It’s become quite trendy to promote self-love. That sense that you accept your holistic being for all it is. But what isn’t so often mentioned is something I’d like to call “conditional self-love.”
I speak on the topic of self-love as somebody who longs to find that place where I can say that I’m completely comfortable with who I am. It’s much easier said than done. I naturally preach about positivity toward yourself every day to every person, embracing all our unique characteristics. Except when it comes to myself. It’s as if my words are spoken in a foreign language I have yet to translate.
Hence the term “conditional self-love.” My self-love has conditions to meet before I feel comfortable and confident. We see so many images and messages of self-love, but rarely do those reflect the in-between, the times we can only achieve conditional self-love.
As always, we’re being very real and vulnerable. I value being open in hopes of inspiring others to speak their own truths of conditional self-love. That it’s absolutely okay to not be gung-ho about every little detail about yourself. That even though you feel stuck in whatever conditions you’ve placed upon your physical, mental, and spiritual self, there’s still hope that we can then replace conditional self-love with true contentment.
physical conditional self-love
Let’s start with the most obvious form of conditional self-love: body image.
When you have an eating disorder of any kind, it’s far too easy to take your body for granted. You get lost in your own head until your body feels heavy, a burden weighing you down. Your mind takes control to try and sculpt your body like clay into however it chooses as “ideal,” even if that’s extremely unhealthy. The functional aspects of your body take the backseat to other priorities.
Even when I am in better head space and can recognize when disordered thoughts arise, I still have a relationship with my body that is…to put it lightly, indifferent. My body is the temple that houses my soul, and yet it doesn’t fully feel like a home. It’s just there. And when I knowingly have body dysmorphia, I still feel the urge to analyze to the point of nitpicking every minute detail.
In this way, I still feel like I expect certain things from myself and how I think my body should look. A mindset that simultaneously wants to fully appreciate my body, but is only half-appreciating it. I focus on certain aspects of myself that I’m comfortable with, saying that I admire them, and other aspects I ignore entirely because I don’t know how to feel.
In these ways, conditional self-love feels like a weird limbo between full hatred and full love. A sense of curiosity that can easily go dark.
mental & spiritual conditional self-love
Now onto types of conditional self-love we might not consider upon an immediate glance. Let’s go beyond skin deep.
Our bodies are ultimate just the instruments that house our minds and souls. We have thoughts and emotions. Yearnings and callings stemming from our silky centers. All of this to say, there’s still self-esteem and insecurities that can lurk beneath it all.
As an autistic person, I didn’t realize how much conditional self-love I had toward myself on a mental and emotional level. There’s been a deep-seeded part of me that resented the continual cycles I felt trapped in. Always misunderstanding, burning out, falling short. I felt broken for not having the same energy and connection everyone around me seemed to have.
On top of this, when I threw myself full-force into my calling to ministry, I became aware of spiritual conditional self-love. From much of the Christian dialogue I grew up around, God seemed like a figure who can change His opinion of us depending upon our choices and sins. If God loves you when you don’t disobey, or at least regularly repent, what about every other time? What if you don’t go to church, or you question every idea and belief?
Conditional self-love leaves us with many questions. We doubt ourselves. Even if we attempt to “do better” with self-improvement, something inside still asks, “Are you actually doing enough?”
moving beyond conditions.
Conditional self-love holds ourselves back from a full embrace of the unique being we are. I’m in this work, too, down in the trenches with you. I don’t have it all in the bag, but here are some ways I’m making baby steps in the right direction.
Everyone and their mother these days talks about having a gratitude practice. At a certain point, you get sick of hearing all about how some wellness guru online writes morning gratitude lists.
Personally, gratitude doesn’t necessarily have to be on paper to prove effective. Even random mindful moments where I take a step back and acknowledge myself work. For example, in a yoga flow, I like to consider my body’s flexibility and strength, regardless of how it looks.
When writing this, I acknowledged how grateful I am to communicate through written words, my ability to express myself effectively. I’m also grateful, in this moment, to evoke God whenever I feel called to, just to appreciate the birds chirping outside my window.
Conditional self-love may say we need certain things to be fully, authentically grateful. Going beyond those conditions means we can find gratitude in every day, every moment.
focus on the good.
We know our flaws like the back of our hands. If someone asked, we could probably rattle them off, no problem. But what about your strengths? All the reasons why you’re remarkable? Not so easy.
It’s important to take note of harmful, toxic patterns we may notice in ourselves, but in most situations, I vote we celebrate every little victory. People can can compliment you all they want, but if you don’t accept any praise or believe a lick they say, then what’s the point? It’s about time you become your own cheerleader rather than your worst enemy.
When you find yourself putting up conditions and expectations, find what’s already good. Sure, I know my motivation and focus waver, but it’s good that I know who I am enough to do what I can, no matter how small. Yes, I’m having a difficult time managing intrusive thoughts about my body, but it’s good that I feel healthy and strong right now.
Treat yourself as you would a child. Are there conditions for the love you have for this child? If not, then why does your conditional self-love hold you back?
neutrality is okay.
I’m not saying conditional self-love will improve overnight, or the second you feel optimistic and grateful. The discipline required to be both self-aware and accepting is tough.
Setting realistic expectations for your self-love journey is crucial. The first milestone is neutrality. Self-okayness. You don’t love your body or your mind, but you can just accept them. Here’s what I look like. Here are my strengths and weaknesses. This is me, and that’s okay.
I believe in you, dear one. Although the road from conditional self-love to full self-love looks bumpy, it’s worth the journey. Know that you are uniquely, wonderfully you. There’s nothing to change about yourself. The only change necessary is how you see your value and worth.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie
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