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Rebel Love conducted a survey on ‘self-love’ with participants responding from 96 different countries. Almost 60% of participants were 30 years of age or younger, and 75% identified as female. 

The predominance of young people responding could stem from their willingness to participate in online surveys – the younger demographic being presumably more familiar with the modern online landscape, and more accustomed to surveys. They may even view them as recreational and be more inclined to spend time filling them out. Of course, people 30 and under (especially in Western culture) are generally thought to be more predisposed to introspection and investment in themselves as individuals. 

The discrepancy in gender raises questions about the subject matter. We wonder if men are equally interested in the language of ‘self-love’, but merely withheld when it comes to discussing it in a survey. Alternatively, the language and culture of ‘self-love’ is of less interest to men. Perhaps there is (and this can only be guessed at) an aversion to it amongst men. 

Do you practice self-love in specific ways?

“Interest” and “aversion” of course imply energized states, whereas a feeling of apathy or disinterest could also be behind the lack of involvement. On the other side of things, one wonders if this language does hold more of an ‘appeal’ to women.

The concept of self-love is of course a timeless one, but its frequency in common discourse has risen. The term ‘self-love’ is documented as early as the 16th century, but its meaning has gradually shifted to the positive tone we now know, where ‘self-love’ is a “Regard for one’s own well-being or happiness, considered as a natural and appropriate attitude towards oneself.” It has also carried connotations of vanity and excessive selfishness (as per the OED) but nowadays denotes a positive, proactive state of being. 

The concept of self-love is of course a timeless one, but its frequency in common discourse has risen. The term ‘self-love’ is documented as early as the 16th century, but its meaning has gradually shifted to the positive tone we now know, where ‘self-love’ is a “Regard for one’s own well-being or happiness, considered as a natural and appropriate attitude towards oneself.” #selflove #loveyourself #whatisselflove #lovingyourself

Right off the bat, we wanted to allow our respondents to consider and define self-love for themselves. Some patterns that came up in their answers were as follows:

🖤20 of the 100 respondents defined self-love in the Negative, i.e. explaining it by what it is ‘not’

🖤13 of the 100 respondents mentioned the word ‘care’

🖤26 of the 100 respondents involve ‘accepting’ or ‘acceptance’ in their answers, with at least 5 essentially synonymizing self-love with acceptance 

🖤7 respondents independently mentioned ‘setting boundaries’

Because this was our first question in the survey, respondents were eager and effusive with their answers. Virtues like ‘patience’, ‘respect’, ‘kindness’, ‘happiness’, ‘appreciation’, ‘trust’, ‘understanding’, and many others were invoked to define self-love.

When asked to put our ‘level’ of self-love on a scale, we are asked to translate a feeling or sense into a rating. The highest percentage of people put 7/10 (23%). My guess here is that this rating corresponds to a strong ‘decent’, 7/10 implying neither a high level of concern nor a concession about how we see ourselves. It also falls short of an ‘excellent’ sense of one’s self-love. 

6/10 and 8/10 pad 7/20; each carrying a percentage of about (16%). Visually, it makes you feel like those respondents fall within the same range of self-assessment.

What’s fascinating is the fact that 9-10/10 trump in percentage the respondents who answered below a 6/10. Because of the small sample size, the implication here could be a high level of self-love, in general, but it could also mean that people with a high level of self-love are just more interested in sharing it in an online survey.

There’s a temptation, analyzing the stats, to understand 0/10 and 10/10 as somewhat similar in their adoption of the Extremes of the question. 

Can anyone really love themselves 10/10?

Can anyone do or understand anything 10/10? 

Have you experienced an absence of self-love at some point in your life?

It does feel quaint – unrealistic, perhaps. But then again, there’s always the chance that those of us who don’t feel we’d put 10/10 bear a natural suspicion, envy even, towards higher degrees. 

The second quality we asked participants to assess was their happiness. Immediately, we noticed that only 7/100 respondents had a self-love rating that varied more than 2 points (out of ten-point rating) from their happiness rating. In short, most people’s self-love correlates with happiness. The two qualities might be different names for the same thing. At the very least, they must lead to one another.

