Earlier this month I shared the speech I had the honor of giving at a local National Art Honor Society induction ceremony. The culmination of the speech was that once I had finally learned to love myself, I could love my own artwork, and feel confident calling myself an artist. Here I want to share a little more insight into my experience, why self love is important, and share some ways I learned to love myself and build self esteem as an artist.
First of all, I never had a lack of love in my life. One of the first songs I ever knew was “Jesus Loves Me.” My parents raised us with love and we had good relationships with our extended family. Except for maybe a couple random years in elementary school, I always had good friends that loved me. I had a few serious boyfriend relationships where the “L” word was exchanged, and Ronnie and I married in my mid-twenties. I never felt unloved, but it was all from external sources.
My religious upbringing taught me a lot about loving others, and striving to do what was right. But with that, I perceived a lot of mixed messages that left me confused on how to feel about myself. Messages that said I was a sinner, and unworthy, that the heart is deceitful above all things, and of course pride cometh before the fall.
I came away with some sense that I wasn’t supposed to like myself or be proud of any gifts or accomplishments, since my human existence was rooted in sin, and would be selfish and boastful. And I literally thought God forbid I listen to my heart, for it was “desperately wicked.”
I struggled with confidence in many ways, though I was pretty good at faking it. I was a poster child for Imposter Syndrome, so while my career and life looked good on paper, I was just treading water without a balanced sense of self. All of my perceived value as a person came from family, friends, my husband, and God.
Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful to be loved. Many people feel lonely and have never experienced the love throughout their lives that I have, so I don’t want to downplay the value of that. But I was missing a core component of love: myself.
What is Self Love?
Since I was confused for so long, I think it’s important to define what I mean by “self love.” It’s thrown around a lot, along with terms like “self care,” and “self esteem.” They have overlap, but they aren’t one in the same. According to the Oxford dictionary, self love is “regard for one’s own well-being and happiness (chiefly considered as a desirable rather than narcissistic characteristic).”
Sharon Martin, LCSW for PsychCentral.com, says “Self-love means that you accept yourself fully, treat yourself with kindness and respect, and nurture your growth and wellbeing. Self-love encompasses not only how you treat yourself but also your thoughts and feelings about yourself.”
I recently read an Instagram post from author Sarah Bessey, co-founder of “Evolving Faith”, and her beautiful words on self love really resonate: “May you be blessed by the gift of your whole self. May you deal tenderly with your faults and your griefs, your strengths and your victories, knowing that the line between them is blurred. May you forgive and love the parts of yourself that have kept you up at night. May you sense the presence of love and grace in the bruised places. May you begin to understand that your whole story can be a gift.” Sigh.
For me, standing on a mountaintop and realizing that this beautiful life is a gift, and that I am a unique part of that gift, felt like magic. And who doesn’t love magic? In all seriousness, it occurred to me that all my confusion and fear of love for myself was unfounded. That pure, instinctual love I have for my children, I felt for myself for the first time. I matter, purely because of my existence, and loving my own existence felt like peace. It felt like coming home. And if that kind of love is wrong, then I don’t want to be right!
Why Self Love is Important
Self love is important for many reasons, which I’ll list below. But for me personally, learning self love was a game changer in my art practice. It was the difference between making art for some external achievement versus making art for my enjoyment. To feel comfortable and worthy of exploring my feelings by way of my talents. To use my skills to process thoughts and emotions without judgment; a healing practice. To know that my creations as an extension of me were worthy of love, even if it was only me that loved my artwork.
Practicing art along with self love provides a sense of freedom and joy that can’t be compared to creating art to earn accolades from others. It comes from a place of curiosity and authenticity, a giving of oneself, rather than from a place of earnestness, ego, or fear of imperfection. Artists with self love can create their most original, truest artwork.
But even though I’m speaking about self love for artists, it is important for everyone! Here are some reasons to consider, whether you are an artist or not!
Self Love Fuels Self Growth
While self love involves acceptance of yourself without judgment or shame, it also allows you to be real with yourself about where you are and where you hope to be. Once you love yourself, you can see that you are worthy of goals and dreams that you might otherwise have given up on. With love, you can invest in yourself, commit to something challenging, and leave your comfort zone because you know you’ve got your back.
Self Love Improves Your Health and Wellbeing
When you love yourself, you are more likely to make healthier choices for yourself. Valuing your own wellbeing, both physical and mental, means doing more things to enhance that, and fewer things that are a detriment. But it also means having grace for yourself when you aren’t able to do what’s best or made a less than desirable choice. When we give ourselves grace, it decreases stress and anxiety, which are two major thieves of health and happiness.
Self Love Helps Us Better Love Others
It’s tough to pour from an empty cup, right? You put your own oxygen mask on before helping the person next to you, yes? When we don’t love ourselves, loving others can become performative, giving that which we wish to receive, and it can be draining. It can also cause unhealthy codependencies with others. When we love ourselves, there is a well from which we can draw love to give, without bleeding ourselves dry or begging for the love of others.
