Every coach, counselor, therapist or other helpful mentor knows how to turn their most elegant, intelligent client into a seven year old brat. They just say two simple words: “Love yourself.”
The client’s face screws up into a mean caricature of itself as s/he replies swiftly, intensely, scornfully: “Oh no! Not more of that ‘love yourself’ crap! The last thing I need is to hear one more wishful-thinking do-gooder telling me I must learn to love myself!”
It’s hard to blame them. I’ve said much the same myself, associating self-love with sickly-sweet smiles and some form of mushy, sentimental self-excusing in front of a mirror.
So before I waste time writing words on a topic which you might not allow yourself to read, I’m going to treat you like the gifted, sophisticated reader you are. That means I’m going to give you some good hard reasons for adopting the ‘love yourself’ way. Then we’ll take a look at how to achieve it.
First, though, why bother at all?
Healthy self love enhances personal power
Healthy self-love enhances personal power and I can prove it. I gathered the evidence without really thinking about it while carrying out my aerobic workout. Even if you’re not a nerd about fitness I encourage you to look at this data: it’s really about the power of feelings.
I am a devotee of the Concept II indoor rowing machine. Among other things, this very effective training device allows you to observe your power output (watts) at the same time as it shows your effort input (measured as heart rate). The most efficient mode of working is to achieve the highest watts for the lowest heart rate.
When these two measurements are in balance, they are steady in relation to each other and the graphs look like this:
Heart Rate ————————————————–>
What I’ve discovered is that if during my workout I allow my thoughts
to drift into negatively challenging areas such as taxes, the idiocy
of our leaders, or the cluttered state of my office, the graphs
suddenly present this picture:
What I’ve discovered is that if during my workout I allow my thoughts
to drift into negatively challenging areas such as taxes, the idiocy
of our leaders, or the cluttered state of my office, the graphs
suddenly present this picture:
Heart Rate ———————————–
In other words, my negative thoughts have resulted in a drop in power output. Worse, this lower output is being achieved at the expense of greater effort than before.
If I then say to myself, preferably out loud: “I love and approve of myself!” and have an image of myself standing on a dais, being hugged by a clone of myself (= ‘loved’), surrounded by hundreds more cheering clones of myself (= ‘approved of’), the graphs, having shown a loss of power, revert to normal:
Heart Rate ——————————— ——————->
As if by magic, my power output has gone up and my effort has gone down. So, for the small price of feeling momentarily a bit immodest, I’ve reverted to a greater power output for a lesser exertion level. I have literally liberated more power from myself.
How does this work? I’m not a biochemist so I don’t know. However, I’d guess that the negative thoughts increase cellular tension, restricting the action of the muscles while simultaneously demanding more effort to make them move. The positive thoughts reverse this process.
This biodynamic of liberating power occurs as the result of other examples of self-love, supporting all kinds of successful endeavors.
Self-love promotes success
Healthy self-love facilitates emotional and intellectual processes in the same way as it improves your physical performance. By ‘love’ here I mean any form of respectful and rewarding attitude or treatment.
It is a truism that a single person can look for months without finding a partner, but as soon as they’ve found one they suddenly find opportunities for more. Why? The self-love liberated by partnership is relaxing them, simultaneously making them into a more attractive and more able partner.
Childless couples try for years to have a baby of their own, give up, adopt, and within months they become pregnant with a child of their own.
A salesperson ahead of his targets goes to work with such confidence and verve that more success comes to him.
These are all examples of love-facilitated successes. Healthy self-love enables you to give love more readily and thus to be offered it more frequently.
So how can we manage our lives so as to arrange for a constant supply of this success ingredient? We must start by recognizing we are deserving of love whether we want to be or not. Simply because we’re each perfect.
Know your own perfection
Healthy self-love is the deepest awareness of our own individual perfection.
Healthy self-love is rooted in truth. And the truth is: You are perfect.
Try saying it out loud to yourself: “I am perfect.”
A good many people (though not, of course, the healthy and aware readers of ‘Dynamic Living™’), resist carrying out this simple experiment, almost as if I’d suggested they sample a spoonful of cyanide. I simply cannot tempt, persuade, or tease them into coming out with those three little words.
The reasons for this are manifold, including fear of their own power, but I don’t want to go into them in this exploration.
Rather, I simply want to demonstrate that you are perfect whether you want to be or not.
What makes you perfect?
There are two ‘authorities’ who define standards of perfection. One is Mother Nature. The other is all the other mothers and fathers, known collectively as ‘Society’.
Of the two accrediting bodies, I prefer Mother Nature’s assessment. She’s been around a lot longer than the other, has no special interest to pursue, and she actually created the components that make up ‘Society’.
Mother Nature – God, the Universe – has a wonderful way about her. She hates making any two things alike. In fact, she goes to the opposite extreme and makes billions of things, no two of which are alike.
