You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection – Buddha
Self-love is one of those spiritual buzzwords that is thrown around a lot these days. I think that is wonderful. When we fail to love ourselves, there can often be awful consequences for us and for those who love us most. When we succeed, anything and everything becomes possible.
The idea sounds easy enough. We love pizza. We love sunny days when we don’t have to work. Why don’t we just add ourselves to the list? Well here’s the part that I think can’t get mentioned enough: loving yourself is really tough work.
When I say love yourself I don’t actually mean the way you love pizza. I mean the no holds barred, totally irrational, completely unconditional, straight-up and down infinite kind of love that is the most powerful tool for healing, transformation, and growth in this world. The kind of love that brings tears to your eyes and a vibration of your voice, that tingles the back of your tongue and has the power to create a path when before there was only a wall. When you feel this kind of love, profound inner change suddenly becomes necessary, which doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable and difficult.
And yet, once we have a taste, our desire for this love persists. We have all had glimpses of what it can feel like in our lives, but how do we sustain it? Perhaps more importantly, what blocks it?
I believe narcissism is a big piece of the puzzle. For a long time, I held back from loving myself because I thought it was selfish and narcissistic. I thought to be a good person; you should concentrate on loving and taking care of other people. I thought if I was a good enough person, then someone else would discover my goodness and maybe decide I was loveable too. Then, I thought, I would feel loved.
I understand now that being narcissistic is actually the exact opposite of self-love. Being narcissistic means living in service to the person, you think you “should” be, rather than unconditionally loving yourself just the way you are!
We all have ideas about the kind of person we ought to be
We all have ideas about the kind of person we ought to be. Our mighty brains develop an intricate set of values, judgments, and opinions about this person, and more often than not, we make decisions in our lives based on our desire to be that person. We don’t explore new activities because it’s not the kind of thing “people like us” do. We don’t pursue our passions because we might not make the amount of money we “should” make. And we turn away from the person who loves us because they aren’t the kind of person we “should” be with.
The only problem is, that person we feel we “should” be might have nothing to do with who we really are! We beat ourselves up for not being that person, instead of asking ourselves, what do I really need and want for myself, right now? When we turn away from our deeper selves in an effort to create some shiny perfect reflection in the mirror, the more dissonance and discomfort we feel, and the more difficult self-love gets.
When we are trapped in narcissism, we live in judgment of ourselves, making us, in turn, judgmental of others. If you are constantly trying to live up to steep standards you’ve set for yourself—well then everyone else should be too! When we fail achieve these standards we believe we are unworthy of love, and can act out negatively in a myriad of ways. When we succeed in achieving these standards we can feel pride, entitlement, perhaps some sense of satisfaction. But we still do not experience truly loving ourselves in an unconditional way, because that satisfaction will always be conditional upon achieving those standards.
As my mother told me, every person is a universe. Who we truly are is so much more complicated, astounding, and mysterious than any ideas our judging minds come up with about who we are. True self-love means allowing space to accept, honour, and be ever curious about who that person deep inside is.
To love ourselves is to understand that whether we fail or succeed, we are still fundamentally lovable. Self-love means loving the parts of us that are flawed and have made truly awful, harmful mistakes. To know that these mistakes are what makes us human, and it is through these lessons that we truly grow.
Self-love means loving you even when it feels like the pain is too much to bear. To allow that crack of light to shine when it feels like no one else can understand or know pain like this. It’s true! Your experience of your grief is yours and yours alone and in that wound resides your gift. To love ourselves is to know that through loving ourselves at our darkest hours we can learn the true meaning of this unconditional love that for seemingly no reason at all persists, generation after generation, through every crack and crevice in this earth, minute after minute, in this insane world of humanity.
I understand now that withholding love for myself is one of the most selfish things I can do. No one in this world will ever be capable of loving me the way I can love myself. There’s no way—only I will ever know the deepest insights of my mind, my most tender wounds, my secret nasty thoughts, the persistent melodies of my imagination and the quietest whisperings of my heart. And me, little old me, simply because I am a human being on this earth, deserve the very deepest love possible. No matter what I’ve done, and who I’ve hurt or how I’ve failed or what my silly little judging mind thinks of me, I deserve love.
Writing that is so hard and there is still a part of me that thinks it is wrong. Voices in my head tell me that people will think I am selfish, self-centered, conceited, or worse, for talking about myself that way. But I have to fight for that kind of love and sing out its truth because I so desperately want it to be a reality in this world. I know so many of us wish for a future where every human could feel that they truly matter, that they are loved and supported, simply because they are. A world where love was fully available to all, no matter nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation, a difference of ability, or past mistakes. And I know of no other way to make this kind of love a reality than to begin with this daunting task: to truly, madly, deeply, love myself.
Do you find it challenging to truly love and take care of yourself?