You’ve heard people talking about self-love as if it’s just “this thing” you should just do or have.
But self-love is actually hard work.
Tremendous rewards, but hard work nonetheless.
We don’t get taught how to love ourselves. In fact, most of us get taught how to reject and criticize ourselves, to beat ourselves up, through subtle and not-so-subtle cues throughout childhood and beyond.
Self-love is not just “girl, you need to love yourself more” and voila, you have an a-ha moment and love yourself.
It’s not doing only things that make you feel happy and lovable.
It’s not just cutting people out of your life that don’t make you feel good and positive.
It’s not all positivity, rainbows, and butterflies.
It’s not just saying positive affirmations, taking good care of yourself, and setting boundaries. (Don’t get me wrong, these things are important and can be super helpful, but they are simply one small piece of the overall concept of self-love.)
No way, self-love is probably some of the hardest shit you will ever do in your life.
Self-love’s not just another “thing to do”. It’s more like a way of living. It’s like being at home in your skin. Or living a life that you don’t feel like you need to escape with “girls nights” and “weekend getaways.” (Not that we still wouldn’t want to do those things!)
Self-love is the art of creating a loving and compassionate relationship with yourself.
Self-love is the practice of replacing the negative, judgmental and critical voices in your head with kind, loving, and supportive voices.
But most of all, self-love is the work of learning to heal, accept, and love all of yourself.
Because as we accept ourselves, imperfections and all, we get closer to wholeness.
And wholeness equals aliveness.
When we live a life where we only accept parts of ourselves, we live a half-lived life. On some level, we know that we’re not fully expressed – that we are hiding parts of ourselves.
This self-love journey is really the path of integration.
The integration of all parts of ourselves – the so-called good, bad, and ugly.
You weren’t born believing you weren’t smart/pretty/quiet/polite enough or believing you were too loud/fat/silly/serious. You were conditioned by parents, siblings, society, media, friends, etc.
Each time you got a message when you were younger that you weren’t enough or that your behavior was unacceptable, you splintered off that part of yourself. You became dis-integrated. You judged yourself harshly and told yourself to stop doing _____ or to stop being _____. Being loved by your parents = survival. So, as a child, you were smart and resourceful…you learned quickly to stop doing the things that put your parent’s love at risk. You learned that there were acceptable and unacceptable parts of you.
NOTE: I’m not blaming your parents – much of what our parents did was with great intentions and love. We want to develop good behavior in our kids, and sometimes we do it in a way that results in kids believing that there are parts of them that are bad or unacceptable. The good news is that we can heal from this and we can learn to parent our kids with more compassion and tenderness and still teach them how to behave appropriately.
But as an adult, you suffer from the pain of all of those pieces of yourself having been banished into the shadows. It’s like some deep part of you knows that you’re missing those pieces – and that deep part aches for you to be whole and integrated.
The more violently – verbally or physically – you were admonished for the behavior, the more likely you feel shame and fear around anyone ever seeing that part of you.
And yet those parts of you are calling out to be seen, healed, accepted, and loved. By you.
We can keep trying to get it “right” – be more perfect, hide those shameful parts, do it better – so we can finally be good enough.
But it’s futile. It’s never going to work.
Or we can follow the only path to healing and wholeness (aliveness) – to turn inward – to fully accept and love every part of yourself, all of you, especially the parts that seem the most unlovable and unacceptable.
There’s a part of you that feels the pain of those disowned parts. A part of you that wants to re-integrate those pieces of yourself so you can feel whole again. That part of you that feels empty and not as happy as you want to feel – that’s that part that knows.
Self-love happens in layers and takes time. But each part we heal and accept is one step towards wholeness.
We spend a lot of time and energy beating ourselves up, telling ourselves to stop doing this, or that we should be doing that. We spend a lot of time trying to be someone that we think we should be rather than really tapping into who we actually are.
I’ll bet you’re wondering – if I wanted to learn how to love myself, how the heck do I do it?
You’re wondering – “but some parts of me really aren’t lovable.”
I don’t want to accept the bad parts of me – I’ve worked hard to be a good person.
Where do I even start? How do I know what parts of me need attention?
Maybe you’re curious … what if this is the path to true happiness and inner peace?
The best ways to discover the places that are calling out to be seen, healed, accepted, and loved:
- When you’re triggered or activated – if you feel triggered by someone, someone’s pushing your buttons, the person who triggers you is simply fanning the flames of a wound that is already there. They’re pointing you towards a place within you that needs some attention and to be healed.
- If you’re blaming someone, it’s usually a sign that there’s some part of you that’s hurting, perhaps a part of you that you’ve disowned.
- When you judge others, it’s most often a part of you that you’ve rejected, disowned, or needs attention. Some part of you that you wish was not true about yourself. Brene Brown says that we look for someone who is doing what WE do but just a tiny bit worse than us – and then we judge them – can’t deny the truth in that 😉
- When you’re being unkind towards yourself (or your kids), it’s most likely a voice from your past – a tape of your parent’s voice when you were a child, for example.
What can you do today?
To start, just notice when you’re triggered, blaming, judging, or being unkind to yourself or others.
Just see these reactions from the point of view of being a part of you that wants to be noticed, examined, healed, accepted, integrated…loved. A part of you, beneath your armor and defenses, that’s hurting.
The best way to do self-love work is in relationships — the kind of relationships that sometimes feel like sandpaper on your skin, the ones where your buttons get pushed and you get all sorts of triggered (long-term relationships, toddlers, and teens come quickly to mind). Yea, you know what I mean.
You’re thinking – what? I try to avoid being triggered…I hate when people push my buttons.
Of course. It’s painful.
But in order to heal and live our lives more fully, you have to begin to listen closely in those moments – what are you supposed to learn about yourself? And then, when possible, find compassion for the part of you that’s hurting.