February is a beautiful time to think about all things love related, so it is with a full heart that I put forward my thoughts on the topic of Self Love. I will go over why to make a conscious decision to move towards Self Love, and what I’ve learned about this path which encompasses self nurturing, self esteem, letting go of self aggression and embracing compassion.
My hope is that this article may be supportive to you if you are on the Self Love path and at the same time I realize that each of our journeys towards Self Love is different because love, how much we can give it, receive it, and how we experience it, is different for each of us. My experience is laid out in a linear way for purposes of clarity but my steps were absolutely NOT linear, logical or neat! Quite the opposite in fact. So with this I share my journey with you, knowing that your own personal path will be unique and perfectly suited for you.
Firstly, it may seem selfish or indulgent even, to look at loving yourself when there are so many pressing issues that need our attention on a larger worldwide scale. In other words there are so many people, places and projects to love and care for outside ourselves. However for me Self Love is learning how to care for yourself in a healthy way which then leads to, I believe, being able to care for others more deeply and authentically. Our Self Love can be the foundation of being able to truly love our partner, our children and family, our community, our fellow human, our amazing planet and the life on it. Self Love helps us not to sacrifice ourself to love another, but to hold us both as important and loveable.
So why is Self Love even something that needs to be learned, why is it not innate? If it’s not innate, why not? Simply put, survival is innate, attachment for a child is innate, Self Love is not innate because our brains are wired to focus outside of us to get our needs met. So Self Love is a choice and can be our conscious next step on a path of awakening, if we want it to be.
Love, you may think, is such a simple thing but it gets confused because our first imprint of love may have felt like something else. Our parents did love us the best way they knew how, but no one in the world is perfectly loved and nurtured. Sometimes the love we received or were told we were receiving really felt like; control, expectation, pressure, filling a hole within a parent (need). At its most harmful Love could also have felt like loneliness, rejection, manipulation, or even punishment, danger, or pain. We may also have watched our parents not be able to love or give to themselves, so it was not something that we learned or that felt familiar.
It’s no wonder that when we get into a relationship, love takes on many faces. Being in a relationship with ourself is no different. We may be able to like and love ourself in some ways but in other ways we may literally not know how.
For me Self Love began with learning how to treat my body well, this was a process of not being angry at it, not overriding it, learning to listen to what it really needed, and then overcoming my own internal barriers to being able to nurture it. There were MANY small steps along the way, but a big breakthrough came when I stopped eating foods that hurt my body. I was only able to do this because of the steps that came before it. They were a necessary foundation to quitting that big pattern of taking my body for granted and then being angry when it could not give me what I wanted.
And this was a stepping stone to the next phase, which was to take responsibility for how I spent my money, energy and time. My understanding that my resources are valuable and treating them that way, again came in phases. It began with a long hard look at where I was overspending to feel better, and where I was over giving to others who either didn’t appreciate it or who didn’t reciprocate. Learning to manage my time and money are still a work in progress and I see the confidence that comes with these skills are important to my self esteem.
The next couple of steps were more focused internally rather than externally on the body and or on resources. I was able to see that I was really hard on myself. Your Self love journey can deepen or even begin by becoming aware of the ways you hurt yourself. You may be mean to yourself, criticizing and rejecting yourself if you don’t perform a certain way, look or act in a certain way or achieve a certain goal or lifestyle. You may harm or punish yourself in a myriad of small or big ways. Learning to gently let go of those behaviors is a big step.
You can explore further by looking at what you’re NOT doing for yourself. Some examples are; overspending but not saving money, over working and not resting, overgiving to others and ignoring your own needs, speaking up for others but not for yourself, working out but not eating right. If it feels right you can add nurturing steps as part of the path to loving yourself more.
For me after some personal work with Identity Development came the ability to have compassion for myself and what I had experienced growing up. In my development journey before this I had been able to put aside what had happened to me as a child, later I was able to analyze what had happened, later still I was able to feel, to get angry and sad about my adverse childhood experiences.
Being able to actually have compassion for that young me and what I had experienced was a new leap in my growth. Compassion was a gateway for what opened up next, which was the desire and ability to be kind, patient and emotionally nurturing towards myself. Before that I could stop being mean to myself but I wasn’t necessarily nice.
And this is where I currently am in my experience of loving myself. It’s relatively new and I have worked hard to get here. My Self love is not “perfect”, it is not constant, but it is real and strong when it appears. And It shows up as a path to go down much more often.
I acknowledge that there are no set steps nor a “destination” to Self Love, it’s simply a path that unfolds in a deeper more meaningful way, as and when we are ready for it.
I also find it miraculous that when I have more self-love, people around me are easier on me AND on themselves. It’s like Self love can be “in the air” just like love can. So my wish for you is that you can breathe in Self Love and enjoy the beautiful unfolding of your own Self loving journey.