What “Love Yourself” Means and 3 Ways to Get Closer To It
You’ve heard it before:
“If you don’t love yourself, nobody else will!”
“The most important relationship you have is the one with yourself!”
“Love yourself first!”
OK fine, you say, but none of these people or articles explain what “loving yourself” actually means. How do I know if I love myself? Do I really want to love myself? Doesn’t this make me a narcissist? What would it look like?
Visions come up of you screaming from the rooftops how great you are, dismissing anyone who disagrees with you, and refusing to believe that you could ever do wrong (making Kanye West look like he has low self-esteem).
Ok hold on. Back up. I said “love,” not “become obsessed with.” Is that how you would treat and feel about someone you love? Probably not, unless you were on a mission to a break up or have a restraining order placed on you. If you’ve felt love for another before, what did you think about—and how did you act towards—the recipient of your feelings? Chances are you thought the person was pretty awesome, enjoyed spending time with them, were compassionate and forgiving when they let you or someone else down (after ensuring you knew they had learned from the error), and practiced unconditional love towards them, leaving them feeling safe, supported, and secure. Maybe you didn’t love every aspect of them all the time, but you accepted, understood, and supported unconditionally.
Now turn that way of being in a romantic relationship inwards, towards yourself. You’re not infatuated, you still have expectations, and you’re not going to let yourself have free reign to fulfill every selfish desire; but, you have patience and compassion and don’t consider yourself to be a worthless individual if you make a mistake.
Make sense? If it’s a new way of relating for you intrapersonally, it’ll feel weird to begin with. It’ll feel anxiety-provoking and feigned and awkward. But, like most things, it will become comfortable and automatic with practice. Here are a few tips for learning and mastering the practice of self-compassion—or, as the rest of the world says, “loving yourself.”
- When you become aware of your critical voice, thank it for showing up with its good intentions. Congratulate yourself on noticing that it showed up, and ask yourself if you would say the same thing to a partner, friend, or a child in your situation. If the answer is no, try to think of what you might say to them, and respond that way to yourself instead. If you can’t think of something supportive that you might say, use the formula that I use with myself and teach to my clients:
“It’s understandable that I’m feeling (feeling) because (reason why it makes sense that you’re feeling that way), and it’s understandable that I did (behavior that you are judging) because I (reason anyone else in your shoes might have done the same thing). Something I can take away from this experience is (what will you know for next time due to this valuable experiential learning process?) and one reason why it’s good this happened is because (what is or might be a residual effect of this experience that is positive?).”
- Practice a compassionate meditation towards yourself. Find a comfortable seat. Close your eyes. Turn inwards—first to your breath. Focus on taking a few long, expansive breaths that make your tummy expand. Now go inwards into your experience. Scan what you’re feeling physically and emotionally. Notice your thoughts. Try to just watch these thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment. Don’t try to change them or analyze them. Just observe them and let them be. Now bring up feelings of warmth, patience, empathy, sympathy, comfort, and appreciation. This might take some time, or feel foreign or forced. It will get easier with practice. Now envision sending those qualities of compassion to yourself. Imagine them enveloping you like a warm blanket or a comforting hug. Picture the compassion traveling throughout your body and your mind, telling you that you are loved and worthy, reminding you that you are not alone so long as you have yourself. Once you feel competent practicing sending yourself compassion in this way, take it a step further. Find mountain pose in front of a mirror, and notice what thoughts and feelings come up as you look at your reflection. You might experience uncomfortable feelings that make you want to look away or be self-critical. Sit with those feelings. Once you are comfortable sitting in them, practice sending love to the person in the mirror.
- The preceding tips generally suggest how to react intrapersonally following transgression. But consider how you act towards yourself in response to success, compared to how you might react to someone you love. Our society overvalues modesty, to the point at which people feel guilty if they own or congratulate their successes. Just think about the last time you got a compliment, how you reacted to it. Or the last time you felt proud about something, then quickly squashed that feeling for fear of becoming complacent. Again, I’m not saying here that you should send an interoffice email around about how you’re better than your colleagues or would like to be addressed from here forward as “God.” This is saying give yourself space to enjoy pride, acknowledge your success, internally and externally, and try “Thank you, I worked hard,” or “Thank you, me too” in response to a compliment, instead of finding a deflecting or denying it.
If you’re not convinced you’re ready to give yourself space and compassion and support, that’s fair. Being self-critical has probably been at the root of a lot of your successes, and has likely protected you from a lot of painful feelings of rejection or failure. But how long will it be until you choose to love yourself unconditionally? What are your alternatives? Dislike? Hate? Reject? No one can make you make that shift but you. As Oscar Wilde says, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” You cannot change the person you inhabit, but you can change your relationship to them. Now get practicing, so can spend more of this lifetime with the one you love—you.
