Your complete guide to the meaning of self-love, according to Sara Kuburic aka The Millennial Therapist

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  • You have a self, so you love that self... right?

    For many, the meaning of self love might seem simple.

    You have a self, so you probably love it. Right?

    Well, actually, not so much, according to existential therapist and coach Sara Kuburic, otherwise well-known as The Millennial Therapist. On her Instagram page with the same moniker, she shares wisdom about self care, human identity and intentional living.

    When we catch up on Zoom, she makes it clear that she wants you to know that self love is a process.

    “Self love has to be intentional,” she shares. “People get confused. They think, ‘I am myself’, so I have a relationship with myself. That’s not true. It’d be like having a boyfriend who’s basically a roommate. You don’t speak to each other – he’s just there. Just because you’re in the same space does mean you know this person,” she explains.

    The chat ties in as saddening new stats released by The Body Shop discover that half of women globally feel more self-doubt than self-love. They surveyed a huge 22,000 women – “it’s a global issue,” shares Kuburic.

    So, what is self-love? 

    Self love, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is defined as “regard for one’s own well-being and happiness.”

    What the Body Shop’s Global Self Love index found is that we’re experiencing a bit of a self-love crisis. That is, despite body positivity movements and even the emergence of body neutrality, more and more women, in particular, are feeling more negative than positive emotion towards their body aesthetic and appearance.

    “I like that you understand the gravity of the survey,” Kuburic says to me over Zoom. “Especially because the survey measured self love, not just self confidence,” she explains. “Self love encompasses your attitudes, feelings, and actions, whereas confidence is the ability to feel like you’re attractive,” she shares.

    The issue is much greater than just aesthetic, Kuburic believes. “It’s a self esteem issue, and surprisingly, it’s not even that different from gender to gender.”

    Why are we experiencing a self love crisis right now? 

    So, what’s to blame? Why now? A series of lockdowns can’t have helped, but is it fair to say that this spike in self-doubt has been triggered by lockdown, I ask the therapist? “It’s a great question,” she shares. “I think COVID amplified whatever relationship you probably had with yourself and your body prior to it happening.”

    If you had a relationship with yourself that leaned towards self love, chances are you took that extra time for yourself and built on your body positivity with no pressure or expectations. “Some may even have used the time to really enjoy and explore that part of themselves,” she shares.

    Self love meaning

    However, that’s definitely not the case for everyone – as the survey indicates. “If you outsourced your self love and your self esteem to others pre-lockdown, you may have suffered. Say your self-love presented as compliments from others or visits to your local gym. It will have been taken away for the majority of a year now. You’ll have felt that impact emotionally even more,” she explains.

    She goes on to root into the fact that many acts of ‘self love’ pre-lockdown may, truthfully, not have been self-love acts at all. Did you cook nutritious meals to nourish your body, or was it really to lose weight? Did you go for brunch because it brought you joy, or, truthfully, because all your friends were doing it? Lockdown has given us more time than ever to really address these habits and routines, and question ourselves in the process – both the good and the bad.

    “Chances are, a lot of your ‘self-love’ actions were really actions catered to getting approval or to please,” Kuburic continues. Once you realised that was why you were doing it, and lost the incentive too, you may have felt quite down about yourself.

    Combine that with a global pandemic and being asked to stay home to safe lives, and you may too find yourself having a self-love crisis.

    Help: I’m worried about society going back to normal!

    Something that may also be triggering feelings of self-doubt right now? Re-entry anxiety.

    “I feel like I’m living it right now,” Kuburic shares. “It feels really overwhelming, but understanding where you’re at and how COVID has impacted you can really help.”

    She recommends taking time to reflect on how the last year has impacted you. Do you feel negatively towards your experiences, or like you grew from them? How has it affected your mental health? And how does that shift your perception or beliefs about the world?

    Self love meaning

    If your answer is yes, feeling anxious is only natural. Kuburic’s top tips: assess your headspace about re-entering into society, and ease yourself back in gently. She emphasises that there’s no rush, and that being mindful of how you’re feeling as you ramp up your social interactions again is essential.

    “No one needs to be a hero,” she shares. “You don’t need to reintegrate within the first week. Identify feelings without judgments, and set boundaries. Your boundaries may look different now – maybe pre-COVID you didn’t have enough space for introspection or alone time. Don’t just jump back into the negative habits that didn’t serve you. See it as an opportunity to create a future that you actually want,” she recommends.

    So, how do you address your negative mindset?

    Say you feel like you can’t do any of the things that make you feel good about yourself at current. You’re constantly feeling down, and can’t shake your negative mindset. What do you do?

    “First up, be careful with your phrases. If you say, I can’t experience joy right now, I can’t experience fulfilment, or I can’t experience love, chances are, you’re not going to. Of course COVID has brought limitations, but I don’t think need to add more emotional restrictions, too,” Kuburic explains.

    Next up? Identify who you are, and try, day-by-day, to fall in love with that person.

    “If you don’t know who you are, how are you going to love yourself? Being aware of who you are is the first step. Then, act on that. Have difficult conversations with yourself, set personal boundaries and keep daily promises. These are all self-love actions we can all do every single day. We’re not as powerless as we think,” Kuburic shares.

    She adds here that it’s totally normal to feel helpless in the current situation, but that finding autonomy and empowerment within yourself is important, too.

    4 guidelines for self love – self love affirmations:

    1. Keep daily promises

    This is one of the simplest actions of self love, in Kuburic’s opinion. Think meditating or drinking enough water; banishing negative self talk or calling your Mum. The sky’s the limit, and they’re personal to you.

    2. Move your body for the sake of moving

    Try this: move your body in a way that it shows it that you are engaging with it, recognising its needs, and allowing it to express itself, advises Kuburic.

    “Sometimes you can’t access overwhelm verbally, so mindful movement – even just putting on a good song and dancing around without a care in the world! – is a great way of understanding yourself without making it cognitive,” she adds.

    3. Journaling

    Kuburic encourages her clients to journal, as it helps them with their awareness of who they are and what they’re going through. “What a beautiful, beautiful way to show yourself love when you go, ‘Hey, I’m noticing you’re feeling really sad today'”, she shares.

    She encourages you to have those difficult conversations with yourself, acknowledge your emotions, and sit with your sadness, should you need to.

    4. Set boundaries

    Don’t get hung up this one – set boundaries in whatever way suits you. That may mean scrolling Instagram for two hours instead of ten, or watching Netflix less frequently if it leaves you feeling empty.

    “There both acts of self love. Having those kind of guidelines that you know you’re holding yourself to for the sake of your own mental health is huge,” she shares.

    Still struggling with self-love? 

    Don’t worry – as Kuburic says at the very start of this article, it’s a process. “There’s this big misconception that self love just happens,” the therapist explains. “That’s not true. It is an issue and it needs to be addressed as such, which means seriously and with intention.”

    Keen to start your own self love journey? Join The Body Shop’s Self Love Uprising or tune in to a live conversation with Jameela Jamil and Sara Kuburic on The Body Shop’s Instagram at 8pm on Wednesday 17th March. #SelfLoveUprising.

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