In December 2022, I felt inspired to write this post after a conversation with a friend I care deeply about. I soon found that no point of view or combination of facts, tips and ideas seemed quite right. For months, since writing that 8-page rough draft, I’ve been tweaking, editing, as well as rewriting this, and yet haven’t felt ready to submit it for publication. I even had ChatGPT scan and improve one of my first attempts, but I still couldn’t get myself to submit it.
Then, one day it dawned on me. Besides not feeling that I’m an expert in self-love and that it’s therefore not really my place to tell others how to love themselves, I don’t like or agree with some popular opinions regarding love and loving ourselves that seem to make their way into many of the >100 million results one gets when searching “how to love yourself” online.
- Loving ourselves is hard, if not impossible for some to do.
- You can’t love or be loved by others unless you’ve learned to love yourself first.
- Not everyone deserves love.
- You should love yourself the same way, enjoy the same things and see and approach this topic in the same way everyone else does.
Having pinpointed those myths, I realised an important part of loving ourselves and others is figuring out or creating our own blueprint of what love means to us. Then, not accepting less from ourselves than we know we need and are capable of.
Another aspect that has made writing this a challenge, is how much it hurts to feel the pain of friends who struggle with loving themselves. It breaks my heart to think about and simultaneously I so badly want to make a difference to them and anyone who can relate, that the self-imposed pressure to write it as close to perfect as possible felt overwhelming. No words can magically make any of us really love ourselves, optimally and unconditionally, yet I hope what I’ve written will make a positive difference to you in some way.
As mentioned before, there are over 100 million places online where we can read about how to love ourselves, that seems like a lot of information on something that is essential to our surviving and thriving on this planet. It seems it should come naturally to each of us.
The truth is, while some of those results do lead to helpful information, you do not need anyone to teach you how to love yourself. It’s something that each of us has the natural ability, desire and instinct to do. It’s not super difficult or complicated.
The real problem is that we live in a world, made up of different societies that are consistently teaching us ways and reasons not to love ourselves.
Keep in mind that entire industries would potentially go out of business if we all felt content in our own company, at peace with how we look, and confident in our abilities to deal with the problems and challenges that life regularly throw at us.
It is therefore no wonder that there’s a continuous effort to keep most of us feeling insecure, inadequate, unlovable and thoroughly confused about how to go about simply loving ourselves.
Many years ago, I volunteered at a breastfeeding organization and something that has always amazed me is how most new moms instinctively know what to do when it comes to caring for and feeding their babies. The real problem was that most often the moms who were having problems with breastfeeding, had often been given wrong or partially true information and told unhelpful opinions that weren’t based on science at all. Combined with peer pressure to follow advice and do things as everyone else does, those things often undermined their confidence in their own abilities, instincts and intuitions, to a point where they felt like just giving up on breastfeeding.
In most cases, all that was needed was to let those moms know it was okay to ignore the unsolicited advice, listen to their intuitions and their babies’ cues, and to feed them when they indicated they wanted it – the way nature intended.
This is often the case in our relationships with ourselves too. We get inundated with messages through popular media, advertisements and even sometimes from acquaintances, seemingly well-meaning friends and relatives, who haven’t made the effort to really get to know us, about all the ways we fall short of the ideal looks, behaviour and achievements. This can be as subtle as a disapproving look, or as direct as being told by a commercial that we should (enter any aspect you’ve been told to change e.g. lose weight), supported by images of others who already have or accomplished what we lack and how confident and happy they look.
After a lifetime of absorbing messages like that, it’s to be expected that many of us are too hard on ourselves on a regular basis. We seldom, if ever, feel quite good enough, on top of things that need to be attended to in our daily lives or truly satisfied with how we look and behave, who we are and what we’ve managed to accomplish.
Yet, each of us still has that beautiful, creative, spontaneous, playful, loving and lovable, adventurous, kind and sincere inner child inside our minds and hearts, just waiting to be listened to, held, accepted and given the freedom to laugh, feel good and be our best selves.
