We hear a lot about it. Social media has become such a powerful tool that constantly pushes the narrative that to live a good life, we must learn to love ourselves. But how does one properly do that? What does it mean to love yourself? There are countless books, podcasts and influencers trying to teach us how best to love ourselves, but how do we know which is the right way? In a world of endless scrolling, it becomes overwhelming trying to process all the information we’re exposed to.
While there are an infinite number of stories and messages on the internet about self-love, there are also strong connections and similarities between them. One of them is that self-love involves the practice of getting to know ourselves and having self-compassion.
We forget that social media content is curated. Our favorite influencers, from fitness enthusiasts to artists and models, carefully select and organize the content they post for their hundreds of followers to see. The pressure they feel to keep up with an image is immense... but the pressure we feel to catch up is even bigger. This is when getting to know ourselves and being easy on ourselves can make all the difference.
A year ago, I was studying abroad in Italy. I was taking classes at the NYU campus in Florence and living in one of the most beautiful and peaceful cities in the world. Sadly, I was having the worst time of my life, but my pictures on Instagram would have fooled you. On my stories, I’d motivate you to take a leap of faith and simply travel; I’d tell you to dream bigger and take that trip you’ve always wanted to. Meanwhile, I’d go to sleep past 2 AM, stay in till’ 1 PM, have mental breakdowns every few days, and constantly think poorly of myself.
There were no problems in my life for me to have been so sucked into depression. My long-distance relationship was hard, money management was challenging, dealing with family issues was intense, but none of these were the real issue—I was. Every morning looked the same, and I would wake up unmotivated to start my day, while every night my thoughts would consume me. Eventually, I reached a breaking point where I became convinced that if I didn’t get help, I would go psychotic.
You might be thinking I’m being dramatic. The word psychotic carries such a terrible connotation, and while it definitely isn’t a good thing, it’s a common one. You can go psychotic by disassociating and losing grasp of reality and by giving into your delusions and false beliefs of what life and the world is. While I am telling you this story now, I can’t explain what I was feeling or thinking those days because I don’t remember. I was on autopilot, moving through the motions, but never truly present. I was posting on social media based on what I would see my favorite influencers do, and I would try to live according to what society said was good.
When I reached my breaking point, I connected with my counselors on campus and was excused from school for an entire month. I went back home and stayed there for almost all of April, and it certainly helped. I was able to ground myself a bit and slow down, easing myself from the pressure I was under. I spent time with my family and my friends, and it made some difference. Being in a familiar environment was nice, but I never did any inner work—I didn’t know how to. Then I went back to Italy to finish the semester and immediately bought a flight back home. The only way I knew to be okay was to be in familiar spaces with familiar people.
The summer came and it started off great. However, as the days went by, I became more anxious. I started to self-sabotage across all my relationships, with my family, my partner, and my friends. Somewhere along the way, I began to live according to an underlying belief that I was not worth enough. I started therapy in July, and I learned all about trauma and how it influences our thinking, masking us into people we don’t even recognize. Who was I last year?
I met myself at the end of the summer; my true self, without the trauma and external influences of the world, and I am still getting to know myself better every day.
The art of self-love, the most beautiful of arts. It isn’t the kind of art that requires strokes on canvases, but rather an art that requires us to cultivate a deep understanding and appreciation for ourselves. It involves recognizing our worth and value as individuals, embracing our strengths and weaknesses, and learning to be kind and compassionate towards ourselves.
Just like any art form, self-love requires practice and patience. It involves being mindful of our thoughts and actions and making a conscious effort to treat ourselves with love and care. It means choosing ourselves every single day, reminding ourselves that life isn’t a race and that someone else’s journey is not ours.
We have to be gentle with ourselves on the days we are doing good but even more so, on the days we aren’t. It is easy to feel pressured to follow a timeline and have projects done and goals accomplished before reaching a certain age. While setting goals is a necessary practice that has been proven to foster our success, beware of toxic productivity.
Toxic productivity is a cultural phenomenon that promotes overworking and burnout as a badge of honor. It's the idea that one's productivity is a measure of their worth and that rest and relaxation are a waste of time. The amount of work we accomplish does not reflect our worth, and therefore, we cannot connect the two.
On the days you find that your energy is running low and your motivation is lacking, it’s okay to take a step back and rest. Go on a nature walk instead, explore your thoughts, and get to know yourself. Uncover what triggers you, heal your inner child, and spend time under the sun. This is how you begin to practice self-love, and slowly, you’ll begin to move away from the self-deprecating practices of self-sabotage, negative self-talk, and unhealthy comparisons.
I hope my story and insights on self-love have resonated with you in some way. Remember, self-love is a journey, not a destination. It's okay to stumble and fall along the way, as long as we continue to pick ourselves up and try again. Let's be patient, kind, and compassionate with ourselves as we navigate this beautiful, yet often challenging, art of self-love.
P.S. Embrace the hills of your self-love journey, the good days and the bad, and remember to always choose yourself. Cultivate self-compassion, practice mindfulness, and be patient with yourself. With time and practice, the art of self-love will become second nature, and you'll find that it enriches every aspect of your life."