Foundations of inner work: How do I actually love myself?
the joy of self-love
Imagine living life aligned with your true self, tender and caring towards your own needs, and fiercely loyal to the truth of who you are. Imagine experiencing more creativity, pleasure, energy, and ease, both when you are alone and when with others. This is the satisfaction that comes from loving yourself.
Yet I have heard it time and again from clients and community members, "How do I actually love myself?" In this article, we will explore the truth behind real self-love, what it means, and how to incorporate more self-love into your daily life so that you can stop resisting and start reaping the rewards of what loving yourself can provide.
the truth about self-love
Part of the confusion of our modern world is that self-love is often equated to self-care. While the two often overlap, they are not the same. A simple way to distinguish between the two: self-care is an action, self-love is an intention.
At the heart of self-love is the attitude or energy behind what we do. We can either be for or against ourselves. We can either be trying to resist or control ourselves, or applying conscious energy towards caring for and allowing ourselves to be as we are. This happens at many levels, both conscious and unconscious.
When we love ourselves, we are living in the world from a baseline intention that: a) we are worthy of love b) we are deserving of love and care , and c) we can access love at any given moment from within.
If we struggle with any of these core beliefs, loving ourselves can prove to be difficult. Think about a child when they get upset and demand something. They likely believe they are worthy, they adamantly believe they deserve whatever it is for which they are asking, but they believe that it can only come from someone else giving it to them. This is often what I see with self-love.
So often we have been conditioned to believe that love comes from somewhere out there. It comes from our partners, our family, our friends. They listen when we are overwhelmed, they hug us when we are sad, and they give us permission to take a bath, eat a piece of cake, or celebrate our own successes.
While there is nothing wrong with receiving love from others (unless it's not actually real love), the pitfall is when we learn to expect and rely on others to provide for us what we are capable (and responsible) for providing ourselves. We lean on them a little too much. Or we get upset when they fail to meet our often unspoken desires for them to make us feel better or make our lives easier.
Self-love is thus the act of giving to ourselves what we truly need, without relying on anyone or anything outside of ourselves with the intention of tenderness and care. It is a fortifying and empowering act of self-compassion and self-responsibility which leads to true fulfillment and abundance.
When we love ourselves, we are unlocking the flow of love from within, which allows us to then give love more genuinely and freely to others. Not with the unspoken expectation of "giving to get," but with unconditional love. I expect nothing in return. I need nothing in return. For I have already filled myself with the energy of love.
But how do we actually do this? How can we learn to operate from the intention of unconditional love? Read on for the "how-to."
How to love yourself, for reals
Inspired by Dr. Margaret Paul's book Inner Bonding
- Take responsibility for your happiness. In the seminal book by Dr.'s Gay & Kathlyn Hendricks "Conscious Loving," they teach that in a couple, each person is 100% responsible. This applies in and out of partnership. We are 100% responsible for ourselves. Our own happiness, our own misery, our own stuck-ness, and our own freedom. This can be a hard pill to swallow for some, especially if there has been a long life of believing the opposite. Yet it is this reality that must be shifted before self-love can even begin. Accepting responsibility for ourselves brings our energy vibration higher, allows for new creative ideas to flow, and gives us the type of empowerment that leads to inspired action. In addition, taking responsibility frees us from guilt and shame, which prevent true growth and healing. How To: Take a breath and speak theses words, truly embracing their meaning: "I take responsibility for myself. I take full responsibility of my thoughts, words, and actions. I take responsibility for my happiness and my suffering. I am willing to learn more about myself and my experience." Notice how this feels in your body to say these words. Notice how your thoughts respond. How does taking responsibility for yourself make you feel? Is there any internal resistance? Explore this more fully with journaling or writing about this experience and keep practicing.
- Feel your feelings. "Whatever you resist, persists." Allowing yourself to feel your feelings is both loving and crucial for developing self-compassion, an aspect of self-love. Feeling your feelings looks like noticing your feelings in your body, consciously deciding not to suppress or "stuff" them, and becoming curious about where they are coming from and why. If you can simply turn towards your feelings, you are already on your way. This can be difficult if you have internalized beliefs about emotions that are negative, skewed or unhealthy. However, making the intention to develop compassion (care) for your own feelings is the doorway into mental health and emotional wellbeing. How to: Become aware and tune into your body when you recognize you are becoming fearful, angry, sad, disgusted, or jealous. Notice what sensations are present in your body. Soften the resistance to the feeling and shift into an attitude of compassion and curiosity. Say this to yourself (or even yet, write it down): What am I feeling? Where do I feel this in my body? How is my past coloring my present emotions? What is this emotion trying to tell me? Once you become skilled with this, you will become attune to your own emotions and can work through these questions quickly, often without writing them down. Keep in mind, the goal is not the change your feelings; the goal is to allow and to learn from our feelings as a source of deeper information.
