Tough (Self) Love

The concept of self love is everywhere nowadays. It seems like it’s the ultimate answer to every question: Have a bad day? Practice self love or self care. Too much work? All you need is self love and it’ll vanish. Stressed out about life in general? SELF LOVE IS THE KEY!

Now, I’m not here to say that self love is a bad thing. Not in the least. It is an amazing, wonderful, beautiful thing to be able to fully love oneself and it can make the world a better place, especially when it extends from ourselves to others. We could all use more of it. However, sometimes I feel like the lines between self care/love and being undisciplined are blurred. Too often, I find myself turning these valid and important ideas into excuses that serve as a form of self sabotage instead of love. We aspire to love ourselves as we are, while sometimes failing to realize that, when the acceptance becomes completely unconditional, it can turn into a hindrance to our overall development and progress. Keep in mind, this by no means includes everyone. This is something that I specifically struggle with, but might work perfectly for others.

A common strategy nowadays is to talk to ourselves the way we would talk to a child. If we mess up, we tell ourselves it’s okay, we try to be gentle and forgiving. I find that this never ending supply of self love is only a healthy strategy in some situations, and also that I’ve never been particularly good at it. Again, this might not be true for everyone, and I’m only writing about my personal experiences, but if I practice this strategy of being completely forgiving with myself, it’s easy for me to lose any kind of structure in my life as well.  

For example, even if I know that it’s in my best interest to sit down and write my report, I occasionally find myself watching Netflix instead. In my mind, I’m dismissing it as a form of self love. What’s the problem with cutting myself some slack and relaxing? Well in reality, you can bet that I’m anything but relaxed. I’m forcing the anxiety of the impending due date into the back of my mind in an attempt to procrastinate, all under the guise of self care when the truth is that forcing myself to get the report done would be a hundred times more beneficial to my mental health (and my grades). Some people, however, have the ability to be this gentle with themselves while still being disciplined and it’s something I deeply admire, just not something that works for me.

While this is only one example, and based purely on my own experience with the concept, I’ve come to the realization that I have to find a from of self love that works better for me, a tough love if you will. Tough self love is being completely honest with yourself about what you have to do in order to reach your goals, and just honestly cutting the crap. It’s possible to love yourself while still holding yourself to high standards and putting pressure on yourself to be the best version of you. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Of course, we should still love ourselves when we slip up, or when we take a nap instead of going for a run, but living according to the idea of tough love means showing up for yourself even when you don’t feel like it, simply because you know you’re worth it. The key here is in finding the balance between gentle forgiveness and a tough kick ass attitude. Once you can achieve that middle ground, anything is possible.

Ellen Arvidson

Originally from Connecticut, Ellen is an English major at Saint Michael's College in Burlington, Vermont. She loves running, skiing, and anything to do with Broadway musicals.

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