WHEN was the last time you received a love letter? Not from a romantic partner, or someone close, but from yourself? Quite possibly never, right? To love ourselves, is not something we are ever taught, let alone write words of self-affection, so why even consider it? You may be a love sceptic and think “ah, what a load of nonsense,” but let me tell you, writing a love letter to yourself is a profound act of self-compassion backed by science.
Think about it, if we know that compassion is caring about the suffering of others, what do you think self-compassion means? Self-compassion is more than self-love and about self-kindness instead of harsh self-criticism. Acknowledging suffering is a shared human experience and seeing things clearly just as they are, without ignoring or magnifying problems.
This mindfulness gives us permission to sit with and validate our pain in an accepting way, which is when we start to heal and transform.
Let’s be honest, we (especially south Asian women) are taught to be kind to others, to share and put everyone else’s needs or happiness before our own. As a result, we work hard and grow into successful achievers, supporters, and caregivers. And we self-criticise or hang our heads in shame when unable to meet the multiple responsibilities we hold, which often places us on the path to burnout.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves and be fully present in the ebb and flow of life, so we can embrace the joys and challenges without reaching the point of exhaustion. And those of us who have the toughest time showing self-compassion are actually the ones who need it the most.
First, think of what words you’d like to hear from a caring friend when you mess something up or are being hard on yourself. Write them down. Since compassion helps to ease suffering, choose gentle and comforting phrases such as ‘everybody makes mistakes’, ‘you were trying your best’, ‘don’t worry if it goes wrong’, ‘you are still loved’, and ‘remember you are amazing, awesome, and confident’. Interestingly, compassion can also be fierce like the lioness protecting her cubs. Often women are not allowed to be angry or ferocious, yet it is essential to protect ourselves, and that is self-kindness too.
Think of what words a caring friend would say when standing up for you against injustice. Choose fierce empowering statements such as, nobody can harm you, you are safe, you are protected, and it is your birthright to speak your truth.
So, this Valentine’s write yourself a love letter. Make it fun, put it in an envelope, and leave it in a drawer for a day when you need to read those words. And above all, make it about truly giving yourself the love and compassion you deserve.
I will leave you with this beautiful quote from Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, “a real love letter is made of insight, understanding, and compassion. Otherwise, it’s not a love letter.”
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