- Address your inner critic. Our inner critic is a part of our psyche or ego that seeks to control us through shame. We are not responsible for its development. Often our inner critic is shaped as a response to repeated criticism by our parents or other adults when we are children. However, if we do nothing to seek to understand and redirect our inner critic, it will unwittingly impact our daily lives. Signs that your inner critic is messing with you: feeling not good enough, perfectionism, nitpicking everything you do wrong, looking for signs of weakness to criticize in others, becoming judgmental towards others, overcompensating by doing THE MOST (overworking, over-functioning in relationships, etc.). If any of these signs resonate with you, here are some suggested ways to address your inner critic. How to: to begin, just practice noticing and becoming aware when you are become harsh or critical of yourself and others. Practice noticing how you feel when these voices of judgement or criticism arrive. Notice the situations that tend to bring out these inner critical thoughts and feelings. Is it when you are with your family? When under pressure to perform? Once you have some skill with noticing your inner critic, practice writing down the thoughts associated. Now dig deeper. Write down the thoughts or beliefs underneath. Keep digging until you reach a core belief. This usually sounds like "I am no good." "There is something wrong with me." "I will amount to nothing." Now, see if you can identify where or who taught you this belief. Is it your Mom, Dad, or Grandparent? This is often the voice associated in your head, though you may not immediately notice it. Once you can identify the source of your inner critic and the core beliefs associated, move forward with the next step of Connecting to Your Inner Self.
- Connect with your inner self. This step is pivotal and also requires the most motivation and commitment, as connecting with our inner-self is the brunt of the work of self-love. This is also where many of us get stuck. We may want to take time for ourselves, but we may also resist "doing the work." We know it is helpful to connect to ourselves, but how do we even do it anyway? Connecting with your inner-self is the entire solution to addressing your inner critic, feeling your feelings, and accessing an intention of unconditional love. Without connecting to ourselves, no amount of action "out there" will feel fulfilling. We can keep spinning our wheels, trying every piece of advice we hear, but if we aren't connected to our inner truth, it will be for naught. Fortunately there are a few simple (though not easy) ways to connect with your inner-self you can begin trying right away. How to: begin with setting the intention to learn more about yourself and what you are feeling. Find a quiet place alone to take some time to connect within. You may want to take a few moments of deep, slow belly breaths to help relax. Place your hands over your heart and take a few breaths. Imagine that there is a part of you inside that wishes to speak to you, most likely a younger version of you (child, teen, early young adult). Ask this part of you what is going on and how they are feeling. Listen and write down the answers. When they provide an answer, respond as if you are a loving parent, with love and compassion. Ask this part of you what they would like or need right now. Listen, write it down. You can also connect with your Higher-Self or the Universe and ask "What is the truth here? What action do I need to take to meet my needs right now?" Listen and write it down. When connecting to your inner self, there are no specific rules about who and what you are connecting to. You can imagine you are speaking with your heart, with your soul, or with your ancestors that are a part of you. The point is not so much the specifics but that you are showing up willing to listen to, learn from, and care about your inner self.
- Take inspired action from an intention of love. Once we have connected to our inner self, then (and only then) you can begin to action on your behalf with an intention to bring yourself the love you need and deserve. When we know the inner truth that we are meant to know, we will be guided to do only what is best for us. Taking inspired action is therefore about aligning with what you already know within. This is why following someone else's advice doesn't always work at solving your own (often internal) challenge. When you learn to listen to the guidance that you receive when connecting within, it becomes easier over time to become attuned to what you need on a deeper level. What it looks and sounds like might be something like this: "I need to rest," and then promptly take a nap. "I need human connection," then promptly reach out to a friend who can either talk on the phone or available to make a plan in person. The need you have found while connecting within then allows you to be guided by intuition, your Higher-Self, or the Universe to do exactly it is that will serve your greatest good in that moment. How to: following whatever process for connecting to your inner self, take a look back on what you wrote down about what is needed or what your Guidance (Higher-Self, Universe, God/Goddess) recommends. Was there something specific? Take action as soon as possible. Was it vague and general? Ask yourself, if I was to honor this need right now, what would that look like? Above all TRUST AND LISTEN TO THE GUIDANCE. It doesn't matter if you think it came from your head or somewhere else in the Universe. Trust that if it has come to your conscious awareness, there is a good reason. Once you take loving action for yourself (ie self-care, setting a boundary, communicating your feelings) check in with yourself after. How are you feeling now? Is there something else that is needed? Repeat steps above until you feel settled, peaceful, and nourished by loving yourself.
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