Self-love is the key to happiness and health. We all know that, right? But what always eludes me is the how do we actually get there?
I mean it’s so easy for people to tell you to love yourself, but the question always is ‘what do I do if I don’t’? It always leaves me so frustrated when someone tells me this because I want to scream right back at them, but I’m already trying, what the hell do you mean?! What else can I do?
For years I thought, self-love was about going easy on myself. That meant I would only do what felt easy, in the flow, etc. I also thought it meant giving myself lots of pleasure and luxuries. Going shopping if I felt it, indulging in hanging out in cafes, never saying NO to myself basically. I see this sentiment reflected in so many of my friends also: this attitude of ‘I’m worth it’ or ‘I deserve this’ when trying to justify an indulgence.
No matter, how much I ‘gave’ to myself, however, I still struggled with the same voices inside my head that were mean or criticizing. In the end, those things didn’t really work.
Here is what did.
1. Be Honest with Yourself and Embrace your Suckfulness
How do we love anything? We love because we know the object of our love. You love your friends and family because you know them. They are familiar to you. You know their strengths and weaknesses and you love them because they are a whole person. Similarly, you have to get to know yourself. You have to be honest with yourself about who you are, what flaws you have and what strengths. After all, it’s just who you are FULL STOP. This is not to say that you don’t care about your character.
It’s about truly forgiving yourself for not being ‘perfect’. No one is. I mean really, no one. We all suck on some level.
The more you can accept that about yourself through being really honest, the more you will be able to connect to yourself.
2. Cultivate Stillness
In order to love yourself, you actually have to start carving out some stillness for yourself and stop identifying with your thoughts and emotions.
I could have called this point also ‘educate yourself’. The 21st century brought with it a deeper understanding of our brain. Today to believe that meditation is only for hippies is outright ignorant. When you read about what happens in your brain, you will understand better the necessity for meditation and stillness. (Check out Dr. Joe Dispenza, e.g. his book: “breaking the habit of being yourself’).
I mean, dude, brainwave frequencies are cool. Knowing which one to be in for what purpose is sexy. It’s not even really a matter of ‘I like or I don’t like’. Understanding that your brain is not meant to be in high Beta (frequency) all the time and that that causes your system to experience stress and be in survival mode, AND that that is the reason you experience negative thoughts, tunnel vision, anxiety etc….well, for me, it’s a relief.
Whenever I see my inner maniac (aka mind) go psycho, I don’t take it so personal anymore. I see it as my brain being on overdrive, so I sit down and connect to stillness. Give the little fucker some rest, because that’s what the madness is actually asking for.
The heart relaxes when our brains do. The heart is the nerve center through which we experience love.
Pure science, but you actually gotta do it.
3. Cultivate your strengths/character (be proud)
Being alive does require of us a certain effort. Our brain loves learning new things. Our brain loves challenges and growth. We all have some things that naturally turn us on. Things that make us feel proud of ourselves when we do them (and master them).
I love learning languages for example. It makes me happy. I also love writing. I love the mental gymnastics that my brain has to perform in order to bring down on paper what I feel and to put it into a coherent whole. The more I write the more I enjoy the process and the more satisfaction I feel.
It’s the brain on dopamine boosting your confidence and bliss. Know your brain and give yourself opportunities to nourish it.
Likewise, it’s hard to love yourself when you are steeped in ‘laziness’ or the inability to apply the right effort. It’s because you are lying to yourself. I REALLY would love this or that, but can’t be bothered to actually take action. And then you wonder why you feel shitty about yourself? If you are at this point, go back to number 1, be honest with yourself.
“I’m a lazy fuck. Shit. Plus: No one will do this for me. Full Stop.”
Then the whole disappointment BS you are running on yourself becomes less of an issue about self-love, but a solution-based choice: what are you gonna do about it? If you choose inaction, at least it will be a conscious choice now. I choose inaction and all the consequences that come with it, is easier to love than: I should do this or that, but I don’t.
4. Be vulnerable/show yourself to others so you can get feedback from them
It helps enormously to have friends around you that you can be vulnerable with. In fact, I believe it’s one of the number one keys to mental and emotional health. Vulnerability is another form of honesty. Honesty about how you feel and what is moving inside of you.
