We live in a world where we’re constantly told that we cannot accept ourselves as we are and at the same preaches superficial forms of self-love that are sentimental and self-indulgent. In the name of ‘self-love’ and ‘body positivity,’ people create a facade of loving and accepting themselves, while their sense of self remains fragile as they drown in confusion, self-doubt and self-criticism. Who can blame them? From media messages to competitive comparisons, we are told again and again that if we do not have this product or that vacation, then we are not successful enough, rich enough, thin enough or happy enough. If only we had more, or did more, then we could love and accept ourselves more.
No one learns “I am enough” as they grow up. Parents are afraid to say ‘You are enough’ to their child, because then they might become complacent and amount to nothing. Teachers do not say ‘You are enough’ because there is always another bar or another, higher standard to which to compare the child. The child then internalizes the critical voice of the parent or educator and eventually, it becomes their own voice and so begins the lifetime relationship with the inner critic and perfectionism.
From childhood onwards, in every relationship, whether it be with friends, colleagues, employers, family or partners, we look to feel loved and to know that we are loveable. When we get difficult feedback or someone chooses another over us, we are shattered. We feel unworthy, rejected and unacceptable, regardless of how many other people we have in our lives who do love us.
We get the positive messages and uplifting quotes about not needing others and focusing on our self-love but nothing resonates because we do feel unloveable. We go for massages and take salt baths to show ourselves love, but that feeling is only skin deep. We do not know how to love ourselves because we were raised in a world that made us feel unacceptable as we are and that pushed us to be better without acknowledging that we were good.
But no matter how many years of this internal programming have gone by, it’s never too late to re-establish a relationship with yourself that is loving, generous, and kind. Here are a few things to consider on your self-love journey:
- It is a journey and it is not linear. Self-love is about making a life-long relationship with yourself and showing yourself love, compassion and kindness every day for as long as you live. As with any commitment, there will be days when you feel totally in sync with it and others when you might feel depleted and have nothing to give. That is all part of the journey of any relationship, including the one you have with yourself. The important thing is to always remain anchored in your commitment and to always come back to yourself with kindness and generosity.
- You have to know yourself to love yourself. While massages and baths are good ways of caring for yourself, they won’t give you that depth of love you are seeking. That only comes with knowing yourself better, being curious about yourself and not betraying yourself. Just as it takes time to come to love the people in your life and to strengthen your connection and bond with them, the same is true of loving yourself. When was the last time you spent time with yourself, wondering about your dreams, hopes, aspirations or considering why you are hurting your hurts and in pain?
- Self-love doesn’t always feel good. It is not the same as self-indulgence and it is definitely not about feeling good all the time. It is about doing the hard things so you feel proud of who you are and the life you are living. Just as you show your love to your children by making sure they go to bed at a good time, eat healthy foods and brush their teeth even when they don’t want to, self-love often includes doing things you don’t feel like doing, but always doing what is best for you and that often means facing up to the hard part of healing – going to the places where you were hurt or wounded by past experiences and releasing the hold they may have on you. It means revisiting some dark places but you have to do it if you want to move toward an authentic relationship with yourself. Making a commitment to heal means giving yourself everything that others didn’t or couldn’t give you.
- Self-love requires growing up. When we are born, we have our parents who care for us and make us feel worthy. As we move on to friends, romantic partners, employers and our kids, we want all of them to show us our self-worth. Please tell me I’m worthy, please tell me you won’t leave me, please tell me you will see my goodness, please tell me you accept me as I am. We absolve ourselves of the responsibility of doing that work for ourselves. But to love oneself means you take personal responsibility for yourself and give yourself what you need. You see your own self-worth, you don’t betray yourself, you see your own goodness and you accept yourself as you are.
- Self-love isn’t just about loving yourself. Self-love means knowing what your values and character strengths are and making a commitment to live by them even when it’s hard. Values such as humanity, kindness, forgiveness and compassion are all ways in which you exist in the world and relate to others. Self-love is about nurturing your relationships, establishing healthy boundaries and maps for those relationships. It’s about learning how to engage with the world and serve it with your unique gifts.