Love yourself just the way you are.” Basically, this is a call to accept and love even those traits of your personality you should be working to change or improve upon.

The problem with it:

Blind celebration of every single aspect of yourself — including your worst traits and habits — is a declaration of perpetual mediocrity, utter conformism, and sheer laziness.

Ask yourself the following:

  • Should I live in a state of acceptance of those aspects of myself I cannot possibly change? Absolutely.
  • Should I live in a state of perpetual contentment with those negative traits of my personality? Absolutely not.

What you can do to show yourself some actual self-love:

  • Accept the personal traits you don’t like, but you cannot change anyway, and embrace them: They’re part of what makes you be you.
  • Identify those negative traits about yourself you can improve upon and do something about them. If you suffer from substance addiction, seek professional help. If you’re prone to depression, anxiety, or anger fits, work on your patience and mindfulness. If you don’t know where your money is going, get yourself a book on financial management.

Whatever your flaws or bad habits are, work on them, don’t settle for them. Self-love doesn’t mean you should be content with your negative traits. It means you should seek gradual and significant improvement every day.

Bottom Line

You might be wondering: “Falling for the trap of shallow self-love is easy. How can I know if what I’m doing is an actual act of self-love or not?”

Well, just do the Children test.

You love your kids, right? Of course, you do. And if you don’t have any, then picture someone you deeply love and care about.

Now, next time you think you’re performing an act of self-love, ask yourself the following:

  • Would I allow my children to do this?
  • Would I encourage my children to do more of this?
  • Would this help my children have a better life in the future?

If the answer to those questions is yes, then you’re probably on the right track. If your answer is no, then maybe whatever you’re doing is anything but an act of self-love.

I wouldn’t feed my daughter with a hamburger every day. I wouldn’t let her spend all her money on unnecessary things. And I wouldn’t try to convince her she’s perfect the way she is, because I would be lying to her.

This begs the question: If you wouldn’t want those things for your children, why would you want them for yourself?

Now, that’s self-love right there.

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Salvadoran writer, father, husband, educator, and artisan. I write about love and relationships, family, life lessons, and personal growth.

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