“Make a list of five people you love.” This was the opening question of an energy workshop I attended at the front edge of 2023. As we went around the room, people listed off the usual suspects, “My kids, significant other, friends, my dog…” Not a single person, including me, said, “Myself.” Maybe that explains why we’re so quick to judge ourselves and so slow to love ourselves. Why it’s so easy to focus on where we’ve failed. Why we conform, hide our authentic selves away and have no problem listing off what we need to improve or fix about ourselves. Why we ruminate at the end of the day on everything we should have done, should be doing- what didn’t get done.
Why are we so resistant to celebrate what we accomplish and where we make a difference because we participated? Why is it hard for us to acknowledge every little courageous step forward we’ve taken that led us to progress and growth? Why do we shy away from the kind words and compliments other people share with us? Why is it so hard to feel proud of ourselves? To allow ourselves to sink into the fullness, imperfection and joy of who we are?
Why is practicing self sabotage so easy and self love so damn hard?
In my case, it was childhood conditioning. The words ‘self-love’ were not part of my Southern family’s vocabulary. I was raised by good, kind, well meaning women who were never taught the concept or practice of self love. They learned that loving yourself was selfish, even egotistical. They rarely ate a hot meal or sat down (to enjoy their cold meal) before every dish was done. They went to work, even when they were sick, and rarely left the house without their “face on.” They valued what other people thought of them more than they valued how they thought about themselves. They pushed beyond exhaustion and considered it a badge of honor. They were industrious women who thought sleeping more than four hours a night was for the weak. They shared their opinions but it rarely occurred to them to speak up for they needed to be healthy, happy and whole. Focusing on what you did well was bragging. Loving yourself first was blasphemous. When it came to love, God came first.
To be fair, the women in my family lived through some seriously hard shit like The Great Depression, polio and world wars. They were taught to “Suck it up. Grin and bear it. Power through. Be grateful for what you’ve got and don’t ask for a bit more.” I’m sure these beliefs helped them survive but they also killed any notion of self-love. Watching them and listening to their stories made it easy for me to feel selfish for ever thinking about putting myself first. I learned to compare myself to them, judge myself when I fell short, question my value and quietly settle for less than I wanted or deserved. The way I was raised primed my pump for self-sabotage.
After decades of self-work- mindfulness, introspection, meditation and coaching, here’s what I know now.
- Self love is unconditional, not selfish.
- Self love is essential to thriving.
- Self love is the ultimate act of kindness we can offer ourselves.
Holding deep, unconditional love for ourselves changes the way we think, feel and make decisions for ourselves and our lives. In practice, self love is forgiving ourselves, knowing the light and darkness in ourselves and accepting them equally. Self love is speaking up for what we need, want and deserve and not tolerating a darn bit less. It’s celebrating ourselves, being kind to ourselves, and believing in ourselves.
We are mirrors for everyone around us. As we practice self love, that love we hold for ourselves becomes the lens of forgiveness, beauty, celebration, kindness, and belief that we share with the people in our lives. Imagine how this type of self-love could change your life. Imagine how it could change the world!
Here are three of the questions I offer in my life coaching practice to help my clients develop awareness around self love:
- Who’s first on your list of the people you love?
- How are you practicing self-sabotage?
- How are you practicing self-love?
*If you’re ready to cultivate self-love for yourself and thrive in your own life, let’s talk.