With an abundance of emotions and infinite connotations, love perpetually streams through the minds of artists, philosophers, the religious, the secular, and anyone who has ever allowed this unpredictable sentiment to infiltrate their hearts, has had to struggle with its promises and disappointments. Despite the prodigious amount of examination and scrutiny it has undergone, the most arduous component for many is learning to love oneself.
Last week’s article touched on being able to discern your own personal meanings of love from the ideas and expectations of others’. However, when it comes to loving yourself, this notion can be a stumbling block for many. It may initiate conflicting feelings or worse, a disdain for simply considering self-love requires or deserves any attention at all. It was certainly a belief which crossed my mind countless times.
I don’t believe anyone – no matter how knowledgeable, wise, or devout – could quantify love or put boundaries around it. This one reason alone would suffice to erase any shame one may feel from considering self-love. “When life fails, love prevails” is another appropriate saying encouraging and imploring us to never believe loving ourselves is gratuitous, wrong, or immoral.
The paths leading us to the false beliefs that self-love is bad, typically begin at an early age. Although children don’t appear to be burdened with this thought, they can detect confusing signals confounding them as they grow older. Unfortunately, these warning signs emerge unintentionally and rather frequently in situations where they are supposed to feel safe.
Families and cultural settings, unbeknownst to many, are where children readily develop incorrect perceptions of the value of self-love. Kids, being more perceptive and observant than what most parents realize, can sense arrogant behaviors and resolve not to display those kinds of actions. However, without a healthy example of how self-love should be practiced, they may be in jeopardy of developing a pragmatic road to achieving it.
Ironically, powerful family ties can cloud the concept of self-love by demanding the connection to “family honor” supersede any consideration of loving oneself. Although many families have incredibly strong bonds, it also is capable of becoming fertile soil for cultivating shame and proliferating low self-esteem, damaging some of the members who were sacrificed to maintain that “family honor.”
Another source frequently muddling of self-love is religion. While many religions focus on the righteous cause of serving others, if self-love is never addressed, that may signal a strong implication, through omission, that loving oneself is corrupt and evil.
A healthy dose
Learning to navigate the unfamiliar waters of self-love is a unique journey for everyone. Those who are new to the idea of self-love may have questions regarding how much, how little, how often, or where to start.
These are fair questions, and may have a surprisingly straightforward answer. When you experience love do you ask those same questions? Loving something or someone else simply transpires. It’s not something we always anticipate but we feel it when it is there. In that same manner, we begin with ourselves. However, if shame has afflicted us with worthless or unlovable feelings, we may need to begin first with healing those feelings.
Self-love is not a destination, nor is it a prescription. While it involves practice at first, the goal is for it to become a natural part of everyday existence. Similar in the way we are unaware of how often we breathe, the same is true of self-love. Those times when heavy breathing is necessary – as in exercising or playing a wind instrument – there will likewise be situations when we are aware of self-love to help us through challenging moments.
It should not be a choice between loving someone or ourselves; it is complementary and not a replacement. It expands our capability to love others. If we are deceived by someone taking advantage of our kindness, that does not signify a lack of self-love. We overcome this predicament because of our self-love.
How much time we spend loving ourselves should never be an overwhelming consideration. Although keeping that thought in the back of our minds can be a safeguard, arrogance is never a result of too much self-love. When it reaches the point of self-importance, it is no longer love. Where that line is drawn may be different for each person, but be assured when that line is crossed, it is easily recognized.
I prefer to draw my line closer to erroring on the side of kindness. While this does make me susceptible to be taken advantage of, it’s a risk I’ve chosen to take. This does not condemn you nor deem you as wrong for choosing differently, it is where I have set my bar. I also believe the closer I move that line to kindness, the more self-love I have fostered.
Explaining how to love yourself is something we discover ourselves. Just as no one has all the answers defining how to love someone else, the same is true with loving yourself. While there are common denominators such as compassion, patience, and generosity, it is up to you to determine your own ideals and values of what it precisely means.
Talking with a counselor is beneficial and will support defining and expanding your definition. Also, communicating with an intimate partner has similar effects and will strengthen your relationship. Self-love exists to enhance our lives, and making it your life’s practice will undeniably improve your ability to love and be loved by others.
If you would like to discuss how to develop your own self-love practice, I have set aside 15-minute time slots for the first 5 people who contact me. Send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll coordinate an audio or video session to assist in your journey.