As we stepped out of 2021, scarred and bruised from loss, many of us committed ourselves to take more care of ourselves. “Care for yourself, take time for you, look after you” echoed off the walls of the departing year. Now, almost halfway through 2022, I am revisiting some of those reflections and wondering not only about self-care but about the concept of self-love.
Self-love is a step up from self-care. Self-care is a part of self-love, but self-love is far more encompassing. It is as intrinsic to our ability to thrive as it is elusive. As the words hover above my head, the commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” trumpets in my ear. I wonder, is this why we don’t love our neighbours very much? Is this why there is so much conflict, descension and aggression? Is it because we are at war with ourselves that we are at war with the world?
If all we need to do is love ourselves in order for there to be more peace in the world, why is it so difficult? What is it about ourselves that is so unlovable? So detestable? So ugly so as to make us turn away in disgust, heaping judgment and scorn on ourselves? Because that is what we are doing when we heap judgment and scorn on others. And boy, has there been a lot of that over the last couple of years!
What will it take to turn towards ourselves, to look at our emotional scars with compassion, our human failings with mercy, our blunders and trip-ups with tenderness?
If we cannot do it for ourselves can we do it for our children and others we love? Can we be witness to the failures of our children and forgive their errors? Can we hold softly our loved ones’ missed opportunities, the wrong turnings, and bad judgments?
Or do we react with scorn, disdain and dismay? Do we rage at them and rain blame and shame on them? The answers to those questions matter less than reflecting on how easy it is to do all of that to ourselves.
We are a mirror and a reflection of everything around us. If I cannot love myself, I cannot truly love anyone else. Despite the howls of protest I hear, fundamentally if I do not love myself, the love I proclaim for others becomes conditional.
It is a wellbeing imperative to learn to love who we are. In all our magnificent mess. The challenge for me, however, is how? How do I start a healthy loving relationship with myself?
How indeed? To find some inspiration I went on a journey of discovery. I searched the web for some answers and came up with more questions. It’s been a curious adventure.
I began my investigation asking: How do I begin to love myself?
I was directed to a 2016 article titled Self Love for Beginners. Good enough place to start, I thought. Here are their recommendations:
- Nourish yourself
- Take yourself out on a date
- Start a gratitude journal
- Make your body happy
- Express yourself
- Write a loving letter to yourself
- Shower yourself in feel-good vibes
Excellent advice, except none of it, really changes the way I intrinsically feel about myself.
Next, I turned to investigate what makes a healthy loving relationship with another person in order to see if there were any useful lessons to learn there.
My research resulted in this list:
- Quality time
- Good communication
- A willingness to forgive
- Be open to change
- Practicing being present
- Maintain reasonable expectations
Quality time – I need to make time to put aside distractions like electronic devices, turn off the ever busy brain, focus, be kind, listen and connect to me. To give myself the time to reflect or meditate. To connect to my body, listen to what it is trying to tell me and breathe. Go inwards and in the gurgling stillness allow the waves of madness that is my hopscotch mind, to wash over me until the tide calms.
Good communication – Good communication is vital for a sound relationship. How do you talk to you? I have been fiercely critical, even insulting to myself. Would I say some of those things to another person? Never! It’s time to become aware of how I speak to myself and catch myself being rude or abusive. It’s also time to speak to myself as I would to someone I care for.
A willingness to forgive myself. Can I, I wonder, really forgive myself? I went on a search about how to forgive and found that there is a four step process to forgiveness that could be useful for me:
1. Uncover your anger – I need to give myself permission to remember anger from as far back as I can remember: childhood, school, work, family, friendships, and romantic relationships. In my case, it will be anger about me, to me, against me. It could be a fairly long list.
2. Decide to forgive – Even if I am not quite ready, I just need to consciously make the decision to forgive (myself), to open the window of possibility.
3. Work on forgiveness – Basically, go to each incident and compassionately seek to understand, reframe with the benefit of experience, and accept and forgive any misdemeanor, wrongdoing, or sinful act I believe I was involved in.
4. Release from emotional prison – Realise that I am not alone in my suffering. Reflect on how I have grown and changed as a result of my life experiences and that I am worthy of love.
An openness to change. Here, it is being open and compassionate about the changes in my life and the changes I am going through. Being kind to myself as I stumble and trip over the new and different.
Practice being present. Being present to my life, taking time to notice the colour of the sky, smell the the sweet notes of season change and feel the sun on my face. Being present to my challenges while acknowledging my successes.
Maintain reasonable expectations. This is a good one. It’s about turning down the dial of the “shoulds” must and have to’s. The expectations that I must do it all, be it all.
Trusting myself. Do I trust me? Mmmmm, okay so let’s talk about this thing called trust. Trust is a felt sense of confidence in behaviour and reliability. Do I trust that I will not let myself down? The nub of it all, I believe, is do I feel worthwhile enough to know that what I do and say is in the best interests of me? Trust and love are inextricably linked – if I can trust myself, I can love myself. If I can love myself then I can trust myself.
This has been a fruitful journey. It has given me plenty to contemplate about self love. I have come away with useful steps and workable techniques to start working on loving myself. I would like to have authentic relationships with others and it starts with me having an authentic, loving relationship with myself.