One way to interpret this abundance would be to say that she makes a lot of mistakes. However, that would imply that our judgment was superior to hers which would be a bit odd, given that she made us and not the other way round.
So we have to assume that she – God, the Universe – knows what she’s about and makes us exactly the way she wants.
You are a unique individual – and intended to be
This means that each of us is a perfect and unique creation of Nature. You are the perfect result of 13 or 14 billion years of cosmic research and development. All of it was assembled for one purpose at one moment in time and space – to create You.
Your uniqueness in time and space is evidenced by the exact time and position of your birth. The combination of three factors – the time of your birth, its geographical location and its height above ground – uniquely identify you in universal time.
No-one other than you in the whole history of the universe has ever possessed your birth time/space, nor will anyone other than yourself ever possess it in the future.
You are a genuine one-off. A bespoke human being. Nothing mass-produced about you. A true individual.
I do not believe that Mother Nature put so much effort into creating you as a unique individual just so you would be distorted into becoming an International Standard ISO #DOB-1976 bio-slave.
I realize it may be a bit presumptuous to speak so emphatically on her behalf but my assessment is based on observation: Nature is very economical and when she wants something she makes it. This means she wanted you to be exactly as you are.
So your universal mission, it seems to me, is to love yourself for your proven perfection and to be absolutely true to yourself.
What that might mean is a different kind of question, but one thing is certain: the other accrediting body, Society, won’t like it.
The shifting sands of Societal ‘perfection’
Once we permit ourselves to adopt Society’s judgment, the notion of our individual perfection becomes impossible to maintain. We can point to all sorts of ‘defects’ – physical, emotional, intellectual – as evidence that we aren’t good enough.
For most of us, the dominant factors in Society are our families of origin, our governments, our religions, employers, professional associations and educational systems.
Not one of these groups benefits from a world full of effective individuals. What Maslow referred to as the actualized person is unpredictable, spontaneous, creative and – most of all – essentially unafraid. These qualities make us hard to manage or to coerce into the typically unrewarding processes that the maintenance of Society requires.
Accordingly, it’s not surprising that Society establishes a whole array of ‘desirable’ standards, ranging from nationality to academic measurements and even bust sizes.
As every schoolchild knows, very few of these criteria have any direct significance or relevance to the realities of everyday life. What they do achieve, however, is to divide the six billion of us humans into manageable, competing groups. This makes us malleable, manipulable and afraid.
The process of reducing us to our lowest common denominator – fear – turns us into something very like the ISO Standard bio-slave. We take our politically-correct attitudes to work where we sit in a standardized cube and perform our standardized tasks to try to meet someone else’s approval.
If we are boldly creative and write, paint or perform for a living, we will go through a process of ‘purification’ whereby the need for marketing is impressed on us. Then, instead of simply and truthfully expressing our unique perception of universal love, we structure our works to achieve maximum shock, marketability or Oprah value.
We do, of course, want to be part of Society. Each time we jump through a hoop, compromising our healthy individuality so as to conform to Society’s expectations, we gratify a central, unconscious, desire for the security apparently offered by the larger group.
We also, unless we do it very consciously and with much contemplation beforehand, deny an aspect of our true selves. This reduces our self-esteem a little and betrays our natural, in-born, self-love.
All of which, of course, makes us even more controllable and less assertive on our own account.
Finally, as soon as we grow complacent, thinking we’ve mastered Society’s tasks for us, it will shake us up by changing the rules. Yesterday’s admired loyal worker is today’s “Sorry Ted” lay-off. Yesterday’s big-busted beauty is today’s breast-reduction patient. Yesterday’s thoughtful counselor is today’s sound-bite celebrity ‘motivator’.
Self-love is the answer
The inner conflict between the pursuit of individual actualization and the desire to join Society is not going to change. Society, after all, is also an outcrop of Natural creativity.
It is clear that each of us has a need both to conform to Society and to assert our independence of it. It is therefore essential that we exercise both these desires to their limit or we will feel frustrated and isolated. A dynamically aware approach is to be conscious of the dilemma and constantly assessing our actions in the light of it.
A typical decision-making process – whether or not to join a sports club, for example – might go like this:
Start by saying: “I truly love and honor myself.”
Then follow this reasoning:
Desire: I would like to join a club because I want to play my favorite sport with other enthusiasts.
Condition: Joining a club will mean restricting my personal expression to that which is acceptable to the club.
Dilemma: Will the benefits of belonging to the club outweigh the cost of the pain of self-restraint and corresponding damage to my self-esteem?
To an extent, we make this calculation every time we enter a shop, take a train, or commit ourselves to any kind of public exposure, particularly of a crowd nature.
