When I was seven years old my father told me that I could never really love anyone else until I truly loved myself. And since I was a very curious kid with a zest for insight I responded by asking him how could I do that. Teach me? It turns out, even though he knew the concept, he couldn’t explain how to get beyond the should part.
I think that’s also where the conversation around self-love starts and ends today for many of us as adults. We know we should love ourselves, but we don’t exactly know how and often even confuse self-care for self-love. There is a common misperception that self-love means checking off all the “success” boxes in life: education, career, relationships, among others. This approach to defining our value is based on a societal barometer that we adopt to define our self-worth. Unfortunately, this perception deflects from the source where self-love truly resides: within.
The power of self-love is transformational once you begin committing to it. And it’s not about what you might expect: being positive, perfect, or happy all the time. It is instead focused on accepting every aspect of yourself, by holding yourself with honor and compassion no matter what you are going through in life.
What are the barriers to self-love (and why are there blockages at all)? To start with, we have a conditioned inability to accept ourselves in our full range of experience. It is easy for us to find acceptance and to love ourselves when we are feeling good and when things are going well for us. But then in comparison, we tend to get preoccupied with judging ourselves when we have negative feelings once things don’t go our way. And yet, it is precisely when things go wrong and we aren't feeling great that we need our own loving hearts the most.
Through being present for ourselves, we learn to contain any kind of pain compassionately, without blaming ourselves or others, we are learning to hold our own feelings humbly and gently. As a result, our relationship to life begins to shift, taking us into deeper communion with ourselves.
It’s essential to feel and honor all experiences. In my work, I help guide women toward a place where they can choose love for themselves no matter what their starting point is, even if the starting place is self-hatred. When someone can love themselves, so deeply that all of their fear, anger and grief are contained and accepted, they can truly overcome their suffering. From there, one can step into the fullness of their power and purpose, feeling a deep sense of integration from which to really spread their wings.
So the next time you are struggling to be present with a particular feeling, emotion or experience, try the following:
1. What are you feeling? Often we fixate on thoughts, people, and circumstances rather than feel what is alive in us. We do this because it is simply easier to look outward and to avoid taking responsibility for what we are feeling. The very question might empower you pause and reflect inward when you’re experiencing pain.
2. Where in your body do you feel the pain? The next step is locating the discomfort in your body. Do you feel the pain in your chest, solar-plexus, or belly? Try breathing deeply and accepting the areas where you are feeling the pain or discomfort, give yourself time and permission to feel it completely.
3. What is the feeling trying to communicate to you? Once you are able to sit with your feelings you start to actually heal, because you are finally in dialog with your pain. How you hold you pain will change your experience of it and as you begin to open your heart to the unloved parts of yourself - your relationship will deepen and grow in love.
When we have the courage to know, to embrace, and to love ourselves despite our flaws and imperfections, we open up to a more intimate and meaningful relationship with ourselves and those around us. Margo Anand said, “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.”
This is a radical movement and transformational path to take in life - one where everything about you is welcomed, contained without judgment and loved. On this Valentine’s Day, I leave you with another Lang Leav quote, “If I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be this: There are many things in life you can postpone, but loving yourself isn’t one of them.”