How do we earn our own love?
This has been on my mind lately, as it seems to be a recurring theme within my patients. And yet if we look closely enough, we likely find that it is a recurring theme within all of our lives, or the lives of our loved ones.
In fact, even the idea of “earning” our love seems somehow wrong. How do we allow our own love? How do we discover our own love? Or perhaps broader still, how do we give ourselves permission to love ourselves?
This feels different than self esteem. To me, self esteem feels generated by our accomplishments. We feel really good about ourselves after losing ten pounds or getting a promotion or landing a date for Friday night. Self esteem can often be relative to those around us–expanding when we got the highest grade in the class.
No, self love is different than self esteem. Self love is based on nothing at all. When I think about the quality of how we might love ourselves, I think of the ways in which we love babies or our pets. They don’t accomplish anything. They are messy and imperfect and difficult in the midst of their beauty and softness. They are hard work. And yet, there is often a natural, inherent desire to care for babies and animals with a gentle hand and a compassionate touch. Despite their imperfections, or perhaps even because of their imperfections.
This is how we should love ourselves. And yet we don’t, or we can’t. We feel like we don’t deserve it, or if we somehow berate ourselves loud enough, we can demand enough improvement that we somehow will feel like we can finally be nice to ourselves.
But was it worth it?
Instead of looking outward for love and validation, let’s figure out how to provide that for ourselves. Instead of requiring perfection in exchange for our love, let’s love ourselves first, failure and all. Can we find a way to be kind to ourselves, unconditionally accepting of ourselves, gentle with ourselves, with a few love handles or a mediocre job or a lonely Friday night? If we wait for ourselves and our lives to be perfect before we can finally come back home, then what was the point?
And the natural next question is of course, How? How do we do this? How do we unlearn being self critical and harsh with ourselves? Won’t we somehow become excessively permissive and make excuses for ourselves and just stagnate?
I don’t have the answer to How, not for myself, and not for my patients. I think it is different for each and every person. I do know that all paths begin with awareness. If we can simply begin by tuning in to the voices in our head, the ways in which we talk to ourselves, we would likely be appalled. We often use words inside that we would never speak aloud.
Let’s begin by bringing the light of awareness to the words we use to perpetuate criticism or even hatred towards our minds, hearts, and bodies. Let’s refuse to speak to ourselves like that, and refuse to speak to anyone else like that, and one step further, refuse to let anyone else speak to us that way too.
Self hatred can’t survive the light of awareness. Let’s just start there and see what happens, even if it feels odd and uncomfortable. The action may come before the feeling, but maybe eventually the feeling will come before the action.
And let’s be curious, simply curious, about what happens next.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in shedding the light of awareness on all the ways in which we do and don’t love ourselves. Let’s be gentle and curious and see what we can discover when we insist on being kind within.
With gratitude, Monisha