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The Skin I’m In: Love Thy Self

Authors: Jordan Madison, LCMFT | Jasmine Belvin, LMHC, LPC | Bryanna Campbell, Psy.D, HSP-P

“Self-love is the best love” is an age-old adage that we have most likely all heard before. In recent years, it seems self-love and self-care have become increasingly popular. However, it’s come at the risk of being commercialized. When you think of self-care or self-love, you probably envision getting massages, taking a bubble bath, or buying certain products to make you feel good. However, loving yourself is so much more than that. Don’t get me wrong, pampering yourself is important, but we can show ourselves, love, in so many different categories in our life. Most of us know how to take care of ourselves on a physical and mental level. But other realms of self-love include emotional, social, professional, environmental, spiritual, and financial levels. 

Emotional self-love is enhancing your emotional literacy, understanding and expressing your emotions, and managing them as well. Social self-love is surrounding yourself with a safe and supportive network of people that can pour into you, in addition to you pouring into yourself. Having a work-life balance and clear professional boundaries with your coworkers is how you practice self-love in your professional life. Protecting your environment, whether your home, office space, or transportation, is also a way to value yourself. When it comes to spiritual self-love, that means having beliefs and values that guide your decisions and behavior. Last but not least is financial self-love. It may seem like just a responsibility or task, but being responsible and holding yourself accountable when it comes to your finances is an act of self-love as well. It’s important to have a healthy balance between spending and saving. Take some time to think of which areas you excel in loving yourself in, as well as which areas you could use some improvement in. 

So now that we know all of the different areas, we can show ourselves love; why is it so hard to do so? It can be not easy to know how to love yourself as a Black woman if you haven’t seen it modeled for you. Self-love is sometimes misconstrued as selfish. So we shy away from pouring into ourselves because so many others depend on us to pour into them. In the rest of this blog, you’ll see how we have been socialized regarding self-love and how we can continue to incorporate it into our daily lives. In the words of Audrey Lorde, “caring for yourself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Socialization & Self-Love

What is socialization?

Where did you learn about what it means to be a Black woman? This idea is often referred to as socialization. Socialization refers to all the ways you learn about what it means to be you. This can include traditions, rituals, and messages (both overt and covert) that teach you what is acceptable to society. Socialization can occur within many contexts of identity, including (but not limited to): race, gender, sexuality, differing abilities, socioeconomic status, religious or spiritual identity, and so on. Socialization also occurs in several settings: home, school, church, athletics, the media, and many other settings. 

We all receive messages about who we are and what parts of us are acceptable in different environments. This messaging can have a significant influence on how you navigate your life. Furthermore, it can influence many facets of your daily life, like the roles you take on in different environments, the expectations you have for yourself and others, and how you adapt to situations.

Many of us have intersecting identities, and most of us have exposure to multiple settings; we experience complex messaging about what it means to be a Black woman. Sometimes this messaging is uplifting and positive, and other times the messaging can be disparaging and disempowering. When the messages you receive are conflicting, it can lead to distress and confusion, especially if you are unaware of or still discovering your own personal ideals and values. 

Some questions to consider when thinking about your socialization include:

  • Can you name some of the places where you heard the messaging about what it means to hold the identities you hold? (For example, home, school, church, athletics, extracurricular activities, etc.)
  • What messages have you heard about what it means to be Black? A woman? A Black woman? Have these messages evolved? How do you think your intersecting identities influence the messages you received?
  • What you developed parts of your understanding of yourself, and what parts were developed by others?
  • Where did this particular belief or expectation about yourself come from? Do you actually find this true or aligned with yourself, or do you uphold this to gain acceptance from others or protect yourself?
  • Is this a belief or expectation that you would like to keep, toss, or modify?
  • Who benefits from you being your most authentic self?
  • Are there any repercussions for being your most authentic self?
  • Are there any ideas or beliefs from your socialization that you are fused to? How are they serving you now?
  • What were the repercussions for not following the socialization expectations?
  • To what extent do you behave in ways that prioritize comfort, beliefs, or ideas?

The relationship between socialization and self-love 

Self-love includes self-awareness about the many aspects that influence your perception of yourself. 