Healthy self-love protects us as we compromise our autonomy in order to attain the benefits of Society. It acts as a kind of emotional immune-system. Armed with it, we can undertake more stressful activities which can also enrich and empower us.
As we enter Society, however, we must beware of the self-love which feels potent yet which is subtly undermining. This is classically identified as unhealthy narcissism.
False self-love: a slow destroyer
There is a wonderful quotation which summarizes the unhealthy narcissistic attitude. I haven’t been able to verify my recollection of it, or its source (which I’d like to be John Ruskin, though it sounds a bit flip for him), but it goes something like this:
“There are many ready to die for their art. It’s a pity so few are ready to learn to draw.”
Putting aside the issue of whether drawing skill is actually necessary to art, this statement makes clear the distinction between the image of the thing and the reality of the thing. Are you an artist or are you someone living an artist’s life-style? If the latter, and if art is your only source of income, you will surely starve.
The world is full of starving people in love with their image. They may present themselves as youthful, witty, sexy, religious, hard-nosed, steel-willed or, indeed, as anything at all. Their ‘starvation’ may be of many kinds – spiritual, emotional, etc – and not just dietary. Their lives are empty and their manifestations of themselves are like brilliantly constructed hot-air balloons, albeit sometimes of great resilience.
Such narcissism, which we all evidence to some extent or another, is essentially fear-based. We dread true self-exposure and so we construct a defensive castle around ourselves which is so convincing it fools even ourselves.
The term ‘narcissism’ comes from the myth in which Narcissus is obsessed not with himself, but with the image of himself reflected in a pool of water. It underlines the essential truth that we are not our image.
A narcissistic existence is risky in that it relies on others recognizing and responding to the image we present. It is intended to confirm our existence and reassure us as to the ongoing success of our strategy. If others fail us in their responses, we suffer humiliation and inner destruction.
Needless to say, healthy self-love renders such an imposture unnecessary. When we know we are perfect in every way, just as we are, we no longer need to pose as something else.
To be kind to our narcissistic self, a well-developed image can be fun and tactically useful in our forays into the Societal world, but it is not our true self. To love the image is to deny the true self: a far cry from loving it. The true self is typically both more vulnerable and more resilient.
So how can we develop this liberating power of self-love?
How to increase your self-love
It took me years to overcome my resistance to even starting to love myself. Being human, when I allow myself to be overstressed today I can still slide too easily into the harsh glare of self-judgment. At such times, few can compete with my unfathomable and irredeemable inadequacy!
As we’ve seen, self-love is not to be confused with self-preening, self-fascination, self-worship or any of those other self-oriented feelings and behaviors commonly regarded as narcissistic. Healthy self-love is about the real self, the soul-self, not – at least as far as we’re able to tell the difference – with an image of ourselves.
So here are ten suggestions to help you develop your own self-love. Keep them by you. Then, any time you’re feeling lonely, bored or otherwise at a loose end, you can say: “I love and approve of myself.” and try one of these:
- Assert your universal uniqueness and right to exist. In many ways, this says it all. Imagine yourself as taking up a certain amount of space on the planet, or as existing as a fuzzy little ball of universal energy. See? You cannot be replaced! Matter can neither be created nor destroyed! Your mass cannot be diminished!
Any successful attempt to subtract you from the universe would result in its immediate implosion. The entire universe hangs on you.
Now, assert your physical presence. If you can, stamp your feet on the ground until you feel its hardness. Or, shake your body in your chair until you feel it rock. Bounce like a baby in a pram, reveling in its new-found ability to make the earth move. Grin. Then shout out: “I am perfect and have been delicately crafted by Nature to fulfill my own unique destiny!” or something like it in your own words.
If you have trouble shouting, and there’s no-one else around, it means you have trouble asserting the truth about yourself. Remember, your ability to shout is one of your gifts. Keep at this task until you can bellow your own assertion, even if it leaves you feeling a bit shamefaced but gleeful.
In short, affirm your body and assert your absolute right to be occupying your space in this universe. Remember, more than 13 billion years of development went into crafting you exactly as you are.
- Acknowledge that you already do love yourself. In the sense that you live and that you try to meet your needs, you are already demonstrating a high regard for yourself.
Think of all the times you’ve put a coat on to keep yourself warm, or eaten a meal because you were hungry. Remember the occasions you cried because you were hurt.
Remember, too, the times when you did things for other people. When you went out of your way to give someone assistance, or introduced them to someone who could be useful to them. All these things are evidence of self-love. Reward yourself by recognizing them as such.
- Love your negatives. Are you mean? Are you a bully? Do you have habits and desires you think others might regard as weird? Do you do deals that are morally a bit suspect? Do you consciously break the law? Do you have murderous fantasies? Or incipient megalomania? Do you hate your neighbor, your sister, your parents? Do you – oh awful person you – pick your nose?
