What Self-Love Really Means

“Who looks inside, awakes.”

Carl Jung 


There’s a song called Tonight, Tonight by The Smashing Pumpkins that I have loved since I was in high school. Although I found a lot of comfort in it, I don’t think I actually understood what it meant then. 

I realize now that the song is addressed to his inner child, who endured a troubled, abusive upbringing. In the song, he is trying hard to reparent himself, to be the wise and loving parent that he had never gotten. 

He keeps soothing the child inside him, telling him again and again to “believe in me”, to believe that life can get better, that his troubles were not in vain. He wants the child to know that he’s safe now, that it’s finally okay for him to be vulnerable. 

“The impossible is possible tonight, tonight,” he sings as the song reaches its climax. “Believe in me as I believe in you.”

It has been over a year since I last found myself at the end of the ledge. 

Recovering from depression was somewhat of a volatile thing. I had seen a psychiatrist, and for quite a period of time, I really did feel better. But eventually I sank back into a place where every ounce of recovery I had was thrown out the window.

I was on and off on medication. And during the times when I was suicidal, I would spend my last few ringgit as a broke college student to gorge on prescription antidepressants.

At the same time, I was also smoking. I had gone through unsuccessful attempts of quitting smoking, where I wouldn’t smoke for months at a time. Similarly, I fell back into the habit when I felt particularly low again.

My smoking habit was pathetic, to say the least. There were several times when I ran out of tobacco, and I was so desperate for a smoke that I ended up rolling the tea I had at home into cigarettes.

If you were to ask that slightly younger, self-destructive version of me if he loved himself, he would have responded with a yes. 

But if you were to ask him what self-love actually meant to him, he likely wouldn’t be able to give you a clear answer. 

Self-love is one of those things that sound good on social media posts, yet always leaves you unable to explain what it actually means, or how you can actually go about loving yourself. 

At best, it’s ridden with clichés, like treating yourself to a cup of coffee or ice cream when you’re having a bad day. 

But if you were to take a deeper look at self-love, it really means reconnecting with your inner child. It means reparenting yourself by soothing your inner child’s wounds. It means being your own loving parent who provides for your inner child’s previously unmet needs.

Whether we realize it or not, the past lives in the present in some way. Whatever traumas we have that remain unconfronted or locked away, we continue to unconsciously act them out in our behaviors. 

And as Carl Jung remarked, “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.” Most of our self-destructive behaviors and addictions are distractions from having to face our inner child, whose unresolved pain and traumas call and long to be tended to. 

I remember my therapist Sophia telling me in one of our first sessions, “The more depressed you are, the more your inner child is trying to reach out to you.”

Being raised by critical and inconsistent parents, I grew up feeling unlovable, and unworthy of another person’s sincere care and affection. Among the things I remember most from my childhood is how I would go to my parents for comfort, and in turn, I would only be told to toughen up. 

This part of myself would be acted out not only in my relationships with other people, but also in my work as well. I would be overly harsh on myself and feel undeserving of praise, and I would automatically dismiss any compliments that I would get.


Little me

It’s not easy to look inside you, to confront your earliest memories. It’s uncomfortable. It’s painful. But it’s the only way for you to heal. It’s only once you are able to accept the past hurts that you had to endure, and decide to be the adult for yourself, can you live in the present.

As author Lori Gottlieb wrote in her book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, “You might have to let go of the hope for a better childhood — but that’s only so that you can create a better adulthood.”

A big part of self-love has to do with soothing yourself whenever your inner child’s wounds are triggered. The point of this isn’t to sweep your troubles away, but to simply let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling. It’s a form of acceptance — having understood what the child in you had to go through, you’re making it okay for her to still feel sad, or anxious, or hurt, or (insert emotion). You’re letting that child know you are her safe space. 

Personally, I would often get chest pains whenever I am depressed or anxious. What works best for me in such times is to breathe deeply, to gently rub my hand on my chest and tell myself, “It’s okay, you’re okay, you’re gonna be just fine, you’re gonna be alright” again and again until I feel better. 

Whenever I feel particularly upset by a situation or event, it helps to address that upset child inside me by journaling or talking out that situation or event like a loving parent would. 

It has been over a year of permanently letting go of my vices and learning to love myself better.

On the plus side (pun intended), I have managed to gain 15 kilograms in the past 4 months or so — which is a good thing, as I used to be underweight at 45 kg since I was 13. And I have been meditating and exercising religiously. 

Does that mean that life is all good now?

Definitely not.

But I’m better able to manage the difficult emotions I may have. And when I need help, I very well know that there are people that I can turn to, that I’m not alone.

Obviously, this hasn’t been an easy article to write. It’s far from flattering to write about my personal struggles with suicidal thoughts and substance abuse. 

But as Sophia made me realize, it’s only through vulnerability that we’re able to truly connect with one another. “Mental health”, as she put it, “has a lot to do with the virtue of being vulnerable.”

And so, I hope reading this article has taught you a valuable thing or two, or at least, make you feel less alone in whatever you’re going through.

I know that telling you that the only way out is through might not be something you would want to hear. But it might be something you need. And the thing is, you don’t have to go through it by yourself. You can always get professional help, and you have your loved ones that you can turn to. 

It’s worth remembering that just because you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel at this moment, it doesn’t mean that it won’t come sometime.

And here, I end this article with a few lines from The Smashing Pumpkins’ Tonight, Tonight:

“We’ll crucify the insincere tonight, tonight

We’ll make things right, we’ll feel it all tonight, tonight

We’ll find a way to offer up the night tonight

The indescribable moments of your life, tonight

The impossible is possible tonight, tonight

Believe in me as I believe in you.”


  1. Wow, this must’ve been a tough piece to write indeed. And being honest is always a challenging thing to do as a writer. I commend you for tackling this subject, and Sophia really does have a point.

    Steven Pressfield also has a similar philosophy, where he says that the bigger your Resistance is, the more you should do it, because that means a bigger level-up is awaiting you.

    Anyway, thanks for this post, Izzat!


    1. Izzat Zailan says:

      Thanks Stuart 🙂 Yep I second that. I recently got reminded of Billie Joe from Green Day who lost his dad at a young age. Writing “Wake Me Up When September Ends” many years later felt like a huge mark of progress for him, because he was finally able to write about that loss


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