Self Love Can Help You Avoid Burnout
Without a sense of self that you love and value, it is all too easy to get caught up into meeting the expectations of others in order to “earn” love and acceptance. Whether this is a job, personal relationship, or hobby, working too hard at something for the wrong reasons is a surefire way to find yourself burned out and resentful in the long run. Self love can help you use your energy toward things that align with your values, and better establish boundaries toward things that don’t.
Self Love Can Reveal Your Calling
Self-love is key to finding your calling and purpose in life. Without this love, we might find ourselves chasing achievements based on our egos. When we know and love ourselves, acknowledging our own worth, our intuition becomes sharper and we are better able to discern what truly matters to us. This understanding then allows us to put our focus on things that matter most, and how we can use our unique talents to serve, which leads us down the path toward fulfillment.
Ways to Love Yourself
While I am not an expert in self love, I am writing this to share the things I’ve learned along the way, in hopes that it’s helpful to others. Certainly there are counseling professionals and self help books out there to provide more structured and clinically proven methods. But these are some of the ways I learned how to love myself better.
Get Outside and Spend Time in Nature
Modern lifestyle has disconnected us from the natural world that we are inherently a part of. There is something magical and grounding about spending time in nature. And it doesn’t have to be a multi-night backcountry camping trip. You can declutter your brain and hear your own heart better just by a visit to a local park or sitting on the dock at a lake. It could even be as simple as watching the clouds in the sky above if you can’t easily get away from an urban setting. You might say you aren’t an outdoorsy person, but I truly believe we all are. Some of us have just been disconnected from it longer and have to find our way back, just as we need to do with loving ourselves.
Spend Time Doing Things You Enjoy
Now I’m not talking about watching TV or playing video games. I’m talking about the things that truly light you up. For me, it’s creating art, or spending quality time with loved ones.It could be any sort of creative, social, or physical endeavor that calms you, inspires you, motivates you, and makes you truly feel better when you are doing it and afterward. Maybe you love to cook, or take apart and rebuild motors, or go cycling with a group of friends. Everyone should have a hobby, and if you don’t, keep trying new and different things till you find your thing. Finding your thing (or things!) will bring you joy, which is an active way to love yourself.
There are a lot of misconceptions about meditation, which is why I titled this section “practice.” But it is a really simple, yet powerful tool for anyone and everyone to learn how to spend quiet time with just their thoughts. While it isn’t easy ( I still struggle to make it a daily habit and I’ve been trying for years), it is so effective for learning to listen to yourself, without judgment, and make space for whatever is there in those moments. Learning that skill is a big key to learning to love yourself. I recommend “Bliss More” by Light Watkins as a super practical book to help you get started. There are also many apps that offer guided meditations, which can be a great place to begin as well.
By seeking out voluntary challenges, you can overcome obstacles and things you didn’t know were possible for yourself. After accomplishing, and sometimes even just attempting, you build confidence, which in turn can contribute to self love. Challenges you seek might be physical, like training for a marathon or climbing a mountain (my drug of choice), or cognitive, like learning a foreign language or new skill. The type of challenge you seek is really up to you, but as long as you work to move outside your comfort zone, you stand to gain confidence and resilience that help you love yourself more.
Make a List of Things You Like About Yourself
This may sound a bit elementary, but grabbing a notebook or journal (or even your phone’s notepad app), and jotting down things you like about yourself can be the beginning of a lovely relationship. Things like “I am good at…”, “something unique about me is…”, “I am proud of how I…”, “I am grateful that I’m…” There is something impactful about putting thoughts to paper that can help solidify the thoughts and make them seem more true. Writing a love letter to yourself is a great way to express those feelings in a way that is likely to stick!
Reframe Your Inner Voice Like You are Talking to a Friend
For many of us, we would be ashamed if we talked to a loved one the same way we talk to ourselves. If your friend had a rough day at work where they made a big mistake on a project, you wouldn’t tell them “You are such a failure and you suck at your job.” No. You would say “Everyone has bad days sometimes. Don’t beat yourself up – I’m sure you’ll get it figured out tomorrow!” The way we talk about ourselves matters – we should treat ourselves as our own best friend, which includes being truthful, accountable, respectful, kind, encouraging, and forgiving, just to name a few.
Work With a Counselor or Therapist
Last but not least, much of what I’ve learned about loving myself has come from talk therapy sessions with a professional counselor. Psychotherapy or counseling can be a great tool to help you build a better relationship with yourself. Good therapists can provide a nonjudgmental and neutral setting to explore your thoughts, behaviors, and relationships, provide understanding and thoughtful ways of looking at things, and help you develop tools to improve your quality of life . I understand it isn’t accessible for everyone, but if you have the means and need extra guidance in learning ways to love yourself, don’t be afraid to try counseling.
Self love is so important, and while it has become a powerful tool in my art practice, I believe it is important for everyone, no matter their interests or career. By taking the time to acknowledge, accept, and appreciate all aspects of yourself, you can gain a newfound sense of freedom and joy. You don’t have to do anything extraordinary or amazing; the simple act of loving yourself is enough. So take some time for yourself to find and express gratitude for the unique person you are. You never know what beauty you may uncover!