Loving the Self: Part 1
by Rob Brookler
Of all the learning we do in this life, learning to love ourselves is perhaps the most challenging and certainly the most fundamental and instrumental to the quality of our lives. Ultimately, loving ourselves amounts to nothing more than seeing ourselves clearly. The challenge, however, is that from our earliest years our lives tend to distort our view of ourselves, so that we are led to believe that our worthiness is very conditional.
Consequently, our lives can become a struggle to see ourselves as worthy of love. Fortunately, this clarity about who we are and our inherent worthiness cannot be lost. And, while challenging, rediscovering this worthiness – learning to see ourselves truly – is an extraordinarily empowering path.
Self-love is not selfishness
First let’s distinguish self-love from selfishness and self-centeredness. Far from being equivalent to self-love, selfishness and self-centeredness arise from the lack of it.
Indeed, we become selfish and self-centered when we fail to care for ourselves and expect others to do so. When we cannot nourish ourselves – because we feel we don’t deserve it – we create a painful deficit. In our frustration with this deficit, we will tend to look to others to fill it – to make us happy, to make us feel special, to make us feel loved. In doing so, we can become demanding and unreasonable with regard to our needs. And this frustration tends to grow because it is very difficult for us to accept something from another that we aren’t willing to give ourselves.
Now, certainly we are meant to receive love, attention, and support from others. Indeed, often those who truly love us can see us clearly even when we do not. And this love can be healing for us and should help “fill” us. But where we are truly wounded in our own self-love, there are in effect “holes” in this reservoir … so that the love and attention given to us cannot fill for long. And, thus, we have a constant need.
To close these holes and be filled, we must look to these wounded beliefs. We must learn to see ourselves as worthy of love.
Step One in learning to love ourselves: Proceed lovingly
The first step in learning to love one’s self is to begin and proceed lovingly. Why is this important? In learning to love ourselves, it’s necessary to proceed lovingly because our impatience with ourselves and with our learning is a symptom of our unworthiness. Being hard and critical with ourselves is the very “habit” we are endeavoring to break.
This harshness actually derives from the wounded belief that we are not good enough (… never good enough) and not really worthy of kindness. Indeed, proceeding in a harsh, unrelenting manner is a repetition of the treatment that led us to believe we were not worthy of love (e.g., you’re only special or deserving if you do this or become the best). So, the important – and very powerful – first step in learning to love ourselves is to go about it lovingly.
How do we proceed lovingly?
If, at this point, you’re confused about how exactly to do this, you’re not alone. Our “culture” of perfectionism runs so deep that the very notion of going about anything patiently and lovingly is a bit foreign to us. The great irony of our culture’s driven, work-hard ethic is that when we try to “improve” ourselves and our lives by being punishing and unrelenting with ourselves – in hopes this will speed us to our destination – we are actually taking two steps backward for every step forward.
Why? Because our destination is always ourselves. And while it’s fine to be dedicated and committed to a goal, we can’t sacrifice and “mistreat” ourselves for some pursuit and expect that pursuit to lead us to something that actually treats us well. The most direct course to enriching our lives will be the course that is most consistent with properly valuing ourselves.
So, to proceed lovingly we must reorient ourselves away from the attitude that we are broken, bad, and expendable: that the goal is more important than we are. We are the goal. In learning to love ourselves, we are not “fixing” or “bettering” ourselves, but simply shedding false beliefs about ourselves and shedding the habits that arise from them. And the first habit we must watch for (and break) is the habit of being hard on ourselves.
Patience is an act of love
Often, proceeding lovingly translates simply into being patient. The beliefs and habits we are shedding were a lifetime in the making. We must understand that they will not surrender overnight. For better or worse, as humans we tend to establish “patterns” – in our conscious and unconscious mind, in our bodies, in our emotions. And patterns associated with our “wounding” run particularly deep. Breaking these old wounded patterns will take time.
Again, the best approach is simply to be aware of this tendency towards impatience with ourselves ... and when we see it, we must stop, take a breath, and choose instead to be patient. And know that in being patient and compassionate with the process, we are in fact actively breaking a key pattern of unworthiness.
In Loving the Self – Part 2, we’ll address why our feelings of unworthiness seem so real and how to disempower them.
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