The self-love movement is encouraging, empowering, and inspiring. But it can also be toxic, hypocritical, and a bit too extreme.
There is a side to the self-love movement that I believe, if overlooked, people have the potential of losing out on important relationships or simply being kind, compassionate humans. Here’s my take:
The rise of social media has prompted new levels of mass comparison. Beauty standards heightened, this standard of “perfection” became the norm, and what was once raw and real is now the “before” stage of a dramatic glow-up. That’s where self-love comes in.
The terms “self-love” and “self-care” are absolutely everywhere now. As a response to the unhealthy comparison and declining mental health that social media tends to intensify, posts and wellness trends began to circulate to remind people to take care of themselves and focus their attention inward.
And while I must disclaim that I am not against a movement that teaches us to love and take care of ourselves, it is the hidden hypocrisy and consequences of this that I don’t think people realize. One of the biggest messages the self-love movement preaches is being gentle with ourselves. It is a pillar of this movement to practice self-compassion, forgive ourselves for our mistakes, be gentle with ourselves during our lowest times, and practice patience. And these are all amazing things that should continue to be practiced.
Yet, another major pillar of this movement, one that possibly contradicts the first one, is the importance of creating boundaries. I always see posts that encourage people to cut out anyone or anything negative, to be mindful of where they invest their energy, and to completely remove anything that drains it. Now, for a while, being someone that has always struggled to establish boundaries due to my own insecurities, I took these posts to heart quickly. I believed that in order to become “better” and improve the quality of my life, I had to essentially cut out anyone that I didn’t remotely feel good around or that I didn’t feel reciprocated in my effort (emphasis on feel).
Now, for as long as I had this mentality, it backfired. It actually created more issues for me because while I was trying so hard to dodge the people that I felt were “bad” for me, I completely lost sight of a few really important things as well as realizing down the road how selfish this mentality actually has the potential to be.
1. If the self-love movement teaches us to love and practice compassion and patience with ourselves as we are growing, shouldn’t we extend others the same?
I think that personally, I contorted the concept of “boundaries” by being so strict with them that I ended up falsely perceiving others as bad or negative while every other human is simply figuring it out as well. The point is, though, in the era of “cancel culture” and unattainable standards of perfection both on social media and increasingly off, we are preaching that we must take care of ourselves while rejecting others through their own growth journey. We are preaching to be gentle with ourselves when we make mistakes, while immediately cutting others off when they make a mistake. We are preaching to recognize our strengths more than our weaknesses while letting one little weakness or mistake overshadow all of another person’s strengths or good qualities. We are essentially giving ourselves the permission to grow, fail, and pick ourselves up again while forgetting others are on growth journeys themselves too, and saying they must only bring “good vibes,” otherwise they’re not worthy anymore. If this doesn’t suck the humanity and compassion out of relationships, I don’t know what does.
2. While being so focused on our own self-love and boosting our strengths, we get so self-involved that we forget that others show love in different ways, and that’s okay.
People have different strengths and weaknesses. People have different love languages. People have different depths of emotion and different ways of communicating love. That fact doesn’t diminish your own ways of communicating love or anyone else’s. It just means that we must take a little extra effort in any situation to remember the strengths a person has and value they add rather than giving up on them after one instance where they didn’t communicate in the same way you might have. A push for boundaries must not be confused with the need for everyone’s approach to relationships to match ours.
3. Preaching constant self-love has the potential to replace the love we have for others.
Everyone has a certain threshold, a certain level of love and energy they can give themselves and others. And I get it—I get that the self-love movement is encouraging us to make sure that our gas tank isn’t just full of the love and energy we give others and leaving none left for ourselves. But I think we are in danger of reaching the other extreme as well. The amount of stories or scenarios I hear where people are neglecting or rejecting others under the guise of calling it “self-care” is a little too much. There is a line between putting ourselves first and being selfish.
4. People are complex.
We only see .01% of a person. And chances are, underneath the other 99.99% that makes a person who they are, a big chunk of it even they are unaware of. Because the truth is everyone is on their own journey of reaching self-awareness and healing, as well as understanding themselves and why they act/think/behave the way they do. That same patience we must practice with ourselves when we screw up or make a mistake or unknowingly act wrongfully because of other factors involved is the same patience we should extend others because every single person also has that complexity going on. Usually their actions aren’t as simple as just being written off as “negative energy.” Think about if someone simply gave up on you in that way.
5. Not only is it fair to completely cut people out, it’s also not completely realistic.
Okay, so you decide that someone is a negative presence in your life and you want to create boundaries—great. But chances are, this person might be friends with your friends or you work with them or you have to see them in one way or another because people don’t just disappear when you want them too. Not only is tolerating people just a part of life, but in the spirit of not being selfish, sometimes we have to sacrifice a small thing we don’t want to do to add value for others and ourselves. Sometimes I have to sacrifice my dislike of talking on the phone so that I can have a relationship with my grandmother whose main joy in life is talking on the phone with her grandkids. And sometimes we have to spend time around a person we don’t want to in order to get more time with the people we love. Without running the risk of sounding too mature, this is the one I absolutely struggle with the most and continue to struggle with. We’re trying out here, we really are.
So what do you do? How do you set boundaries while also having grace for people? How do you embrace how others show love or embrace other people’s journey’s while protecting your own peace? I truly can’t pretend to give a right answer because this is something I am just starting to navigate as I release the strict hold on boundaries I had before. But I’ll say this: There is room for both. Creating boundaries and protecting your peace does not have to be a harmful act against someone. It doesn’t have to end in anger or hurt or rejection. Be conscious of people’s intentions, because most of the time, they’re not to hurt you. Ask yourself what is important to you and what steps you can take to get there. And recognize that mistakes, bad energy, and conflicts with people aren’t always so black and white. While you should surround yourself with people that add value into your life, realize no one is perfect and apply some of that tolerance.
So take it from me. Someone who is overly sensitive. Someone who is insecure and sometimes takes that out on other people. Someone who’s insecurities sometimes get the better of her. Who gets so emotional sometimes she can’t see reality. Someone who sometimes cares so deeply that not feeling that reciprocation in return feels like a personal attack. Someone who is only just starting to become aware of and break toxic patterns and put everything she has into self-growth so that others don’t become collateral damage. Someone who is human.
Please be gentle. Be patient. It’s true that you don’t know what others are going through, just as many others are blind to your own wounds and experiences.
And what is self-love anyway if you can’t give some of that love to others?