Living With an Open Heart
There is something so undeniably beautiful when I look into the darkness and deep hours of the night, when the world around me is completely silent. Tonight, as I stare into our backyard through our moon room, I see a reflection that represents my heart. It is the light that shines from the moon, illustrating that even when there is darkness there is eternal light.
As I continue to lose myself in the glow of the moon, I feel a peace that is simple and all-knowing; all the answers are right in front of me. This reflection of silence in the night offers up my most raw truth, one that even my ego cannot deny. When I feel this truth so deeply, I want to press pause; I know that as the night blends to greet the morning sun it may, once again, be disguised by many layers. This is when I love to sit at my desk and release every ember of a thought that wants to meet paper. Sometimes it turns into a story, sometimes I feel like it may be a “Jerry McGuire moment” in the making, but right now it feels healing.
Find Your Light of Love
Deep inside all of us is a brilliant light of love. This gift of love never has to be figured out, fixed, or solved – it just is. It is when I relinquish control and completely surrender that I know I am in my truth because I am not in charge. In this moment I trust that everything is as it divinely should be. It is a true invitation to follow suit, to look at a new path regardless of any boundary I may have created for myself.
When I think back to the moments in my life when I have been entirely present, they have been when I surrendered fully, was extremely vulnerable, and didn’t worry how that vulnerability would be received. I wish every day could be this spiritually in shape, but it is because of these moments that I know there are endless possibilities. I know that I am the only person in my way, and that is extremely humbling and inspiring all at once.
A Guide for Opening & Connecting
Learn the art of mindfulness and loving kindness — the foundations for living with an open heart — in The Yogi’s Heart, a guide for opening and connecting. For it is only when you approach life from a place of openness can you embody connectedness with all things.
It is not easy to be raw in our everyday lives. We don’t like to see ourselves vulnerable, even when the world around us whispers that we are safe. We have been taught to always have it together, have it all figured out, separate ourselves from the pack, and, most importantly, be successful by a societal standard. We actually get angry when we believe others are not living life the “right way.” However, after we strip away all the insecurities and boundaries, it is easy to realize we are all craving the same thing – unconditional love, understanding, and compassion. We are begging for someone to throw us a rope when the rope is already present.
This space of love exceeds all limiting beliefs of religion, race, and class. It is a platform that seats our soul as we share the message. We all want to be loved and accepted for who we really are in our soul. We want those around us to understand that we are doing our best even if it goes unnoticed in the eyes of another. We want the world to understand our experiences have shaped who we are. We secretly beg for others to meet us where we stand with compassion and kindness, but unfortunately, this gets misunderstood in our fanfare of costumes and roles.
I don’t believe anyone would consciously admit he or she judges another to make his or her experiences more justified, or that we choose to make decisions based on what others think is the right way. But sometimes, we get caught in the crossfire. We judge others because we are trying to build our own story. We try to identify how we are different to still the voice that has been trained to see this as an opportunity to be better. We use all kinds of boundaries to shape how we have it right and others have it wrong. Here’s the simple answer: we ALL have the gift of light inside of us. No one is EVER more ahead than another; it is not a line we travel but a cycle that has no beginning or end. When we release and surrender, the boundaries wash away. What is left is a light of raw, unconditional love that was always present.
Embrace What Is
The biggest question becomes how do we live in this light? How do we let go of the boundaries the ego has created? In this moment of living truth it goes beyond an answer. It just is.
God, a higher power, the Universe – whatever you have named your light is pure love. It is a space that has no conditions or power. It is a space that doesn’t care if you are a lawyer or doctor, rich or poor, mean or kind, or if you think you have it all figured out. This space doesn’t care if you think you are a better parent than another, have it more together, or if you’ve had it harder and no one understands. Most importantly, this space doesn’t care if you think love is a word hippies use to justify their disconnection from the world or if this word is so powerful you can’t say it at all. The best part is that this space is always here for you, just as the sun is always burning brightly no matter what the day may suggest. This space is limitless without boundaries or conditions; it is the most powerful space.
What I know is that in the moments of my imperfect thoughts, I feel this space and I know that every breath presents an opportunity to leave the old behind and build from this source of love. We can choose to go there in moments while we chip away at the boundaries, or we can jump in with both feet. No matter which way you choose to shift, this space will always be waiting for you. I use this thought every day to elicit compassion for myself. I use the mantra I lean on love. I use every opportunity to peel back more layers of myself. As I do, I begin to see the levels of attachment I and others have in the roles I play. I have to completely let go and know that my heart is full of love. This means no longer trying to justify where I am coming from, no longer being afraid of how others will receive me, and no longer trying to define my life. It means living in the present moment. I can’t give myself a better gift.
Take pause, close your eyes, and listen to your heart. This space of love is always present. It doesn’t take prayer or asking for guidance to get there. It is just a matter of listening.
Peace to you in your journey!