And we’re back for part two of the Love Languages miniseries! Last time, we looked at each of the five love languages and how they might be expressed in a relationship. Hopefully more of your relationships look like the healthy version of expressing these languages than the toxic versions. If that is not the case, hopefully you now have a better sense of how a healthy relationship can look - and you can start building up the relationships that show those positive qualities.
Today, we’re going to look at another very important aspect of speaking your love language: how you speak to yourself! Truthfully, I could have reversed the order of these articles, since loving others works best when you have love for yourself. But we’re here now, so let’s dig in and have a look. If you took the quiz, you probably have a good sense of what your top one or two languages are. All five are relevant, but you’ll want to pay especially close attention to those that speak most to you.
Ready? Ok, let’s get to it!
What is self-love, actually? (Stop giggling)
Yes, it can certainly include that. And that’s actually a great way to express the language of Physical Touch to yourself in a positive way. But it’s not the only definition of self-love.
Aside from the slightly scandalous definition of self-love, what does it mean to truly have love for yourself? For some of us, our relationships with narcissistic family members or partners may have seriously skewed our impressions of self-love. And it’s true that one of the traits of a narcissist is excessive self-admiration and vanity. But it is possible to have self-love without being narcissistic.
Really loving yourself involves knowing yourself and welcoming all parts of you. In my favorite therapeutic way of working, Internal Family Systems (IFS for short), we call the place that holds this unconditional love, Self. Everyone has a Self, and everyone’s Self has unconditional love, acceptance, and compassion for each and every part of them. Even the ones that make you feel embarrassed when they come out. Even the ones that self-sabotage you at times. The love that Self has for those parts is a love that sees the inherent value in a person or part, and has appreciation for the good intentions of each of your parts.
True love for yourself can be expressed through each of the five love languages. Let’s take a look at how you can reach for that Self and access the unconditional love that you carry within you.
Love language: Words of Affirmation
To review, author Gary Chapman defines the language Words of Affirmation as “using words to build up [another] person.” Verbal praise, compliments, expressions of appreciation, and encouraging phrases are all expressions of this language. Expressing this language to yourself includes being aware of your self-talk, or how you respond to yourself within your own head and heart.
Most of us have some kind of running dialogue in the back of our minds, narrating our choices and commenting on the proceedings. Is your running commentary more like Mystery Science Theater 3000, with snark and sarcasm? Or is it a voice of encouragement, affirming your value even if you mess up? (Don’t get me wrong, I love me some MST3K - but those would be hard voices to carry around all the time).
Pay attention to how you talk to yourself.
If you make a mistake, do you berate yourself? Or are you able to say “well, that didn’t go the way I’d hoped. I did my best, and hopefully the next time will work out better.” One is an expression of Words of Affirmation toward yourself. The other is its antithesis. Which sounds more familiar? And how can you practice speaking to yourself in a kind and loving way?
Love language: Gifts
Review: Gifts can be anything given or purchased for you specifically because someone thought of you. They don’t have to be expensive, and there should be some meaning and intentionality in the giving. You can express this language to yourself through material gifts or gifts of time, space, and rest. You can also express this language by choosing not to make yourself “earn” these gifts, instead offering them to yourself as an act of love.
How many times have you told yourself you would only purchase that new outfit once you lost weight, so you’d look better in it? Maybe you’ve been waiting to buy a much-desired pair of shoes because you feel like you don’t deserve something nice, no matter how much you want it. Or you choose not to attend to your social needs because you feel like you should do something else, whether or not it’s what you actually want.
If you are an introvert, one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is quiet time to recharge after socializing with other people. If you are an extravert, the gift might be accepting the invitation to a party where you can gain energy from being in a crowd. And expressing a love language does not require you to earn the gift. It’s an offering that you make to yourself without reservation. An expression of recognition that you have intrinsic value, and that you deserve to be kind and loving to yourself. What is it like to give to yourself in this way?
Love language: Acts of Service
Review: An Act of Service is an action or behavior that you do because you know that it will please your loved one. When the loved one is you, that act may look more like accepting an act of service from someone else. One specific but fairly common way that this may show up is in accepting help as a new mom. If someone offers a free meal or wants to come entertain your older children while you adjust to newborn life again, you can accept the offer. Of course, the caveat is that if you know the offer comes with strings attached, it may be more in service to yourself to decline. But if the offer is in good faith and genuine, accept the gift of another’s Act of Service to you.
Other ways to show love through Acts of Service may include giving yourself permission to farm out tasks that you struggle with. If it is within your budget, you may have a cleaning service deep-clean your home or apartment every so often. Or you may hire a neighborhood kid to mow the lawn, since you hate doing it with a passion. And doing so out of Self-love means you can hire the kid without having to justify not doing it yourself six ways from Sunday. It is a choice you can make because it feeds your soul to free yourself from having to do it.
Love language: Quality Time
Review: Quality Time is time spent giving someone your undivided and genuine attention. Rather than just passively watching television, you are engaged with the other person and fully present in the moment with them. In Self-love, you may speak this language by carving out time to fully focus on yourself. Maybe you set aside time each morning to meditate and hold an intention for a positive, peaceful day. Or perhaps you decline an invitation to a family event that will bring stress, because you choose to give yourself that time instead.
Quality time may also look like creating space for yourself. Maybe if you do go to the family event, you choose to stay at a hotel rather than at your father-in-law’s house. That way you have an escape when things become tense or exhausting. You can check in with the parts of you that find it hard to be around him, and give yourself the gift of your own full attention. What is it like to give yourself the care, concern, and compassion that you so easily give others? Or, if you never have - what could it be like to try that?
Love language: Physical Touch
Review: Last but not least, Physical Touch is an expression of love through any form of physical contact. This can be sexual or nonsexual, and does not require a partner when acting in love toward yourself. As noted above, sexual gratification can be an expression of this love language, and may be a great way to explore what feels best for you. For those whose sexual needs have been exploited, unattended to, dismissed, or mistreated, masturbation may be part of a healing journey of regaining some control of this piece of yourself.
You can also engage in nonsexual physical touch as an act of love toward yourself. Notice how you engage with your body in daily life. Do you wait until your bladder is bursting to excuse yourself to the bathroom, because you’re trying so hard to be a good, dedicated employee? Or do you attend to your needs in a timely fashion? When you’re rushing to get ready in the morning, are you yanking the comb through your hair or gently working out the snarls? If you are sore from the gym, do you force yourself right back into it despite the pain, or can you gently massage the sore muscles and modify your activity until you feel better?
Our physical bodies are intimately connected to our emotional and mental experience of ourselves. Showing lovingkindness to our physical selves can be a way of beginning to access emotional and mental kindness to ourselves. Your body carries you through this world. How can you show it love and appreciation for what it does for you?
What if I can’t speak my language to myself?
It is very likely that you will find one or more languages that you struggle to speak to yourself. Maybe the one that means the most to you from others is the hardest to speak in your own life. If that’s the case, remember this: practice makes it easier. It takes conscious effort to change the way you interact with yourself, but it’s very much worth that effort.
Practicing Self-love brings you into a different heartspace. From that heartspace, you can more readily, easily, and deeply engage in healthy and loving relationships with friends and family. And you can better protect yourself from the wounds of those who cannot be healthy with you. When you care for yourself - truly care - you are slower to rationalize and justify accepting abusive treatment from someone else. It is easier to set boundaries, because they are an act of love for yourself rather than an act of defense against someone else.
Give it a try. See how your mindset can shift.
And remember, you are worthy of your own love, care, and compassion.