While the Buddha said “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”, loving oneself – mainly in terms of self-care and self-compassion – seems to be extremely challenging for most of us. Many people don’t know what “self-care” or “self-love” actually means – sure, the concepts make sense in theory, but how do we actually put them into practice? For others of us, it’s uncomfortable to love ourselves; we so easily love and care for others, but when it comes to turning that kindness onto ourselves, we often feel selfish or narcissistic doing so.
Regardless of the underlying reason, it’s so incredibly important for us to learn self-care and to treat ourselves in ways that are loving and kind. After all, as Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “wherever you go, there you are.” You are the only person who is responsible for your happiness; you’re the only one who is literally going to be with you – going to bed with yourself and waking up with yourself – your entire life. As such, the most important relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself.
Buddhism teaches that “peace comes from within” and advises us not to “seek it without”. We must learn to find happiness within ourselves; when we depend on external factors for our happiness, we are disempowering ourselves and possibly setting ourselves up for failure. We can never control all the moving variables outside of ourselves – other people, situations, or outcomes. What we CAN control, according to Buddhism, is our minds. Fortunately for us, we are in charge of our attitudes and we get to choose how we perceive a given situation or experience.
So what does Buddhist psychology have to say about self-love? How do we actually implement self-care? In the following ways:
- Be gentle with yourself: Speak to yourself in a way that is kind, and cut yourself some slack! Especially when you “mess up” or forget to act from your highest self…we’re all doing the best we can 🙂
- Exercise self-compassion (ALL THE TIME): Forgive yourself! Don’t hold yourself to ridiculous or overly-rigid standards.
- Care for your physical body: Exercise regularly and get adequate sleep. Soothe your muscles with massage, acupuncture and other physically-healing modalities. Take yourself to the doctor when you feel sick. Feed yourself healthy, nutritious food that gives your body all the vitamins and minerals it needs. Drink an adequate amount of water. And pamper yourself (bubble baths and mani-pedis really are extremely therapeutic :)).
- Feed your soul: Nurture your sense of spirituality and faith. Attend your religious place of worship, meditate, get out in nature, pray, read, recite daily affirmations – keep your “spiritual body” filled up.
- Do things that make you happy: Eat your favorite food, partake in your favorite activity. Binge watch a tv show you love. Make time for your hobbies.
- Surround yourself with people who love and support you: Invest in your social life – spend time connecting with people who “get” you. Lean on these people; let yourself be helped by them when you need it.
- REST: Let yourself relax and be still. Rather than focusing on doing, try to emphasize being. Sit silently with your morning coffee. Pay attention to the sights and sounds around you. Allow yourself to just BE.
- Don’t Believe the Negative Mind Chatter: According to Buddhism, we suffer as a result of our minds and the inherent bias we all have toward the negative. We engage in certain types of distorted thinking – including catastrophizing, comparing, mind-reading, and negative self-talk. Believing all of these unpleasant thoughts is the opposite of self-care: choose your thoughts carefully because, as the Buddha said, “nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded.”