If you care for others, perhaps small children or elderly parents, you may not realise the importance of actually caring for yourself, or even loving yourself. But what does it mean to you to love yourself? How does loving yourself actually translate into practice?
For many people, the idea of self-love is all wrong. We’re taught that we are supposed to focus on loving others. Surely loving yourself is just ‘selfish’? Selfishness is seen as a negative quality, and it’s often considered high praise to say of someone “They never think of themselves!”
I’m not given to quoting from the Bible, but the phrase “Love your neighbour as yourself” is interesting: if you don’t love yourself, you’re not really offering much to your neighbour.
This way of thinking about self-love is so pervasive that many people are their own harshest critics. They are far stricter on themselves, far more unkind and demanding than they would ever be with anyone else. And they struggle with feelings of failure and guilt because they don’t feel good enough.
Love for yourself doesn’t stop you loving others
Generosity, compassion and consideration for others are not the opposite of self love. They are the result.
You know how on an aeroplane adults are always told to put on their own oxygen mask before putting their child’s mask on? Love is like emotional oxygen and you can only really love others fully when you love and care for yourself. When you:
- have a good relationship with yourself
- feel comfortable in your own company, and
- encourage yourself rather than criticising yourself,
then you really strengthen and empower yourself. You have more to offer others. And on top of all that, you enjoy life more! So it really is worth figuring out how to do this self-love thing. And not only because it is essential to loving others.
If you’ve been in the habit of being down on yourself, or beating yourself up for being a ‘failure’, it may seem hard to give up these negative thought patterns. This is partly because they are so familiar. Maybe you were brought up with this way of thinking, or you may have learned it later in life from people around you. But now it feels like it’s part of ‘who you are’, and it’s hard to imagine how to be different. But in fact this way of thinking isn’t part of who you are – it’s been bolted on.
The ability to love ourselves is part of who we truly are – that means it is part of who you are. When you recognise that you have taken the first step towards starting to love yourself.
Three steps to self-love
Once you have recognised that loving yourself is the best way to be, you will find it easier to say “No” to those internalised voices telling you that self-love is selfish, or that you aren’t good enough.
The clarity of mind that comes from recognising that you aren’t being selfish when you love yourself, and that you have the ability to love yourself, enables you to connect more deeply with who you truly are, and to realise that of course you are worthy of love. And when you make this connection with who you truly are, you will find connection with others comes so much more easily.
We all fall in and out of the understanding that we are worthy and lovable; this is normal and natural. When you notice that you are feeling guilty or like a failure, you can at that moment remind yourself that this is the internalised voice, and that you know you are so much more than that, and reconnect with your true self.
This may be a completely new way of thinking for you, and if you would like to explore it further, please feel free to contact me for a chat. This is a journey for all of us, and I am happy to share it with you, wherever you are!