When thinking about your self-love journey, it is important to think about how your socialization has impacted your expectations. Are the standards you have for yourself truly yours, or are they swayed by external sources? There is significant value in taking inventory of the things you allow to influence your view of yourself. Take time yourself to reflect on the messages you have heard about what it means to be you and how they have influenced your behaviors. If there are messages that you enjoy, keep them! If there are messages that you disagree with, assess whether or not it is worth your effort to change yourself to fit an external expectation. 

You are the designer of your life, and you are allowed to invent, revise, and reinvent yourself throughout your life. You are allowed to be influenced by the world around you. The beautiful thing is you get to decide how you will integrate information into your daily life. Think about the ways you can engage with yourself that honor your unique ideals and values. Although we must acknowledge that there are often barriers that can impact how safe you feel living out loud, there is still beauty in knowing what you think about yourself and creating your personal vision and code of ethics. 

Self-love also requires honesty and accountability in the ways that you may not act according to your own vision by engaging in self-sabotage. Be mindful of the ways that you contribute to your experiences. Assess if the thought processes and behaviors you engage in positively contribute to the life you want to live.

Strengthening self-love

Self-love is a process, much like healing. It’s truly a practice which means it doesn’t happen overnight. You’ll have days where it feels easy and comes naturally; then there will be days where you feel worthless and undeserving. Self-love truly begins when you start allowing yourself to recognize that the thoughts and notions that are not worth being loved are not valid. It can be difficult to unlearn those beliefs because many of them have developed throughout life. However, there are small habits you can start shifting to begin strengthening the love you have for yourself and releasing yourself from those beliefs that make it difficult.

Refrain from comparing yourself

Many of our attitudes and feelings about ourselves stem from what we perceive we lack compared to others. It can be challenging to practice self-love when you’re constantly picking yourself apart because of the things you lack. Comparison can be damaging to your self-esteem. It’s essential to acknowledge when you compare yourself to others and remind yourself that what you think their reality is versus what is actually taking place may be different. People curate their lives on and off of social media. Allow yourself to shift that energy you put into comparison into strengthening the relationship you have with yourself.

Letting go of toxic people

Speaking of relationships, your relationships can directly impact your mental health and your relationship with yourself. When you have people close to you telling you that you aren’t lovable or worthy, it can diminish the love you have for yourself. Letting go of relationships, regardless of who they are to you, makes room for a better relationship with yourself.  It might be difficult to distance yourself from people or cut ties, but the relationship you have with yourself is one of the most important relationships you’ll have.

Practice self-forgiveness and grace

A vital component of self-love is providing yourself grace and forgiveness. We all mess up — a lot. It’s a part of being human. The mistakes you’ve made and your shortcomings don’t have to define you. Mistakes are what help you grow and do better the next to go round.  Providing yourself with grace and self-forgiveness doesn’t mean you don’t hold yourself accountable because that is also an important aspect of self-love. However, grace and self-forgiveness do mean not guilting and shaming yourself for your wrongdoings. Remaining stuck in those negative feelings doesn’t give you much opportunity to grow and make amends. Acknowledging your flaws and accepting the good and the bad – now that’s self-love.

Start choosing you

Your journey to self-love may disappoint others, and that’s something you’ll have to learn to be okay with. You will have to get into the habit of realizing everything you have to offer; people won’t love or even understand. It’s not your job to make them understand either. Self-love means permitting yourself to put yourself first, permitting yourself to disappoint people, and permitting yourself to love yourself fully and authentically.

Remember, self-love is…

  • Awareness of self
  • Attending to your needs to the best of your ability (and as much as circumstances allow) such as food, water, finances, living situation, etc.
  • Accountability
  • Recognizing how you are powerful, valuable, and meaningful, just as you are
  • Finding things about yourself that you admire
  • Acknowledging areas for growth and taking steps to address them
  • Advocating for your needs
  • Cleaning and organizing your environment 
  • Finding spaces in which you feel loved and respected
  • Finding places where you can be your most authentic self
  • Making boundaries around your time and emotional capacity – and enforcing them
  • Creating healthy relationships with sleep, food, and movement
  • Participating in activities that bring you joy, peace, or contentment
  • Taking time for yourself when possible to “be” without expectation
  • Engaging in cultural rituals or traditions that are important to you
  • Caring for your physical, financial, and mental health
  • Engaging in hobbies that interest you
  • An ongoing journey that evolves over time

Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Sisterhood heals
Order Now

Looking for the UK Edition?
Order here

Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Looking for the UK Edition? Order here