“Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” A beautiful song and a beautiful truth, yet for many, it can be the most elusive kind of love. Loving oneself, I believe, is the closest to understanding how dearly we are loved by the Divine. Yet, as a being in human form, we have so many earthly distractions and negative ideas about ourselves, that we rarely consider love for oneself. However, if we were to make a list of all we bring to the world without the web of criticism we install, we would at least puff up a bit.
Loving ourselves is often conditioned out of us by the time we reach adolescence. You rarely see a tiny child with this lack of self-love or self-confidence, do you? The joy, humor, love of learning and self-propulsion are absolutely inspiring in our young ones. Growing up, we often look to the parent of the same sex as our role model, and if this parent has a lack of love and regard for his- or herself, then we can already be at a disadvantage in the self-love department. Hearing our mother call herself “stupid” when she makes a mistake, or refer with lament and disappointment to certain physical traits in herself drills into the subconscious of her daughters. It becomes some kind of a club that adolescent girls join where one puts herself down and the girlfriends often come to her defense to let her know that the put-down is untrue. The girl then tells herself that her friends are just being kind. Does any of this sound familiar? I had convinced myself that I was terribly overweight in junior high school. My mother started putting me on diets beginning at age 13. I eventually responded by sneaking food and gaining weight – about 10 pounds. My girlfriends would re-assure me that I looked just fine, but in my mind, I was a big disappointment to my mother and fat. I would lie in bed at night and grab at the excess weight around my waist, and fill myself with anxiety and self-loathing, believing that the next day, I would work harder to be a perfect person by being a perfect dieter. That was my story. You may have a different version, but with similar disappointment and lack of love for yourself. What a time waster! Once we come to understand that this is just bad programming, we have the power to notice negative thoughts about ourselves and re-program for a better self-image.
So, how do we begin to change all this? The first step towards loving ourselves begins with noticing the negative self-talk. Are you calling yourself unkind names? Angry with yourself for not being perfect? The next step is to replace these critical words with kindness and encouragement. I ask my clients to write down all the negative things that they catch themselves saying about themselves, and then read over them, asking themselves if they would ever speak to a dear friend that way. When we imagine ourselves saying these negative beliefs or statements to our friend, we can begin to appreciate the abuse we’ve been dishing out to ourselves. Creating new “I am” statements and consciously using them begins to change the old negative programming. It may feel insincere or even conceited at first, but with practice it eventually becomes second nature. Being able to look in the mirror, deeply into one’s eyes, and say “I love you” and really mean it, is a transformative moment. It took me well into my forties before I had such a moment.
Another method of healing and loving ourselves, is to imagine that we are holding ourselves as a child, particularly at the age where we began to lose love for ourselves. This works particularly well when we close our eyes in meditation and guide ourselves back to the age we wish to heal and show love to. In this exercise, I took the 13-year-old me in my arms and told her that she was beautiful, smart, talented and fun to be with, and that she would grow up to be happy and healthy. I felt such love and compassion for the young me, and she looked back at me with such gratitude and appreciation. When my parents moved and down-sized their home, I ended up with a portrait that was done of me at age twelve. It now hangs in my bedroom, and I greet this young girl every morning, sending her my love and praise.
There is radiance and beauty in us all. May we all experience this greatest love of all!