In comparison, 20/100 respondents had a ‘self-compassion’ rating that varied more than 2 points from their self-love rating, but most didn’t exceed a 3-point difference. The two concepts are also largely correlated, but may possess a slightly more pronounced distinction than self-love and happiness. We define ‘self-compassion’ as “extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering,” answering to what Pema Chodron sees as “the low self-esteem so common in the west.” Here, self-compassion is a subset of self-love, a specific gesture that falls under the heading of things we do to love ourselves, actively. Self-love is the over-arching state, self-compassion one of its applications. 

‘Self-awareness’ is the most markedly different than self-love, and it’s the 3rd aspect of self we asked our respondents to gage. It’s defined in our survey as “conscious knowledge of one’s own character and feelings.” No respondents rated themselves below a 4; 38% of respondents assessed themselves as a 7 or 8, and 54% of people considered themselves to have a self-awareness of 9 or 10/10. One can see that people are much more certain about their level of self-awareness than self-love, or just about anything else we inquired about in our survey. We asked respondents, “Please explain how you know you are either self-aware or not.” This gave us some clarity into what lay behind these responses. 

Two respondents who rated themselves 7/10 (a fairly medium answer) gave interestingly candid responses, one saying, “I am (also) aware that there is much for me to learn and I cannot be fully aware all the time, as I am only human.” This response adopts a sort of lucid monk-like tone with the phrasing of “there is much for me to learn” and “as I am…”; the voicing feels antique. The other respondent wrote, “I don’t know exactly,” and a third one said, “Honestly, I can’t guarantee that I am completely self-aware…”. These answers seem to exhibit a great deal of self-awareness in their acknowledgment of the limits of their own scope. They call into question our ability to gage these things in ourselves. 

Many of the respondents, in defining ‘self-awareness’, point to therapy as a de facto way of gaining access and clarity on oneself. Others simply repeat the inquiry as to its own statement of confidence – “I know what I’m doing, how I feel” – bypassing the ‘how’. Others, still, see their own ability to see causality as evidence of their self-awareness. For example, I can see that my actions are caused by these feelings, so, therefore, I am aware of myself. The confidence we find in self-awareness feels appropriate to our historical age, and the effect of Humanism on our thinking. It is the historic shift in thinking that has asserted as given the idea that we are, as Karen Barad says, “… free and constituted through self-determination and transparent access to consciousness.” In short, we can, now, know ourselves.

Some respondents convey expertise on the matter, one even outlining a four-step process to becoming self-aware, as they have. But there is no telling, in any of these responses, and, without knowing individuals, what anyone’s level of self-awareness ‘really’ is, or if a thing like that could be measured. We hope here just to dilate the conversation.

Our best way of measuring it is of course simply against one another. But what the responses often disclose is that we have a set of words we’ve learned to use: coordinates that reflect self-awareness. They include but are not limited to: 

“I reflect,”

“conscious observations,”

“honest with myself,” 

“notice my feelings,” 

“aware of my feelings,”

“identify my feelings,” 

“I know my…”. 

These are our signals of proof that we are self-aware. Being self-aware is, we surmise, a point of great pride for us all – the opposite of ignorance or naivete.  

Self-compassion has a much more dispersed degree of evaluation than self-love, which sees a lot of concentration in the 7/10 bracket. Self-compassion ratings occur all over the scale. The term itself may be slightly less familiar than ‘self-love’. The effect of this could be more thought behind one’s answer, due to the fact of not having a set response to that particular term. But it also might account for the greater variety in response, because there might be a less ubiquitous sense of where we should be rating our level of self-compassion.

