reprinted from my article written in 110 Mag
We often focus on the many relationships in our daily lives, and in this love-struck month of February, we tend to place more attention on our intimate partnerships. This, of course, is important. Yet, equally important but easily neglected is the relationship we have with ourselves. Our relationship with “self” impacts all of our other relationships. A meme I saw on social media said it well, “You will never speak to anyone more than you speak to yourself in your head, so be kind to yourself.” During this month of expressing love, I invite you to dive deeper into cultivating a more loving relationship with yourself.
Research suggests that the very act of loving ourselves improves our lives in numerous ways. In particular, it revealed that people feel more energized and experience a noticeable boost in their mental and physical health. People begin to attain positive results in areas they strive toward. Finances begin to align with intended goals, relationships improve, or toxic ones dissolve and healthier ones replace ones that no longer serve us. In addition, the practice of self-love can create an ability to be more resilient in times of adversity.
It may sound simplistic—but to love ourselves produces profound results. After working with individuals one on one in groups and workshop settings for many years, I have noticed that the ability to love ourselves becomes the catalyst in achieving positive life transformations.
This life journey continually offers us opportunities for self-discovery. However, at first, self-love may feel uncomfortable or even selfish initially if we are not accustomed to practicing self-compassion, self-forgiveness, self-appreciation, and self-gratitude.
It isn’t selfish to love ourselves, quite the opposite. Many of us have been conditioned to be selfless by putting all others first: to be the caretaker, prioritize the needs of loved ones, and to give of ourselves endlessly, at all times. This message of caring about our families and community is not ultimately wrong, for we benefit greatly from caring for one another. The complication arises when it becomes quite imbalanced, and self-care is moved to the back burner. Offering ourselves loving kindness frees us up to love others in the same way.
There may be an unconscious narrative embedded in our minds preventing us from offering ourselves compassion until we get that certain job, that raise, lose that dreaded weight, get married or divorced, or attain the goal that’s always somewhere in the future. We may be placing conditions on loving ourselves when it is possible to unconditionally love ourselves today.
Self-compassion may require us to change our inner dialogue. Instead of berating ourselves for past mistakes or not reaching that “needed” goal, why not show ourselves the same compassion we would offer a family member or friend in their time of need.
There is a loving kindness meditation I find very helpful for implementing self-compassion. It consists of repeating loving mantras toward others and self. Phrases like “may you live with ease, may you be happy, may you be free from pain, may your life be filled with happiness, health, and well-being” can be life-changing in crystallizing a new reality for us.
If we are not willing to offer ourselves forgiveness today, then we may not be willing to forgive ourselves tomorrow because whatever reason we have foregone self-love today, we will surely have the same story tomorrow. And if we have the same story for decades, won’t we end up realizing a lifetime of denying ourselves forgiveness we so truly deserve?
We can forgive ourselves today! Start now! Forgiveness of self and others is something we can choose, in the very same way we choose to sit in anger or hate. When we begin to forgive ourselves, we begin to heal. Frederic Luskin, Ph.D., the author of the best-selling Forgive for Good and Forgive for Love and one of the world’s leading researchers and teachers on the subject of forgiveness says that forgiveness is a trainable skill that involves cultivating peacefulness.
So, how do we practice forgiveness, more specifically self-forgiveness?
First, understand that forgiveness is for us and nobody else. Ask how holding on to unforgiveness is working for you. If the feeling is upsetting, we can make a commitment to feel better about ourselves.
A study in 2006 showed that adults who completed six weeks of practicing forgiveness reported more optimism for life, lower stress, and less anger and hurt than people who didn’t participate in the practice.
Have you ever struggled to feel appreciation for your own worth or value? Perhaps we grew up hearing about our limitations or that were not good enough, smart enough, or attractive enough. These implanted beliefs usually lead to feelings of shame, guilt, anger, inadequacy, or the compulsion to seek the approval of others. Self-appreciation promotes a feeling of being in sync with our inner truth, regardless of outside influences. When we release the resistance and begin appreciating ourselves, we make the world a better place simply by adding our value through sharing our authenticity.
We often think of gratitude around Thanksgiving, writing gratitude lists of the people, places, things, and circumstances we are grateful for. Have you ever included yourself on such a list?
It can be easily overlooked, but feeling grateful for the things you do and the person you are can offer immeasurable leaps forward on your journey of self-love. I once saw a video of Snoop Dogg giving a speech thanking all the people in his life, he concluded with, “Last but not least, I want to thank me, I want to thank me for believing in me, I want to thank me for doing all this hard work, I want to thank me for having no days off, I want to thank me for never quitting, I want to thank me for always being a giver and trying to give more than I receive, I want to thank me for trying to do more right than wrong, I want to thank me for being me at all times … ” What a powerful reminder and example of self-gratitude. What can we thank ourselves for?
Self-love requires attention and action, just as any other relationship. Becoming more inclined to nurture our relationship with ourselves can be improved with practice. The concept of self-love means valuing and caring for our own needs, wants, and desires just as we would for a loved one. It isn’t about being selfish, it’s about nurturing ourselves so that we have plenty of love and resources available to share with the world around us. I’ve always appreciated the airline analogy to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others, for if you run out of oxygen, you can’t be of service to anyone!
Gradually implementing new strategies for self-love may end up being the pathway toward unconditionally loving ourselves in the way that matters and bears fruit.