The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely. ~ C.G. Jung
Loving myself, if only some of the time has been my hardest task in my life so far. Here’s the thing- I know 100% of the times I’ve screwed up, made mistakes, let people down, acted in ways that inspire cringe, dread and a range of emotions from mild embarrassment to full on shame. So if so many people are larking on about this loving yourself business- what the func- what’s the function in loving ourselves? Or course you know that was what I was alluding to in the title, right? I specialize in a type of psychology, which falls into the area of functional contextualism. This essentially is a complicated way of saying I’m primarily interested in two things- function- what’s the point in a particular action, what does it give or take from me in the long term? Context- in what settings am I more or less likely to act in a particular way.
Often the argument against self-love, self-acceptance, self-compassion (whatever you’d like to call it) is that “I don’t deserve it”. And any of us can come up with plenty of reasons for why we don’t deserve self-love. Or maybe I shouldn’t tar everybody off with the same brush. I, personally, could give you a long list of reasons why I don’t deserve self-love. I’m useless with money. I’m not a good enough daughter. I’m unbelievably bad at getting back to e-mails. I commit to more things than I can possibly do and inevitably let someone down, including myself. I’ve been talking about writing a blog for three years and I’m only writing my first post now. And these are just five that I’m willing to share with you right now. The truth is I could complete a 50,000-word dissertation on why I am unworthy of self-love. But I will spare you. This time at least.
Another common barrier is that we worry that if we love ourselves we will become overly self-involved, self-indulgent or self-obsessed.
Loving yourself… does not mean being self-absorbed or narcissistic, or disregarding others. Rather it means welcoming yourself as the most honored guest in your own heart, a guest worthy of respect, a lovable companion. ~Margo Anand
It is virtually impossible to love ourselves without being true to ourselves. The key here is around connecting to our values regarding how we want to relate to ourselves, others, and the world at large. What lasting legacy do we want to leave?
There are important reasons (functions) behind why self-love is a useful way of relating to ourselves in our lives. Psychological research, such as the research conducted by Dr. Kristen Neff and Dr. Brené Brown, has shown us that if we go into a shameful way of relating with ourselves e.g. “I am fundamentally unlovable because I am such a procrastinating no-good excuse for a human being” that we are in fact more likely to engage in the very action, in this case procrastination, that we use as an excuse for not giving ourselves love in the first place. And the vicious cycle begins. “I’ll love myself when… I lose 20 lbs., am in the perfect relationship, have written that book, have everything done on my to-do list… And the list can go on and on and on and on.
What if self-love and self-compassion are the equivalent for psychological growth that protein is for physical growth? What if we need to put loving fluid into our tanks before we can go that extra mile, or maybe even before we can take that first step? We would never expect a car to run without fuel, yet we frequently expect this of ourselves. If what you have been doing isn’t working- would you be willing to try something different?
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. ~ Maya Angelou
So we’ve had a look at function. While our mind might tell us that we need to be a certain way in order to “deserve” self-love, our experience and research often tell us that denying ourselves of self-love can exacerbate the problem. Now, let’s take a look at what contexts we can create to learn and apply self-love.
Ways to Practice Love of Self
Most of the shadows in this life are caused by standing in one’s own sunshine. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
v Acknowledge common humanity- we all screw up. We all make mistakes. We all let people that we know and love down. We do it on many occasions. And so does everyone else. It can be useful to remind yourself “everyone messes up, I am not on my own” and see if you can connect with a moment where a loved one messed up and treat yourself the same way that you treated them.
v Allowing your heart, values and integrity to be your guide rather than a desire to please or placate others. When you make choices- check in to see are these choices going to bring you closer towards who and where you want to be? Or will these choices in fact bring you further away from who and where you want to be?
v “Choose discomfort over resentment”. I loved this saying when I first heard Dr. Brené Brown make reference to it. Often we say yes when we really want to say no out of a sense of obligation, or no when we really want to say yes as we are hooked on some reason why we can’t do it. These choices often give us some relief. Yet this relief is often short-lived, quickly replaced by resentment, which unfortunately can hang around like a bad smell.
v Importance of seeing and listening deeply. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn speaks of the importance of looking and listening deeply. See if you can go below the surface of the situation/yourself and delve into the heart of what’s going on in situations/yourself. He proposes that when we look at ourselves, and others, at a shallow level- we see only faults. Yet, when we look more deeply- we are more likely to witness common humanity and the many strengths we have.
v Allowing ourselves to be seen and heard deeply by others and ourselves. It follows that it is not enough to see and hear deeply. We also must be willing to allow ourselves to be seen and heard deeply. Many of us, myself included, can hide behind masks. We can find a false sense of security in only showing certain parts of ourselves for fear of rejection. Yet, often the parts we expose are of the more shallow level, which is often judged by ourselves, and others, harshly. And we protect and therefore hide the hidden gems within.
v Recognize that our emotions and bodily sensations often hold important messages for us. It can be useful to slow down and connect beneath the surface level of these feelings to what helpful messages they might be trying to tell us. For example, this past week I noticed the emotion of overwhelm that was about to tip into resentment and bodily sensations in the forms of sore throat and general lethargy. When I tuned in I could see clearly that I had overcommitted and spread myself too thin. I could also see that I wasn’t getting a sense of freedom and joy any more from these activities as I was doing things out of a sense of obligation completely disconnected from the values underlying my actions. So I needed to make some uncomfortable moves for me, which was lightening my load by pulling back from some things. Risking the potential to disappoint others in order to be true to my inner core values.
v Acknowledge that on the journey to loving ourselves more, when engaged in fully, we may often love ourselves less temporarily. Personally when I fully showed up to who I was- warts and all- I found this difficult. I often found more reasons to reject myself that to accept myself. To be willing to recognize and acknowledge this- being accepting of my non-acceptance of myself was the first important step. Wherever you are currently is the perfect place to start putting loving fluid into your tank so you can go that extra mile, or maybe even before you can take that first step in that direction.
We are each gifted in a unique and important way. It is our privilege and our adventure to discover our own light. ~Mary Dunbar