3 Times Your Self-Love is Actually Self-Harm in Disguise

Science-backed ways to identify and stop self-sabotage disguised as “self-love” in Millennials and Gen-Zs.

3 Times Your Self-Love is Actually Self-Harm in Disguise
Photo by BRUNO EMMANUELLE on Unsplash

Science-backed ways to identify and stop self-sabotage disguised as “self-love” in Millennials and Gen-Zs.

It’s easy to say you love yourself.

It’s difficult to practice self-love without understanding its true meaning.

Social media portrays self-love as a necessity, as this warm fuzzy feeling every person needs to experience every day. But most often, we tend to overlook the most important aspect of self-love: it’s okay to not love all parts of yourself all the time.

You don’t have to love your acne marks, your messed up sleep cycle, or the fact that you recently fell out of the friendship you thought would last forever. More than that, it’s important to accept these flaws and learn to live with them.

As Shannon Tillett writes in Thought Catalog, “Self-love should be viewed as loving yourself at your own pace, for your own reasons. It should be feeling confident, embracing your weirdness and striving to be happy.”

Aside from this very important distinction, there are several instances when your self-love could actually be self-sabotage in disguise. This post lists three such examples backed by science where your self-love is actually causing you untold damage, and what steps you can take to stop doing these.

“Self-love is more than just wearing nice attire and applying bouts of expensive makeup and then claiming that you love yourself. Self-love is an umbrella term for different acts of love we perform toward ourselves physically and non-physically.” — Sarah-Len Mutiwasekwa, Psychology Today

1. Excessive shopping

Splurging on clothes once in a while is fine, especially if you’re young and still getting used to the fact that after a life of begging for pocket money, you finally have a stable income source.

But if you have the delivery people dropping off a handful of packages every day at your doorstep, you might have a problem.

Research shows that “retail therapy” can indeed improve your mood, and this mood upliftment can last well past the purchase. However, if you feel you’re unable to control shopping and feel the need to hide purchases made or lie about the money spent, you might be showing symptoms of compulsive buying disorder.

Either way, a “shopping because I’m sad or bored” mindset might be indicative of something different that goes deep down. As Jud Brewer writes in Harvard Business Review, distraction from shopping is a coping mechanism most people use to avoid the anxiety that comes with uncertainty.

“The problem is that, often, distractions are not healthy or helpful. No one can keep shopping, binge on food, booze, or Netflix forever. It’s dangerous to do so. You brain will become habituated to these behaviors. You eventually will begin to need more and more of them to get the outcome you’re accustomed to. ”— Jud Brewer

Aside from the obvious psychological impact, buying too many clothes also harms the environment. Did you know that the greenhouse gases from textile production are more than the emissions of all flights and maritime shipping combined? Even scarier, by 2050, the fashion industry is expected to use a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.

Expressing “self-love” by shopping is alright. But how much of the dire consequences can be justified just because you need to “feel good” about yourself?

2. Avoiding close connection with others because you need “space”

Medha is my closest friend. We’ve known each other since we were nine. And yet, when I talk to her now, my mind starts glazing over when she starts talking about her latest breakup. Every story sounds the same — starting from the exciting honeymoon phase leading to an inevitable ending in a few weeks.

Medha has lived alone for so long, that she can’t let another person in.

She dates a lot and has met some truly amazing men. But when it comes to forging a relationship beyond the first few dates, she always gets cold feet and pushes them away for reasons like “he doesn’t have the same taste in music as I do” or “he always leaves the door to my bedroom open.”

When I ask her why, she tells me it’s because she loves her space way too much to share it with another person.

She’s unwilling to compromise, making it impossible for her to get into a relationship. She feels sad, often lonely, but when the time comes to form connections with men, she always shies away, saying self-love is more important than “settling” for a relationship.

But doesn’t every relationship involve some form of compromise?

As Mark D. White Ph.D. writes in Psychology Today, compromises that do not threaten our core needs, wants, and deepest desires are great in small doses. They’re often necessary to smooth over a few rough edges of an otherwise smoothly functioning relationship.

If your self-love and the need for space is making it impossible to form longer-lasting connections with others, maybe you need to rethink its definition. According to Healthline, pushing people away can arise from the fear of intimacy, low self-esteem or self-confidence, or having a a disorganized or avoidant attachment style.

If you’ve been suffering from something similar to my friend Medha and have been unable to let someone in, here are some ways you can start trying:

  • Take it slow and don’t force yourself to build a connection with someone.
  • Talk about your habit of avoiding intimacy with the person you’re pushing away. It might feel a little scary, but it can make a big difference for your progress.
  • Aim for a balance. Your goal is interdependence. You don’t want to overcompensate by opening up too much or clinging instead of respecting the other person’s boundaries.

3. Going “easy” on yourself because you “deserve” it

This might be an unpopular opinion, but if you keep going easy on yourself because you’re tired, you’ll never truly reach the heights you’re meant to.

Of course, rest is necessary and a healthy work-life balance is vital, but if you ignore the work of the work-life balance for too long, you’ll find it hard to get back and claim all that you deserve.

As Amy Przeworski Ph.D. writes in Psychology Today, here are some steps you can take when you feel like giving up:

  • Don’t accept your helplessness and try to climb out of your pit of despair and self-pity.
  • Reframe our self-talk. If you find yourself saying “I can’t,” or “There’s nothing that I can do,” try changing your thoughts to “I can at least try,” and “This may not work, but I’ll try it.”
  • Try and try again.

Final thoughts

Loving yourself and accepting your flaws as they are is important.

But at what cost?

Self-love can take many forms, but it shouldn’t include:

  • Ignoring the core problem and losing yourself in distractions like excessive shopping or binge-watching Netflix.
  • Valuing your space so much that it makes you unable to form connections with another person.
  • Going so easy on yourself that you’re unable to push past the boundaries of your comfort zone and achieving something meaningful.