When we are vulnerable, we create intimate connections with others. When we can stand up in front of others and admit our shame, we liberate ourselves from the fear of what if ‘what I believe about myself is actually true?’ I have yet to be in a situation where the person disclosing something deep and vulnerable didn’t receive empathic understanding and loving kindness. Vulnerability in others touches and opens our hearts and creates connection.
Sometimes when my self-love is low and I seem to not be able to find my way back on track, I think of all the friends that love me. I mean, I can’t be such a bad person if all those amazing people around me think otherwise, right? So, I’m willing to be wrong and question my assumptions. Also, because loving them helps me to love myself.
Love is not really a one-way street, it’s an energy that circulates.
You don’t have great people around you? Wow, maybe you do really suck. *joke*.
Ok, if I just stayed in my family home, it would be really hard to cultivate the kind of self-love that I’m craving for. I get it. That’s why I chose to move away. I chose to bring people around me that are somehow practicing the above points. Honesty, awareness, and willingness to work on themselves.
I’m sure as hell that you can find at least ONE person that was nice to you in your life. With the understanding of how your brain works, choose to focus on that.
5. Be generous/ share your gifts
Nothing uplifts the spirit as much as generosity. Our ability to give of ourselves and to share. The Buddha said that even if you really SUCK (I mean like you’ve killed someone and you are so deeply steeped in ignorance that it will take you trillion years to see the light), the one thing that can start bringing you out of your darkness is generosity.
Generosity implies to (at least temporarily) forget about oneself. Which is funny, when we think of self-love right? I mean, how does forgetting oneself equal loving oneself? It’s the paradox of existence that might require too much of a philosophical discussion here.
Let’s say that the nature of love is abundance. That means love always wants to flow, give and create more of itself. The more we emulate the quality of love, by giving of ourselves, the more we are filled with it.
But hey, I don’t really need to tell you, right? Surely, you know how good it felt to share your sandwich with your friend who had forgotten his at High School? Or when someone asks you for directions, doesn’t everything in you light up because you were actually able to help?
If you are feeling depressed, go and give of yourself and watch.
6. Change your perspective
For me, this one is really the number one game-changer.
One of the exercises I give my clients is to sit in front of a mirror, eyes closed and to think of someone they love, really truly unconditionally. Then once their heart is activated to open their eyes towards themselves in the mirror, while staying totally connected to the feeling in their heart that they’ve just generated effortlessly for someone else.
Of course, resistance may come up. You might look at the mirror and notice your wrinkles, for example, your crooked nose or your lazy eye, like mine. You notice those thoughts, this part of your brain that constantly evaluates, judges, compares and criticizes and you simply don’t listen to it.
This is actually just an exercise in attention.
You keep bringing your attention towards the soft feeling in your heart, allowing it to gently melt away all those negative thoughts you are having about yourself. The same way you would if a 5-year-old was to come to you and tell you that they are stupid or ugly. You wouldn’t just agree with them (at least I hope not), right?
You probably would just gently hold them in your embrace, loving them beyond their distorted view of themselves.
If I have something I don’t like about myself like judging myself that I’m not successful enough etc. I think: What do I look like from the perspective of God? It’s the mirror exercise from above all over again, but now the person looking in the mirror is God himself.
There are many ways in which you can change your perspective and question your assumptions. Go and have fun with it.
Of course, a topic like Self-love is not really covered in six steps. It’s also not something that you do once and then it’s done. In the end, you will have to find your own way. For most of us, it’s a lifelong process, that requires an ongoing commitment. And I think to sum it up, this is the number one key:
Your willingness to believe that you are lovable no matter what because you are simply part of the loving intelligence of the universe.
PS: (if you don’t believe that, go to number 2 and start meditating!)
Kasia Patzelt works as an Embodiment Coach and is passionate about integrating our spiritual experiences into the here and now of daily life aka how to be truly heart intelligent. She is a writer on Medium and works one-on-one with people online or on the magic island of Ibiza, where she lives. www.kasiapatzelt.com
Image courtesy of Vitae London.