“We will never be able to really love ourselves until we go beyond the need to make life wrong.”Writes Louise Hay, one of the most prolific writers on the topic of self-love.
What does she mean by this? Most of us have an inner critic, often the voice of a parent, that is all too happy to tell us, over and over, just how badly we are failing at life. This voice is ready to chide us for all our little faults and mistakes. Perhaps the critic whose lectures we listen to has the best intentions for us- she or he may motivate us to do better or to change habits that aren’t good for us.
Where does the critical voice come from? Why do we listen? Why do we fight within ourselves for the right to love ourselves? Why do we focus so much on what is wrong with us, comparing ourselves to others and finding ourselves lacking?
It is a basis of therapy that self-love is the necessary attribute one must have to be able to love others. “All love starts with self-love.” (Also Louise Hay) Many people find themselves in unloving relationships; or if they are in a loving relationship, they may sabotage it; they may be aware they are doing it but unable to stop.
They may say, ”I know I am doing this to myself, but I don’t understand why. Or how to stop.”
What is self-love?
I think for many of us, self-love sounds like selfishness or self-centeredness; we may think the idea of self-love sounds too grand for us. We don’t want to get too big for our britches. Self-love can be called other things- self-respect, self-esteem, self-care, self-acceptance. Perhaps these seem less self-important. But the Self is important; it is from this sense of who we are and a sense of our beingness in the world that we are able to grow and thrive in in our environment. It is essential to believe- to know – that I belong here, that I have a right to be here, that my existence matters and has meaning.
If I have grown up the victim of trauma or abuse, if I have been told or shown that I am unlovable, how do I grow a sense of self that does not efface, that asserts and claims the good stuff of life for itself? How do I develop the ability to love without guilt and shame, the sense that I deserve to love and be loved?
This is challenging.
We are all bombarded with messages of the many ways we don’t measure up, and it can be from parents, churches, TV, school, friendships. We learn to compare ourselves to others, and often find ourselves wanting. Yet there is always a core, a spark inside each of us- that is the inner Self saying, “I know I am a good person, a caring person. I shouldn’t always be so down on myself. “ Maybe I don’t want to teach my children to be the same way I am. Maybe I am just sick of beating myself up. Something tells me I can be happy, I can be loved; I can express myself in the world safely.
This is the spark of our essence speaking, asking to be cared for and nurtured. This is the flame of Self that exists in each person, no matter how it may have been dimmed by life experiences. And this is the spark that we address and nurture through therapy, through meditation, through seeking the quiet space within us and loving it, and giving it room to grow and expand.
Learning Self-love is a process of shedding, letting go of any belief of being fundamentally flawed or unworthy. By challenging these beliefs, we may be able to begin to let them go. Challenging negative beliefs about one’s Self begins with acknowledging that these thoughts exist, by mindfully paying attention to the mental chatter that often fills our heads and our days.
It is by letting go of some of my negative beliefs and learning to really know myself that I am able to get to know this core, this spark, this Self. And by knowing it, I can begin to love it, and to love myself.
Faye Maguire, MA, LACC, is a People House private practitioner working with youth and adults, using a transpersonal approach to therapy. Counseling is her second career, after being a business owner for nearly 30 years. She enjoys working with people experiencing life transitions, grief and loss, depression, anxiety, trauma, addictions, relationship issues, and figuring out life’s direction, using a holistic approach. Please contact her at 720-331-2454 or at email@example.com for more information.