GRACE’S MUSINGS: The greatest love of all

The greatest love of all

Now Valentine’s Day is out of the way, let’s turn our attention to celebrating our longest relationship – the one we have with ourselves. Self-love is the foundation for all other relationships, and in a society that trades on the doubts and insecurities of women in midlife, there’s no better way to deal than by developing reserves of compassion – not just for ourselves but for others, too.

Self-love takes many forms. It’s not narcissistic or selfish – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Instead, it’s about treating ourselves with the same levels of kindness and respect we would show to others – which is tougher than it sounds. It’s about self-acceptance, too: valuing ourselves for who we are, and embracing our (perceived) flaws.

I know from personal experience that we’re often our own worst enemy: filled with self-doubt and critical about ourselves in a way we wouldn’t be with someone we loved. We let low self-worth shape our perception of who we think we are. A recent survey found that one in two women felt more self-doubt than love, with single (37%) and minority women (38%) experiencing lower self-esteem than married (21%) and non-minority women (25%).

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that women put their lack of confidence down to a) financial status (32%), b) failure to achieve their goals in life (25%), and c) looks (23%). We all need to believe we are enough. So what can we do to feel better about ourselves?

One way to practise self-love is to set boundaries and stick to them. That means saying no to people or things that no longer serve, and making time instead for those that bring us joy. Don’t be afraid to let toxic people go. It might be painful, but it’s so damn liberating too.

Stop comparing yourself to others. It’s only natural – competition is part of our social make-up – but it can be harmful for your self-esteem. Instead, focus on yourself and where you want to be. That shift of energy in itself can be freeing. And don’t worry about anyone else’s opinions. What society expects of you is of little consequence.

Be kind to yourself, instead of constantly judging or being hyper-critical. Rather than focusing on your flaws, try to celebrate your accomplishments. You’ve come so far, gaining wisdom and self-knowledge on the way. And don’t neglect self-care. This includes exercise, healthy eating and getting enough sleep. Take time to relax and recharge, whether that’s through meditation, yoga, reading or any (healthy) activity you enjoy.

Learn to put yourself first – without judgement. As women, we get used to focusing on the needs of others. In midlife, that might mean parents, partners and/or children, all demanding our attention. Make time to decompress – spending time in nature, or a day in bed. Whatever works for you.

Let go of the idea of perfection. Allow yourself to make mistakes. There’s always pressure to be perfect – most of it generated by our own self-critic. Cut yourself some slack. That’s how we learn and grow.

Deal with your fears – don’t push them down when they arise. Instead, try to understand and challenge them. Interrogating your anxieties can help you gain clarity and unpick issues in your life that are causing you pain. If anxiety itself is an issue, consider learning mindfulness techniques – in which self-compassion plays a large part.

See beauty in the simple things – and be grateful. I know I’ve said this before, but it’s so important. Noticing small moments of beauty around you and making a note of them is essential if you’re to gain perspective. That’s how you find joy. Alternatively, start a gratitude

list: note down three things every morning for which you are grateful – it doesn’t matter how insignificant. It could be a text exchange with your BFF. A slash of red lipstick. The sunshine. You get the idea.

Finally, exercise boldness. I’m a great believer in speaking my mind, as I’m sure you know. Boldness is like a muscle – it grows the more you use it. Don’t wait for permission to speak. Join the conversation. Contribute your thoughts – your views are as important as anyone else’s.

In the end, when we love ourselves, we attract healthy and fulfilling relationships into our lives. Self-love is a commitment we’re all the better for making. Let me know how you get on with it.

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