“You really love yourself, don’t you” – Compliment or Criticism?

You really love yourself don't you.

Self Love seems to be the answer to everything at the moment. 

“You just need to love yourself more”, apparently it is the key to happiness, health, relationships, abundance, joy, connection, spiritual enlightenment, even weight loss and the development of a positive self image!

Love conquers all. 

Sounds simple, doesn’t it – go on then – love yourself.

What stops you?

When I asked myself that question I was transported back to childhood and my school days ….. “Love yourself much” and “Look who just loves themselves” were phrases not intended as a compliment. They were uttered in contempt, sarcastic suggestions of cockiness, arrogance and self absorption – loving yourself was BAD and resulted in social isolation. It was either/or – the implication was that you couldn’t have both, you couldn’t love yourself and love others, you couldn’t openly appreciate your gifts and fit in.

Where do kids learn that?

I am sure it can’t just have been my school!

Confusing and contradictory.

If love really is “the bottom line”, the raison d’etre, the solution to all of the world’s problems how have we managed to turn it into an insult, banded around overtly by kids and covertly by adults, designed to keep people small and scared of expressing their true nature? 

How have we managed to turn self love into something that is condemned, sneered at and regarded as interchangeable with self obsession, self centredness and selfishness.

It is therefore not surprising that we struggle with the concept of self love, and although it is currently hugely popular in the self improvement, personal development, positive psychology world – what does self love look like, practically, in life, implemented? 

Where do we start?

Is it a once off or a daily practice and do we have time?

How do we know where the line is? 

If we love ourselves first, as suggested, will others regard us as selfish?

The fear of being perceived as selfish or self obsessed sends us careering in the opposite direction, landing on the polar opposite and overcompensating with selflessness. Selflessness is the enemy of self love. Selflessness rarely ends well as eventually we find ourselves in a place of lack, victimhood and emptiness with nothing left to give and a mild resentment for those who have “taken advantage” of us and failed to reciprocate even though we gave them full permission to take as much as they needed in a martyr-like fashion – sound familiar?

For the last few months I have been immersed in my own interpretation of self love and how I can take positive steps towards embracing it as a daily practice in my life. Being me, I started with the rational approach – by defining, for myself, the difference between self love and self absorption, or self centredness. 

After extensive reading and pondering and discernment, the following resonated as true (to me):

  • Self love is loving who you are on the inside, no matter what the outside looks like or how it is received by others; whereas self absorption is love for the image of self on the outside reinforced by how it is received by others.
  • Self love comes from a place of inner strength, knowledge, understanding and authenticity whereas self absorption operates from a place of lack, fear and insecurity.
  • Self love focuses on freedom and is fuelled by an appreciation of your own value and worth whilst self absorption focuses on control, seeking attention and relying on others for acknowledgement and validation.
  • Self love is stable whereas self absorption is unstable, insatiable and unsatisfactory
  • Self love results in a greater ability to receive love and lots of love to share without condition, whereas self absorption has no capacity beyond self interest and is limiting and egocentric.

My next (logical) step was to find a starting point, a base from which I could explore and grow my daily practice – I was well aware that my thinking preference was only going to get me so far with this one and at some point I would have to start feeling my way into self love! However, I also knew that in order to ensure my mind did not then sabotage my efforts, it needed to feel as though it was involved as an active participant – there is nothing like monkey-mind management!

As I considered my “entry point” I was reminded of Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages: How to express heartfelt commitment to your mate” – I figured that if it was a good way to improve and create stronger relationships with others there was no reason why it shouldn’t apply also to cultivating a relationship with myself. 

Now I know from reading the book that my primary love language is “Quality Time”, followed closely by “Acts of Service” – so armed with this information I asked myself the following questions:

How can I give myself undivided attention? How can I create time for myself? How can I listen to myself more acutely? How can spending time with myself be an act of self love? How can I be centre of my own attention?

What can I do for myself that I would like? How can I serve myself in a way that enhances my love for myself? How can my actions be more loving towards myself? How can I make more effort with myself?

Then it was time to get my answers from within, time to access my intuition, my subconscious, my inner wisdom – out came the journal and I started to write, answering each question for myself in depth. This act alone was both an act of service and the investment of quality time in self – it definitely kicked off the process well!

The outcome was a plethora of ideas and information. I made a list of the “best” bits and used the coaching tool of scaling to put them into priority order. Then I started with one, the top one.

One change at a time, no flooding, no overwhelm, no all or nothing – the creation and implementation of one small change, only adding more when the previous one had either become habit or been dismissed after some time because I wasn’t “feeling it” – feeling the love!

I am still going, it is a work in progress, there is no destination or finish line, I see it as a lifestyle change and lifelong practice. What I have found already is that I am connecting to myself more honestly and authentically, I have greater self compassion, I have better relationships with my friends and family and I have more self compassion and self belief.

When we believe in ourselves, we can achieve pretty much anything and now I feel ready to get on with living a great, big life!

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