It took me many years of inner work to first of all believe that I as much as anybody in the entire universe deserves my love and affection and then to discover what loving myself really means AND what it looks like in practice.
So how did I start to really love myself? It’s a complicated question, especially when the answer needs to fit into this short post 🙂 I started by detaching myself from the cultural belief that self-love is self-indulgence, selfish, an exercise of the ego, narcissistic even.
I came to understand self-love as a sense of inner resource, inner sufficiency and even inner abundance which is actually the source for being able to give to others (and myself) and care for others (and myself). If I feel like I have nothing going on inside, nothing to contribute, I don’t look at someone in pain and think ‘how can I help you?’
I was able to do this by instead believing that the foundation of self-love lies in connecting with my fundamental goodness and being friendly towards myself, in fact being my own loving best friend.
Another shifted belief relates to the “self-esteem” movement which has been useful in showing us how important it is that we value ourselves but it also taught me, and I suspect many others, to get my sense of worth from the outside. I was taught to use external markers such as feedback from others, social status, income, weight, promotions at work, and awards to measure my worth. The problem with this is that I totally outsourced my ability to feel good about myself.
I’ve discovered the real key to loving and valuing myself is to provide kindness, warmth, and recognition to myself. And over time I learnt that this recognition is not just about my achievements, but rather who I am, all external accomplishments aside, I am lovable just for being me. So much in our culture tries to convince me otherwise – it will says that I will only be lovable once I’ve reach this weight, have this partner, or buy this product – I found I had to keep reminding myself that I am lovable exactly as I am.
And THE most important part of self-love for me has been self-compassion, which comes into play not in my triumphs but when I’ve blown it, I’ve made a mistake or fallen off a course I want to stay on. To be able to pick myself up over and over and have a sense of resilience really takes some recalibrating. Many people think self-compassion is laziness – ‘yeah so what I’ll forgive myself’ like letting yourself off the hook.
But really when I look at what’s been and continues to be the most effective (and enjoyable) way of making changes and being the best person I can be – it’s not going on a self-hate binge for hours after I’ve blown it, it’s saying to myself ‘ok, lessons learnt, we all make mistakes, next time I’ll….’ or ‘this doesn’t feel very good, what can I do to make amends?’ and I say this with a hand on my heart offering myself some soothing touch, some affection and warm attention.
A big part of my journey with self-love has been understanding that it is a journey – one that involves my continual growth and development, I’m now more able to embrace that I will always work on changing that which I am not ‘at peace with’ or is unhealed in me and causes me pain. And so, in this way, loving myself is not a place I’ve reached, but an ongoing process.
Can you relate?
With great warmth