When you think about it that way, loving our core selves is not that complicated or hard. It’s not about liking everything we think, say and do, because no one is perfect. We all make mistakes and are bound to have some regrets after a few decades of living on earth. It’s about each of us getting to know ourselves more deeply and figuring out what makes us feel unloved, then starting to do the opposite. The process of learning to love ourselves is not set in stone, there is no one right way to go about it. We are each a unique individual who can contribute more optimally to the households and societies in which we live, when our physical, intellectual and emotional needs are met and when we feel good and are at ease within ourselves.
As babies and young children, the kind of care we received, what we were taught and how well we were responded to and held, were for the most part, out of our control. As adults, we can each decide to be there for ourselves and those we love, in exactly the ways we needed, yet lacked in the past. We can do that by learning more about ourselves and the world around us and facing and accepting the truth of our realities, while knowing we have what it takes to change the things that need to change and to overcome the obstacles we face.
Staying curious and setting healthy boundaries lets us embrace the good and let go of the hurtful. And by doing the little things that add a touch of magic to ordinary days, we can turn even an objectively bad day into a time of savoring life, creating meaning and feeling loved. For me, that means listening to my favourite music, seeing beautiful things like the dawn and sunrise and setting healthy boundaries for myself, for example not to eat foods that make me feel sick and making sure I get enough sleep, one of my biggest challenges.
We each possess the ability to think about our own thoughts, and the freedom to decide how we feel about our own feelings. In this lies the key to real change and growth. Our thoughts and feelings can be changed and neuroplasticity is real, even if you’re no longer young. We don’t have to be perfect to deserve our own love. In fact, it’s the other way around, loving ourselves as we are, perfectly imperfect, often leads to lasting improvements, helping us naturally look, feel and behave better.
Loving ourselves more is not something to hope or aim for in the future, we already have the exact building blocks needed to love ourselves in this very moment. When we stop looking for happiness outside of ourselves and instead, find ways to rekindle our sense of humour, enjoyment of everyday things, ability to make ourselves smile and reclaim our power to simply feel joy, happiness becomes immediately accessible to us. And to compliment that, so does the realization that we can hold space for ourselves to safely feel the entire spectrum of human emotions.
All that remains is to remove the reasons and obstacles we’ve allowed to build up and interfere with our relationships with ourselves. As Rumi has said:
I once read a book on the psychological side of parenting and attachment called ‘Oneness to Separateness, From Infant to Individual’ written by Louise Kaplan. It is a book written in such a way that you seem to get lost in the words and at some point give up trying to make logical sense of things, yet enjoy it enough to still continue reading, letting the words carry your mind where it may, as someone lost at sea might end up drifting along on waves that seem to have a mind of their own. You may not completely understand the sentences, but if you persevere in reading them, you end up feeling understood. One such paragraph that has always stuck with me is this:
To me, this is the essence of what we are to be for ourselves, what it means to love. Life is hard and we all face challenges, heartbreak and disappointments along the way. There is no way around it, we can only go through it to reach the shores of happiness and let ourselves once again bask in the sun of hope, rest and resilience. If we really want and decide to, we too can hold ourselves, mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, just well enough to feel that we’ve created our own heaven. It is from that place that we can start feeling contentment and enjoy life, even when circumstances are far from ideal. As a baby grows and becomes independent, being loved by ourselves and others can lead to greater confidence, creativity and strength to create the changes needed to improve our lives.
Whereas a baby’s relationship with its mother has very specific, clearly defined roles, limits and influences at work, in adult relationships, there is freedom to grow and develop in various ways. Throughout life, the aim of love is to lead us closer to real freedom, spiritual growth, confidence, inner joy and reaching our fullest potential.
While loving ourselves makes it easier to love someone else, the reverse is also true and possible. Sometimes it is in loving and accepting someone else for who they are as a person, that we learn to truly love ourselves.
In summary, it is okay to be and to love yourself as you are. You have the right to learn how to love yourself in a way that works for you. And it is okay to let yourself love you in the way you need to be loved in order to really feel loved. You are the one person you’ll always have in your life, no matter what. Instead of limiting love, let love free us to live and love limitlessly.
TO BE CONTINUED….
PHOTO CREDIT : ELAINE ALEX
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