Words by Dr Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director of The LightHouse Arabia
We live in a world that is constantly convincing us that we cannot accept ourselves as we are, while it preaches superficial forms of self-love that are sentimental and self-indulgent. To stay on the trend of ‘self-love’ and ‘body positivity’, people create a façade of loving and accepting themselves, while their sense of self is fragile and they are drowning in confusion, self-doubt, and self-criticism. Who can blame them? From media messages to competitive comparisons, we are told again and again that if we do not have this product or that vacation, then we are not successful enough, rich enough, thin enough or happy enough. We are told that only if we had more, or if we did more, only then we could love ourselves more and accept ourselves more.
No one learns “I am enough” as they grow up—parents are afraid to say “you are enough” to their child, because then they might become complacent and amount to nothing. Teachers do not say “you are enough” because there is always another bar or a higher standard that the child is being compared to. The child then internalizes the critical voice of the parent or educator—and soon it becomes their own voice—and so the lifetime relationship with the inner critic and perfectionism begins.
From childhood onwards, in every relationship whether it be friendships, colleagues, employers, family, partners—we look to feel loved, and to know that we are loveable. When we get difficult feedback or someone chooses another over us, we are shattered—and we feel unworthy, rejected, and unacceptable, regardless of how many people we have in our lives that love us.
All our well-wishers send us positive messages, and uplifting quotes about not needing others and focusing on our self-love but nothing resonates because we do feel loveable. We go for massages, and take salt baths to show ourselves love, but that feeling is only felt skin deep. We do not know how to love ourselves because we were raised in a world that made us feel unacceptable as we are and that pushed us to be better without acknowledging that we were good.
But no matter how many years have gone by with this type of internal programming, you can always decide that you will re-establish a relationship with yourself that is loving, generous, and kind. Here are a few things to consider on your self-love journey:
- It is a journey and it is not linear. Self-love is about making a life-long relationship to yourself; to show up for yourself with love, compassion, and kindness every day for as long as you live. As you make any commitment, there will be days where you feel totally in sync with the commitment, while other days you might feel depleted and have nothing to give – that is all part of the journey of any relationship, including the relationship you have with yourself. The important thing is to always remain anchored in your commitment and to always come back to yourself with kindness and generosity.
- You have to know yourself to love yourself. While acts like massages and baths are good ways of caring for yourself, that is not the depth of the love you are seeking. The love that you are longing for only comes with knowing yourself better, being curious about yourself, and not betraying yourself. Just like you would take time to love the people in your life, and find ways to strengthen your connection and bond with them, you must do the same with yourself. When was the last time you spent time with yourself, wondering about your dreams, hopes, aspirations or asking about your hurts and pains?
- Self-love doesn’t always feel good and it isn’t a good feeling. Self-love is not self-indulgence and it is definitely not about feeling good all the time. It is about doing the hard things so you feel proud of who you are and the life you are living. Just as you show your love to your children by making sure they go to bed at a good time, eat healthy foods, and brush their teeth even when they don’t feel like it—self-love often includes doing things you don’t feel like doing, but always doing what is best for you. And often time doing what’s best for you will be the hard work of healing. This means going to the places that hurt and feel wounded by past experiences and releasing the hold they may have on you. You will go through the valley of shame, and the river of tears, but you have to go through these shadowy places to move towards an authentic relationship with yourself. Making a commitment to heal, is to show up for yourself and give to yourself all that others didn’t or couldn’t give you.
- Self-love requires growing up. We are born into this world, have parents who care for us and make us feel worthy. Then we go to our friends, our romantic partners, to our employers and our kids. Each one we give the task of showing us our self-worth: please tell me I am worthy, please tell me you will not leave me, please tell me you will see my goodness, please tell me you accept me as I am. We absolve ourselves of the responsibility of doing that work for ourselves. But to love oneself means you take personal responsibility for yourself, and give yourself what you need. You see your own self-worth, you don’t betray yourself, you see your own goodness, and you accept yourself as you are.
- Self-love isn’t just about loving yourself. Self-love is knowing your highest values and character strengths and making a commitment to live by them even when it’s hard. Values such as humanity, kindness, forgiveness, compassion—are all ways you exist in the world and relate to others. Self-love is about nurturing your relationships, establishing healthy boundaries and maps for those relationships, it’s about learning ways of engaging in the world that are nourishing, and serving the world with your unique gifts.
As a clinical psychologist for the past 13 years, Dr Saliha Afridi has spent 12 years working in the UAE and founded The Lighthouse Arabia in 2011, a community mental health and wellness clinic providing quality psychological and psychiatric care to children, adults, couples and families. Dr Afridi has worked with prominent companies and ministries such as The Executive Council, The National Program for Happiness and Well-being from the Happiness Ministry, many professional service firms and fortune 100 companies in her bid to dissolve mental health stigma and be at the forefront of the mental health movement within the UAE and the region. Dr Afridi’s vision is to make mental health practices more accessible through licensing and insurance reforms, changes within the education system to teach about mental health and emotional and mental wellbeing from a young age, taking a preventative approach to mental health rather than treatment-based approach. Seeing the need for increased mental health literacy, she took the initiative to bring the internationally acclaimed Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) to the UAE in 2017, with The LightHouse Arabia becoming the only licensed provider for the evidence-based course which enables adults and teens to become accredited mental health first aiders. Dr Afridi is committed to leading and being at the centre of the continued positive mental health changes to be seen in the region.