How To Self-Love, Really.
As a Psychotherapist, self-love is s topic that comes up frequently in my work with clients.
Recently I spoke at a Self-love brunch and shared my definition of self-love and what it means to me:
Self love is inextricably linked to self-esteem, self worth, compassion, kindness and connection. It is a practice of respect and knowing ourselves. As it’s ultimate goal, a practice of self love is to embody pleasure, positive regard and acceptance of who we truly are… it is to be ourselves. ~Natajsa Wagner
The first thing I want to say about self-love is that self-love as having many inter-connected threads and is an ongoing practice. I believe self-love is powerful and the relationships we have with those around us can help us not only understand where we might need to improve in our self-love practices but they can also help us lean into self-love and develop more of it for ourselves.
So let’s start at the beginning… Where do we learn about self-love?
When I ask this question some of the common responses I get are,good friends, colleagues, books, personal development. All of these are true yet not quite the full answer. Interestingly we all learn about self-love first, in the same place. We learn about it in our family, because this is where we first learn about and experience love.
Now all of us had unique experiences when it came to love and receiving it and growing up in our family. In an ideal world our parents or caretakers, model what love is for us and we feel safe, loved and secure. The reality is some of us had strong role models, others did not.
The importance of where self-love begins is that it is in these early years that our foundation is laid. We form our own framework of feeling, cared for, worthy of love, good and enough based on our individual experiences. We experience care, kindness and compassion and start to make sense of our world.
Through these interactions in our family unit, we learn to internalise those loving experiences so that we are able to access or draw on these past memories, feelings and experiences when we need them. As we develop through adolescence and into adulthood we are able to access those feelings and use them as part of how we regulate our emotions and do this thing called self-love. You see self-love was never an individual practice we were meant to grasp on our own.
So how can our own practice self-love can be impacted and developed through other experiences and relationships?
Whilst self-love is learnt and modelled in our family of originwhat's important to know is that self-love can be learnt and developed through healthy and supportive adult relationships and experiences we have in our life.
The opposite is also true. We may have had an interaction or experience in our life where we took on board a negative thought or belief about ourselves. Repeated experiences can lead to negative thoughts or beliefs that can causes us to think critically of ourselves. The danger in going with these unsupportive thoughts and beliefs is that we move further away from kindness, compassion and care four ourselves.
Perhaps you can relate to having a big or small interaction with someone and how it impacted you? When this happens our confidence within ourselves can often be shaken.
Some common examples of this might include:
Needing to make a certain amount of money to be successful.
Having x type of body to be beautiful
Only feeling good enough if we put other people first.
And the list could go on…
What I want to share with you, is that growing up I didn't have many adult role models or mentors that I looked up to or who could guide me. I learnt early on that I had to take care of myself. Taking care of myself meant that I had to be strong and not show vulnerability (or weakness as I would have termed it back in the day). It meant just getting on with things minus feelings and emotions.
The relationship I had with myself lacked kindness and compassion.
I grew up in a home with domestic violence. It wasn’t until I started to get into intimate relationships that I started to realise that I seemed to continue to have the same experiences with men, that was toxic. Whether it was physically or emotionally.
I didn’t have a solid sense of self-worth.
As a teenager, I remember clearly the time my best friend at the time told me I couldn’t sing and that my voice of tune. Somewhere in that interaction, I learnt that I should probably not express myself and sing was definitely off the table
I went to a personal trainer in my early 20’s who when I told him about the Jaffa cake I was only going o have 1 slice of for my cousin’s birthday, proceeded to tell me that everything I eat impacts on my body and that I wouldn’t be here” the pt place” if I was happy with my body… During this time, I had a bout of disordered eating and did not have a love of my own body.
What I want to highlight in sharing all these experiences is the importance of supportive relationships that can help us develop a strong foundation of love. Rather than focusing on blame and judgement (which doesn’t get us far) I want to focus on how we together can build each other up, how together we can learn kindness and compassion from each other and then take that on board for ourselves.
You see, relationships are also the place to grow and deepen self-love.
Its been close to a decade since I was someone who grappled with the belief that love meant pain and violence ( as that had been my experience).
It’s been close to a decade since I stopped believing that vulnerability was a weakness.
It’s been close to a decade since I decided my body was good enough.
I share my experiences with you because I know first hand that we can learn, heal and grow through personal development. It was through my own personal work and relationships (therapist, group, professional training and supportive relationships) that I was able to learn where the gaps were in my self-love practice as well as how to love myself. I learnt how to love myself by allowing others to love and care for me and having new emotional experiences of receiving love and care.
So, no matter where we might be on our individual journey we can develop and deepen our own practice of self love. Starting with the work of self-awareness, we can find our edges around self-love and how we think about ourselves and we can learn how to do it.Most importantly, we can re-create new experiences and re-write our stories through supportive relationships with others.
If you feel as though you need to learn how to do self-love reach out and do this work with a qualified psychotherapist or counsellor. Self love was never an individual practice…we learnt it in relationship and we deepen it through positive relationships with each other. We were not meant to learn this alone.
When we focus on creating a consistent practice of self-love we have an opportunity now, not only to increase our own sense of self love and deepen our practices of self love, but to make an impact on others to create a ripple of self-love that flows out into the world.