The essential reasons to love yourself might include: a. It feels good and b. You’ll be the kind of person you’d want to be with (which means you’ll attract the kind of person you want to be with!).
The reasons for this may not seem obvious. This is because the definition of self love is a little more nuanced than you might think. Self love is not the same as self esteem or feeling proud of your accomplishments. Self love also does not end at self care practices like good hygiene, good boundaries, stress management and exercise.
As my wise 5-year old told me, “you don’t pick your feelings, but you pick your actions” (straight from the mouth of Spidey).
It’s true, we don’t pick our feelings. So it always surprises me when people express feelings of shame, blame or judgment towards the feelings they do have. Why would you impose judgment on something that you have no control over?
Emotional life can be approached like a river. You don't want to block a river. A healthy river supports a lot of growth, both inside it and along its banks. It’s also not wise to dive headlong into the rapids of a river in the spring.
Sometimes your emotional river runs fast and full, other times it is a calm and pleasant trickle, and sometimes the water floats peacefully and silently along.
Self love is the wisdom to know where you are on this river, what is upstream from you, what is downstream, and how to shape the banks of your river so that it nourishes the rest of your life. The banks of the river, which are your belief systems in this metaphor, you do have an influence on.
If self love starts with the capacity to know and make meaning of your internal experience, it follows that when you have entered the world of self love, you will possess an innate, working understanding of your own feelings. This shift is such a relief!
When we are engaged in the true meaning of self love, we approach our emotional world with a genuine curiosity and acceptance of the feelings that live inside us at any moment. Over time this action leads to an innate and dynamic understanding of your feelings in any moment.
This capacity is your natural remedy and prevention against anxiety disorders, depression, mood swings, acting out and unhealthy relationship patterns.
Self love as I’ve defined it is the ability to process your feelings and perceptions without judgment, fear or shame.
This actually frees us up to take healthy responsibility and choice for our feelings and circumstances. (So the absence of shame or judgment is NOT the presence of complacency or victimhood!). The kind of person who is not swimming in an unhealthy level of shame, fear or judgment is the kind of person that you want to be around! And the kind of person a quality mate will choose!
With this capacity, you will feel empowered to make healthy choices and navigate whatever life deals you with your self esteem intact.
The way we respond to our own internal world mimics how we respond to our partner’s feelings and perceptions. When you have mastered the art of processing your own feelings, needs and perceptions without judgment, fear or shame, your partner will feel safe opening up to you.
Obviously this sensibility creates an atmosphere of trust in which two people can get to know each other on the deeper levels that create a lasting, healthy bond.
The ability to communicate your needs and feelings in a healthy way is built upon your ability to understand your needs and feelings. Once you have developed this self loving way of acknowledging and processing your feelings, you will inherently be set up to communicate to someone else.
People who do not process their feelings well and/or who feel undo shame or conflict about their needs end up communicating in toxic and/or confusing ways. Steer clear of this pitfall when you have a healthy relationship with your emotional life!
Most misunderstandings are based on a poor communication of needs and perceptions. Misunderstandings then lead to hurt feelings, fears, resentments and unmet needs. When this perpetuates over time, one of the more tragic states in a relationship occurs: an unnecessary gulf between two people who actually love and care for one another.
The best preventative medicine a relationship can have is two people who can process their inner world constructively and therefore communicate clearly (and hear clearly). Simply put: self love reduces future misunderstandings, conflict and failed relationships.
Feeling understood by your partner, close friends, colleagues and family is one of our biggest psychological needs in life. When we feel understood we can withstand disappointments, delayed gratification, sacrifices, waiting, conflict and differing needs.
Yet you might go through life feeling as if the level of understanding you receive is based on factors you can’t control: other people, your situation. What’s actually true is that we all have a lot of control over how well we are understood in our adult life. This control lever lies in your ability to express yourself, and your ability to express yourself cannot exist if you do not love yourself in the way I am describing.
Because a primary need is to feel understood, we intrinsically bond with those whom we feel understand us. Are you starting to see how there is a cascade of positive effects in your life and your relationships when you love yourself?
Loving yourself gives rise to an environment in which trust and bonding are readily available. Conversely, a lack of self love creates an environment in which there are many barriers to trust and bonding.
Projecting your feelings or needs onto another person is a common source of relationship dysfunction and confusion. The perfect preventative medicine is the ability to own your own feelings. We fail to own our own feelings when our internal world is overshadowed with shame, judgment or fear of emotions.
Self love is the internal state which makes it possible to own your own feelings, because your feelings themselves don’t frighten you or make you feel less than.
Healthy emotional boundaries are the result of a clear understanding of the difference between what you can and can’t control. In short, you can control your own actions and the state of your own inner world. You cannot control another person’s actions or the way in which they maintain their inner world.
When you take responsibility for that which you can control, and base your self valuation on those things, you have healthy emotional boundaries. Likewise, when you understand that you cannot base your self valuation on another person’s feeling state or choices, you have healthy emotional boundaries.
These healthy boundaries are, once again, based on a mature comprehension of your own inner world, which leads to a clear understanding of the boundary between yourself and others.
Substance use and abuse disorders are by enlarge a substitute for the psychological capacities outlined here. When you lack this capacity for self love, emotional life becomes chaotic, painful, confusing and overwhelming. This state is a breeding ground for substance abuse, eating disorders and other compulsive behaviors.
Healing from substance abuse or dependence always entails learning a healthy means of relating to one’s inner world; likewise the presence of self love is the best protection against developing substance abuse issues.
Sounds simple, right?! Not so much.
Learning the true nature of self love requires patience, practice and often expert guidance to insert language and understandings we weren’t taught existed! If I can be of help, register for my Love Thyself Course. This online video course walks you through the skills and practices you need to develop real self love.
Only by loving yourself in this way can you become the kind of extraordinary partner that you would want to be with!
I am a psychologist, psychoanalyst, author and teacher who helps clients get to the root of and heal their relational difficulties. Download my free eBook "How to Be an Extraordinary Partner" or enroll in my Love Thyself Course now!
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