Since you are reading this article, I am going to assume that you are a connoisseur of blog posts, online articles, and Buzzfeed-style lists. As such, you have most likely come across pieces with titles like ‘The Definitive Guide to Improving Your Sense of Self-Worth’, or ‘Loving Yourself in 21 Easy Steps’, which all inevitably say that, in order to love yourself more, you need to do things like ‘talk yourself happy’ or ‘find a vocation that feeds your passion’ or ‘move in ways that make you feel good’. There are so many of these rules for how to best love yourself flying around the place, it’s impossible to keep track of them all, let alone follow any of them.
But these rules being in abundance is not the real problem with them. Like with any type of rule, when any person on a journey towards self love is unable to follow whatever rules they might find, what comes afterwards is a feeling of failure. It might only be a very small feeling of failure (like a touch of disappointment, or perhaps a little regret), but the feeling is there all the same. And that is just not what radical self love is supposed to feel like. Terribly cliché though it may seem, radical self love is much more about the journey than the destination. As such, everything that we discover on our radical self love journey becomes part of that journey and part of the learning experience. There is no failure in radical self love. Or at least, there shouldn’t be.
At this point you might be wondering why, then, so many radical self love rules exist in the first place. At this I can only speculate, but I believe it has a lot to do with the importance our society places on the value of hard work, endurance, discipline, and the overall notion that success should be something to strive and right for. Rules can be thought of as sets of instructions; formulaic guidelines that, when followed, will generate successful results. Often these rules will be difficult to follow, but that just makes the sense of success greater if they are successfully followed. Even though some rules are hard to follow, rules in general have long been understood to be the quickest, most minimum-fuss way to achieve success. And as such, we as industrialised human beings have learned to view the combination of rules and hard work as the default method for achieving success.
Personally, I believe that both rules and hard work are valuable assets in many areas of our lives. Learning how to work hard and follow rules teaches us discipline, for example, which is an important asset for anybody to have. Without discipline we probably would not do things like go to work or take care of our children. Hard work also helps us to develop our senses of achievement, and a sense of achievement is what gives us pride when we achieve success and do incredible things like graduate from high school, complete a marathon, or finish knitting an impressive scarf.
On the other hand, I also think that our society has placed too much importance on achieving success through rules and hard work. Rules have two possible outcomes: success or failure. If the rules are followed there will be success, and if they are not followed there will be failure. This simplified viewpoint has introduced the idea that, if any person is failing, that must be the result of their not putting in enough hard work. While inaccurate, this way of thinking might not be so bad if it weren’t for the extensive importance we place on hard work.
As it stands, failure is seen as one of the worst things possible. As a society we are taught to shun failure; to try not to look at it, to view it as disgusting. This is, I believe, one of the reasons why poor people, fat people, and certain other minority groups are viewed in a negative light. The hardships these people face are thought to be derived from their being lazy and not putting in the same amount of hard work everybody else puts in, so their failure is deserved. To top it off, we are just as, if not more, ready and willing to view our own difficulties (our sizes, our financial situations) as failings that have resulted from a lack of hard work on our parts, and that we therefore have only ourselves to blame.
This mindset is problematic in a lot of different areas, but I would argue that it is the most problematic (and also makes the least sense) with issues of self love, because the entire point of learning to love yourself is to stop thinking of your ‘failings’ as failings. Using the success/failure dichotomy to teach people not to view themselves as failures is counterproductive, both because every rule that cannot be followed adds to the very sense of failure these rules are trying to eliminate, and because it enforces the idea that there is such a thing as failure in radical self love.
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So, if following radical self love rules is the wrong way to go about learning to love oneself, what is the right way? Are all of these self love rules completely useless? To use the words that have frustrated scholars of literature, music, and other art-based subjects for thousands of years, there isn’t one. Radical self love is more of a trial and error type of project, just like a lot of the other big things we might find ourselves doing in our lives (having successful relationships, raising good children, establishing a solid career, etc.). Every time we try something new in radical self love, we open ourselves up to the possibility that it might not work for us. If it does not work, however, that does not mean it is a failure, or that the step taken was a useless one. On the contrary, those steps are just as important as the steps that work really well. With every step you make on the radical self love journey, you will learn a little bit more about yourself. As time goes on and you learn more and more, loving yourself becomes an easier thing to do.
As for whether all of the self love rules you may find are completely useless, I would suggest taking a leaf out of Captain Barbosa’s book and treating them as ‘more like guidelines than actual rules’. If you come across a set of self love rules that you want to try out, by all means do so. If any of them work (and there is a good chance that some of them will) feel free to continue on following them, if that is what you want to do. But (and here is the difference between ‘guidelines’ and ‘rules’) if any of them do not work for you, you do not have to keep on following them. Or, you could stop doing them for a while and come back to them later, if you wish. The journey towards radical self love is as flexible as it is ongoing, and so are you. Nobody can tell you the best way to go about loving yourself. It’s all down to you.
(Feature Image: Photo of a person with dark hair and glasses and a dark shirt. They are looking downward. Source: storebukkebruse)