In a recent Live Lunch Chat (which happens weekly on my Facebook and Instagram pages), we focused on one place where we experience Love in the fullest way possible: relationships – romantic, parenting, friendships and – the most important one – our relationship with God and one’s self.
I spent years struggling to learn this last part – what does a “loving relationship with myself” look like? We are taught to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” We learn to put others before ourselves; we are warned about selfishness or self-centeredness, but unless we spend years in therapy (or grow up with insightful, patient and wise parents who aren’t ever stressed out), I’m not sure how we can learn about healthy self-love.
Our culture gives us plenty of guidance on how to “measure up” to compare ourselves with others and how to alter ourselves to fit some filtered image in order to be accepted (and therefore loved). On top of that, if we experience something that takes away our self-esteem (such as sexual abuse), the “as you love yourself” part becomes a beautiful but unattainable line.
That’s the hard part.
But the good part is that Love is a lot more miraculous and powerful than to let us depend on our own devices.
So, even if you don’t know how to love yourself, Love (as in ‘God is Love’) will show up for you in many different ways – it will not stop loving you, or give up on you. Love will show up as a kid, a friend or a spouse; sometimes it will show up as a puppy or something as unexpected as a butterfly or even a painting of clouds and the sun’s rays in the sky… It will keep showing up until you finally open your heart and mind and soul and let it in.
And this letting the love in is what loving yourself feels like. Once we accept that Love loves us – through other people or through any part of God’s creation – we will begin to love ourselves, too.
For me, this letting the Love in feels like relinquishing thoughts such as: “I’m not supposed to be happy,” or “Why would anybody love me, I’m ____?” (insert your word: ugly, bad, a failure, etc). It feels like crying from joy. It feels like being picked up into your mother’s arms and – for once – feeling safe and peaceful. It feels like you can finally breathe free. It feels like watching fear pack up its poking tools and slink away in defeat.
When we do let the love in, it will help us heal whatever it is that made us stop loving ourselves in the first place. I bet you can remember moments in which you were told something that made you ‘less than.’ If you ever observed kids go through it, you could almost “see” them lose a bit of self-confidence, which, if not discussed, can lead to insecurities, self-doubt and, eventually, into hating that part of themselves – it could be about their weight, the color of their skin, their learning abilities, their behavior, their feelings, etc.
If you (or someone you love) struggle with developing a healthy self-love, below are a few things that helped me. (There were too many times in my life when I felt so much anger and hatred toward the me inside – the person who made all these bad choices and could never seem to avoid getting hurt or hurting others, so I get how challenging it is to work through this.)
1. STAY MINDFUL.
I talk a lot about that ‘be still’ place where we can observe our thoughts and our emotions; where we get to recenter ourselves and be reminded of the Love and Life that’s bigger than us and that supports us through all struggles. That’s an important way to practice mindfulness, which we then also need to apply to the chaotic moments of our lives. Mindfulness helps us observe and see where we might be too hard on ourselves, or where we might act selfishly or with arrogance (which only takes us away from healthy self-love). Staying mindful is also as simple as observing whether we are getting enough rest, exercise and proper nourishment, as well as treating ourselves with kindness and care.
2. TREAT YOURSELF WITH COMPASSION.
Observe what you tell yourself – or think about yourself. The rule for me is – Would I say this to my child? Would I tell my son: “Ugh, you are ugly!” or “You are stupid!”? Of course not. So why do it to ourselves?
3. SET BOUNDARIES.
We are called to Love our neighbor – and a stranger, and our enemy – which doesn’t mean we need to let them deplete us, or harden us. A boundary doesn’t mean a brick wall or a barbed-wire fence. It’s more like a window or a curtain that lets us take care of our needs. We can’t show up in Love if we are depleted. Also, letting Love in is not the same as allowing people to abuse us. If the abusive relationship feels safer than no relationship at all, there is a deeper emotional/ mental issue that needs to be healed. Please look for help.
4. ACT ON WHAT YOU NEED, NOT WHAT YOU WANT.
This goes back to being mindful. The other day I needed rest, but I had to get my taxes done. I was under the pressure of a deadline, so, instead, I ate a whole bag of peanut M&M’s. (I needed rest, I wanted sugar.) Get to really know what your needs vs. your wants are so you can act accordingly. It’s OK to fill your wants, too, but not if it replaces getting your real needs met (it’s OK to buy that second pair of stilettos, but only if you already have a pair of comfortable boots that will keep your feet warm and your spine healthy. … OK, I could have thought of a better example, but it’s winter and my UGS are all I need – and want 🙂
5. FORGIVE YOURSELF. LET GO.
This is a hard one, but you can use simple ways to practice letting go (such as cleaning your closet and letting go of stuff you are emotionally attached to, but you don’t need any more), and then use the developed skills on the hard stuff. Such as letting go of the anger you feel because someone hurt you many years ago; or regret because you failed to do something you wanted to do… And maybe you already worked on letting it go, but like an old blouse, it still shows up every now and then (because you didn’t really let go of it; instead you shoved it into a box in case you want to revisit it again). Throw it out. Forever. Don’t even give it to charity. Throw. It. Out.
Now, take some time off and let Love in. Let yourself feel loved. And if you are lonely at the moment and only feel truly loved when you are in that ‘Be still and know I am God’ place, I challenge you to look up from that place and find one thing in God’s creation that loves you (it could even be a ray of sunshine or a star in the sky). The gratitude you might feel is a way your soul loves back. And you won’t be as lonely any more; God won’t just be in the still place but everywhere around you.
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