I have a radical theory: we all (literally, all of us) actually, inherently love ourselves. We were born with self love. Hear me out, because I know that most of us don’t feel that way and are actively learning and practicing the fine art of self-love.
To clarify, I’m talking about our *selves*, our highest, greatest self. There may be parts of ourselves that we don’t like, or things we’ve done or said that feel upsetting or cringey, but that’s not actually who we are.
Love can be a noun (love we have toward ourselves and others) and love can be a verb (the way we show love to ourselves and others). Raise your hand if you’ve ever been loved by someone in a way that felt hurtful or unloving. Keep your hand up if you’ve ever given love to anyone in a way that felt hurtful or unloving.
Why wouldn’t the same be true about the love we give to ourselves?
Our whole lives we have learned and accumulated various ways of being in the world. This may have been a way we learned to protect ourselves, get our needs met, or be heard. We also learned from our environment and those around us.
Using these skills and techniques became our way of showing ourselves love - in other words, all of the ways that we’ve learned to meet our own needs are ways we’ve learned to love ourselves. These lessons also informed us as to what is expected of us - essentially, what is required of us to receive love, and what we need to do to earn it.
The thing is, we don’t need to earn love, because we are all already inherently worthy of love.
Part of what these experiences do to us is create an “inner critic”. They might all look kind of different for each of us, but I think of mine as a mean, old, grumpy, football coach. His goal is to boost morale and motivate me to work hard so I can do better. He says things to me like “you’re so lazy and worthless, why do you even try?!” Surprisingly, my critic does not boost morale OR motivate me; rather, it creates shame, self-doubt, and feelings of worthlessness.
My inner critic looks and sounds a lot like my 6th grade social studies teacher who, by the way, was also a football coach.
Before we get into what shifts or changes we can make to be more loving to ourselves, it can be helpful to recognize what these inner critics or voices are trying so hard to do. It’s easy to get angry at them, it’s a lot harder to say “well, thanks for trying to help, I’m going to try a different approach this time.”
Even though you might not realize it, a lot of the behaviors you practice are a form of self-love, even if they don’t feel loving. Bad habits like drinking too much to numb, eating too much to distract, watching tv to avoid, are all attempts at making us feel better. Because guess what? We love ourselves and inherently want ourselves to feel better.
This is where we start to make the shift from using the self love (noun) to a more truly loving self love (verb).
Let’s take a moment to reflect on why self-love is so important.
If we are suffering or in distress, it may be from or exacerbated by the way we treat ourselves or talk to ourselves. When we make a mistake, do we take the opportunity to give ourselves grace while also holding ourselves accountable to do better next time? Or do we berate and criticize ourselves for being human and making a mistake?
I truly believe that both are coming from a place of wanting to do better and knowing that we can. The misalignment then, comes from not being true to our nature, which is to show love and kindness to ourselves. And, I would argue that the former option sets us up for a more successful and more enjoyable way of being.
Let’s be real, practicing self-love or even thinking about it can feel weird, selfish, or unnecessary. But, if it’s new to you, and you’re open to it, let’s think of this as an experiment.
Think of the ways that you show love to others. How do you know it’s love? What’s the effect of not just feeling the love but expressing it and receiving it back? Is it the way you talk to them, what you do for them, or some form of touch?
Perhaps you can try some of those same, loving, expressions with yourself. You might talk to yourself in warm, compassionate ways, practice new habits for yourself that will be beneficial to your well-being such as organizing your space or exercising, or practice self-soothing practices such as taking warm baths or wrapping yourself in a warm, fuzzy, weighted blanket.
When you start to make this shift, pay attention to what changes. It might feel uncomfortable if you’re not used to it. Be patient with yourself. And, most importantly, remember that everything you do for yourself is an attempt to help yourself, maybe even love yourself. So give yourself some credit and remember that you’re doing your best!