Our respondents shared instances of self-compassion based on our definition of the term as “extending compassion to oneself in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering”. Many respondents wrote about instances where they released themselves from guilt or culpability in moments where they felt they’d done something ‘wrong’, or, often, when they felt they had been or were ‘bad’ in some way. In some cases, this had to do with behaviour, and in others, it had to do with qualities and characteristics in themselves. Sometimes it related to simply feeling ‘bad’, and escaping that feeling by simply accepting it, and then moving on after having done so. Moving forward prematurely, rather than naturally, from an impasse of personal difficulty, usually has an exacerbating effect, whereas ‘accepting’ first the state of difficulty usually leads to passing through it more naturally. 

The correlation between ‘self-forgiveness’ and ‘self-compassion’ is even closer (based on people’s scoring) than ‘happiness’ and ‘self-love’, with most respondents scoring the two either the same, or similarly (within a 2-point range). But our follow-up question prompts respondents to explain to us how they know they’ve granted themselves forgiveness. 

Many comments insightfully pointed to the fact that so much pain and anxiety is caused by our living within the past. It is the phantoms of past and future that have our attention so much of the time, and prevent us from feeling free of guilt or shame. Another theme was simply recognizing when the object of thought was no longer accompanied by feelings of judgement. And as with most of our comment categories, many participants acknowledged the fact that they did not know exactly how they discerned a particular feeling – it was just intuitive, and not for words.

Self-acceptance is an interesting concept because the definition we’ve given is: You accept yourself just the way you are. It’s important to note that acceptance can turn to indifference if it isn’t held taut with attentiveness. Because, as we all know, it’s not best to accept everything we do – some things have to be recognized and fixed or improved. Christopher Germer understands acceptance not as a means to become less anxious, but an ability to embrace “whatever arises within us, moment to moment, just as it is.” He continues, in The Mindful Path to Self-compassion, “The only answer to our problems is to first have our problems, fully and completely, whatever they may be.”

You can’t change something you don’t first accept. And if you’re beating yourself up with negative self-talk then you also can’t change it because you’re so distracted with the negativity. The point of accepting yourself is giving yourself space to understand what you’re working with, where you’re starting from, and if, in fact, you do want to proceed with the change.

Why do most people choose ‘self-confidence’ when asked which quality they’d most like to develop? One conjecture is that the other qualities listed in our choices seem more abstract in their benefit. ‘Self-confidence’ is shiny and comprehensible in its benefit. ‘Self-confidence’ seems to infer a shininess, a sex appeal, a beneficial assertiveness. I would go as far as to say that, intuitively, we may realize that if we had more self-confidence, it would mean that we’d already cultivated the other qualities listed, that self-confidence is the end product of ‘self-forgiveness’, ‘self-compassion’, and ‘self-acceptance’. Another idea here is that ‘self-confidence’ is the most different from the other options, so it stands out. Self-acceptance, forgiveness, compassion seem to go inward toward the self, where self-confidence moves centrifugally, out toward the world. 

Is feeling ‘okay’ in the modern world a task in and of itself? 

Does this mean that the way we live is working against our well-being? 

Perhaps it implies that to be a wholly self-loving person (10/10) means seeing oneself as complete or finished when so many of us actually have this innate desire to grow and be better.

If self-confidence is centrifugal, and that is what the majority of us seek, then perhaps our self-worth is not just connected to the forgiveness and kindness of the self, but that of which we extend onto others, and finding consistency in who we are, regardless of who or what we face.

In other words, self-love can be perceived as an ongoing life process rather than a destination or end result. There is no arrival. It is a continuous human condition that takes awareness and self-efficacy – the belief or faith in one’s abilities and capabilities. 

If pain is a product of living in the past or within our own ignorance, then healing and peace could be derived from daily, supporting actions we take towards and in honor of ourselves. 

Rob Bell said, “despair is the belief that tomorrow will be just like today.” Therefore, when we exhibit consistent and intentional “self-loving” behaviors and attitudes, they compound over time, resulting in a more actualized version of ourselves day-by-day. By exercising self-love – self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-forgiveness – we are cultivating the antithesis to despair, which is the hope or faith in our own joy, elevation, and life experience.

Do you believe you self-love is a process, not a destination?