How do we differentiate self-love from self-indulgence? How can we break away from self-sabotage?
It’s not so much what you do for yourself, as how you do it. Pushing yourself to do lots of exercise, juicing, meditation, journaling, etc. in a harsh or rigid way is counter-productive. Likewise, staying up late on a Monday night to watch 10 episodes straight of your favourite Netflix series – because you ‘deserve it’ – is not the best in terms of feeling well at work the next day. So how can we get the balance right, and make sure that being kind and loving to ourselves doesn’t descend into a festival of self-indulgence ?
I like to think of it as becoming your own ‘kind-but-firm’ parent. Loving a child doesn’t mean letting them eat the whole tub of ice-cream until they’re sick, it means putting in place some healthy limits for their own good – even if they’re not so happy with in that moment. Or showing some flexibility – “ok, just one more cartoon show and then it’s time for bed”, and following through on that.
Kids need boundaries, and so do we as it turns out. That’s because there is an ‘inner child’ alive and kicking inside all of us, who is actually calling the shots a lot of the time, though we are probably not aware of it. Our inner child often knows best what we need, and usually won’t stop sending us signals until he or she is heard…
Self-Parenting with Love: it’s all in the tone
If you can become your own ‘kind-but-firm’ parent, lovingly and mindfully, yet firmly encouraging yourself to do what you already know is good for you, you can create a solid foundation for flourishing in your life. Keep your inner child happy, and you will experience more balance, joy and ease. This can take time to learn…
It’s all about the tone and quality of your inner voice or your attitude towards yourself as you do it. It can be really helpful to literally speak to your inner child (in your head, or even out loud!), if you’re open to experimenting with it. First, acknowledging his/her needs and ask what he/she wants, and then respond from a more adult, kind-but-firm place.
It takes ongoing practice to develop this inner partnership between the two, until you can become your own best ally. And it can take some digging deep to become the attuned, kind-but-firm parent you may not have as a child. Remember to go gently with yourself and take it slowly, as this practice can bring up a lot of early losses and much deep emotion, in relation to seemingly simple daily activities.
It might involve some negotiation, some soothing sympathy, or even some humour. For one person it might be, “Ok, Little Me, I know you’ve had a long day and you’re dying to numb out with a bottle of wine and enter the Vortex of Netflix for the foreseeable future, but if we just get ourselves out for a quick walk now after dinner you’ll get one epsiode after as a treat, followed by a great night’s sleep”. For another it might be, “Ok, Mini Me, I know you’ve been eating well and working out loads to try and stay fit and healthy, but maybe this evening it’s time to let your hair down and have a glass of vino and fun with your friends instead of obsessing about getting 8.5 hours’ sleep, I think you need a break.”
No one else can say what’s best for you in these moments, or what is genuinely the most nourishing think you can do for yourself. Only you – your inner child and your wise adult – know what’s right for you, and engaging both in partnership to get there can really help.
How would it sound inside your head to talk with your inner child in this way?
Whether it’s allowing more playtime, or getting some more work done, if we can egg ourselves on from a place of love and encouragement it is so much more effective and sustainable. It’s also a way to avoid self-sabotaging: taking this tone with yourself first acknowledges your inner child’s needs, and then helps to tame both the ‘should’s thrown at us from slave-driving inner critics, as well as the acting out of our rebellious inner-toddler who longs to be exuberant, or our inneer-adolescent who is sick of feeling misunderstood and wants more freedom.
Maybe start by noticing the tone of the current conversations in your head when you make these daily choices, and see what happens if you start shifting into firm-but-kind parent mode with yourself…