Loving ourselves is a dirty job, which is why so many of us outsource it.
It can feel tough to wholly love and accept ourselves, made as we are of both light and shadow. It can feel vain to own the former and positively uncomfortable to be reminded of the latter.
So we hope, pray (sometimes demand) that others take up the work of loving us in our stead, and sulk if they don’t stick to the script. How dare they improvise! They’re here to accept our follies and our faults, affirm us through praise and similarity and, most of all, soothe our savaged hearts.
(Soothing ourselves; that’s a toughie. No wonder we prefer to numb through distraction.)
We crave others to fill the hole left by abandoning ourselves and leave our own self-opinion adrift and dependent on the ever-changing tide of others.
What does loving ourselves mean, anyway? I’m rather taken by author of Loveability Robert Holden’s definition;
A loving attitude, positive actions, benefits you and others; why isn’t this self-compassionate checklist taught at school? As equations go, it’s infinitely more applicable than Algebra. As the american psychologist James Hillman observed,
Loving oneself is no easy matter just because it means loving all of oneself, including the shadow where one is inferior and socially so unacceptable.
The care one gives this humiliating part is also the cure.
So how do you start? Begin with the little things.
Dropped your cup at work? A loving attitude says, “That’s OK.” rather than telling yourself you’re an idiot. A positive action is clearing up without fuss or embarrassment, rather than dwelling on what others may think about you. Benefits you and others means that you forgive yourself rather than take out your discomfort on others.
The trick’s in the little things. It’s like learning to talk to strangers at networking events; you practise by regularly talking to everyone you meet in your day-to-day life. You do it until ‘talking to new people’ isn’t something you only do in high-stake situations but is an authentic part of who you are.
Self-love and self-compassion is something you build towards, not a destination to suddenly arrive at. Start now. You never know when it’s going to come in handy.
I know how others treat me is their path, and how I react is mine.
I was rejected by someone I cared about a year ago. I placed my hand on his heart and asked him to share what lay within it. I chose to be ‘the presence of love’ no matter the response. When this person said he couldn’t love me, my hand remained and the presence of love remained.
I held the space for this difficult conversation with kindness and allowed him to speak openly without my feeling defensive or angry. How? Because I have practised self-love in a multitude of tiny ways and now know that how someone treats me is their path, how I react is mine. One person not loving me doesn’t mean I’m suddenly unloveable.
Does this mean that I didn’t feel deep pain after our conversation? Of course not. It still hurt. But self-love meant that I could try and sit with the pain lovingly, too.
In doing so I let pain do what it’s designed to; bring attention to the parts of us that require tenderness and healing.
Rather than remaining in shame and isolation, the pain opened me up to trusted friends who held space for some gentle healing and tenderness to occur. And it’s meant that I can still appreciate the person who rejected me rather than dismiss them for ‘hurting’ me.
Because loving ourselves IS a dirty job. It requires delving into our darkness, our shadows, our forgotten selves and those unspoken stories which keep us in fear and separation from others. But the reward for mining in the dark is a jewel of incomparable light: the love that glows at the core of our beings.
Isn’t that worth rolling up our sleeves for?