Conceptualizing self-care and self-love

I’ve been noticing more negative feelings in myself recently, like sadness, impatience, and irritation. Something that I’ve taken from one of Sharon Salzberg’s guided metta meditations that I’ve been trying to incorporate into my life is the strategy of, when you notice that it’s difficult for you to extend loving kindness to others, to first try to extend it to yourself. This is a big part of the reason why I’ve been revisiting the idea of self-love and self-care.

Self-care is something that I’ve never really tried to define for myself. In the past, I’ve associated it with things like doing sheet masks, drinking tea, and taking time off of school and work, without really thinking about what those things were trying to accomplish and whether they were even effective ways to care for myself.

My friend Nicole introduced me to the Internal Family Systems model a couple weeks ago, which is a style of therapy that “combines systems thinking with the view that the mind is made up of relatively discrete subpersonalities, each with its own viewpoint and qualities”[1]. I’ve been listening to an audio book to learn more about IFS, and I’ve also noticed this theory naturally appearing in other areas of my life.

The model that we all comprise a “true self” and other various parts has been helpful for me to use in thinking about how to care for and love myself, even if I’m not applying it in a strict sense.

For instance, although I would like to eat more healthfully, I often find myself overeating and/or eating food that I know won’t make me feel good (like candy). In addition, I am often not mindful of my physical needs, because I spend most of my time in my head and not in my body! Something that I’ve found really motivating and evocative is to focus on extending love and care to the part of me that is just my physical body. A prompt that I implicitly use is “what are stereotypes of things that bodies like?”. Some things that come up are: stretching out, being hydrated, being clean, eating whole foods, getting enough rest. When I want to perform those acts of self-care, I visualize my true self taking care of my physical body, much as I take care of my plants.

Doing this makes me feel as my true self is a parent taking care of their children. And I think it’s amazing that my perception of self-love is associated with how much I explicitly demonstrate that taking care of myself is important to me. This understanding has helped me explain why using luxurious skincare products makes me feel self-loveā€”the fact that some part of me willingly spends the money to buy these products is a way that I reinforce my self-value to myself. In other words, I’m worth it! Ideally in the future I will rely less on money and material goods to communicate self-value to myself, but I think at the moment it’s an effective love language.