These aspects of yourself are totally natural, too. They were either genetically born in you or taught to you by circumstance. If you attempt to deny them, you deny yourself and thus reduce your own total self-acceptance and self-love.
This business of loving our ‘bad’ parts is a hard concept for people to grasp. Yet we act on it all the time with others. For example, most of us enjoy a good hug. Yet when we hug someone we cannot embrace just the aspects of them which we like or admire. We have to embrace all of them.We deserve no less for ourselves.
So, I urge you to embrace those aspects of yourself of which you are ashamed – and that includes your tendency to feel ashamed. One way to do this is to make a list of those ‘shameful’ things as if they were qualities you loved, and then to read them aloud, something like this:
- I love my arrogant self.
- I love my scornful self.
- I love my bitter and self-contemptuous self.
- I love my underhanded self.
- I love my two-faced self.
It is also essential to single yourself out for love around specific actions which you would not typically regard in a favorable light. They might go something like this:
- I love myself for lying to my mother.
- I love myself for tricking that old man into paying more for that picture than it was worth.
- I love myself for losing money by being unassertive when I sold our car.
This is difficult stuff to do, and even more difficult to allow ourselves to feel, but it is extremely valuable.
There is a twofold reason for this. First, it brings us closer to a state of total self-acceptance. Second, it enables us, slowly but surely, to absorb and then give up those elements of ourselves we wish to change. If we reject them we can only ever maintain them apart from ourselves in a sort of frozen eternity.
Remember always that Mother Nature has made you perfect. Your apparent ‘imperfections’ are only deviations from Society’s preference, they are not imperfections in reality. As Tertullian said two thousand years ago: “There is nothing to blush for in Nature.”
When you’ve carried out this exercise with your own perceived ‘weaknesses’, make another list, this time of things you don’t like about other people. Then read through it, loving those ‘faults’ as if they were your own. They quite probably are.
Then do the next essential thing:
- Have compassion for yourself. Again, this is not a mushy self-pity that I’m referring to, but a wholehearted acknowledgement of what a rough deal it is to be human.
Basically, ignorant and vulnerable, we’re tossed out into a topsy-turvy world. By the time we’ve learnt something worthwhile it’s too late to save us from the painful experiments of our youth. Then, just as we begin to know a lot of useful stuff, we die. Sheesh! Cosmic joke indeed!
Honor yourself for sticking at it and for being as true to your essential nature as you’ve been able to manage. Your path is yours alone and only you know what it has cost you to walk it. Don’t allow anyone to tell you you got it ‘wrong’.
As a child of Nature, you may feel nourished by this beautiful verse from a poem by Emily Dickinson. I’m indebted to ‘Sweet G’ for bringing it to my attention:
Nature—the Gentlest Mother is,
Impatient of no Child—
The feeblest—or the waywardest—
Her Admonition mild—
I really don’t think it’s for us to outguess Big Momma Nature by being hard on ourselves.
- Permit yourself to be loved. This is difficult because most of us have suffered in love at some point or another. Also, because we have such a long list of things we don’t like about ourselves, we don’t think we’re justified in being loved.
Try to allow others to do things for you without feeling compelled to belittle their kindness or rushing immediately to do something for them in return. Accept the smile that unexpectedly opens up to greet you. Nourish yourself on the thoughtfulness with which others, even misguidedly and clumsily, approach you.
- Remember who’s always your best buddy – even unto death. Yes indeed. When things go wrong there is one person you’ll turn to again and again to sort them out: You. And at the end, when you head off into death, there’ll be one old friend alongside: You.
So it makes sense to stay on good terms with yourself and hold yourself in high regard. That way your departure from this life will be as honorable as your stay.
- Find yourself a purpose. Purposeful motivation springs from having self-love and also reinforces the tendency toward self-love. Your purpose can be anything you like, providing you can commit to it body and soul.
There’s a tendency to think of purpose as a very pious thing, like saving the world from some human-induced disaster, but it doesn’t need to be. Nature isn’t going to judge you, even if Society is. The key thing is that it meets the requirements of your own sense of integrity.
In other words, make it your purpose and pursue it and it will bring you constant joy and a continuing affirmation of your right to receive love.
- Take responsibility for loving yourself. Too often we abdicate responsibility for loving ourselves, somehow expecting someone else to do it for us.
We spend years essentially abandoning ourselves while we try to find someone else to love us. Ask yourself, though: what would make someone else love you if you can’t find it in your heart to treasure yourself? Would this love be for your strengths or for something counter-productive?
Physically, you can take responsibility for yourself by addressing your diet and exercise needs, your physical welfare in all its forms, and by not being careless with yourself or your belongings. Emotionally and intellectually, you can also demonstrate self-love, as the article on ‘Prorexia’ shows elsewhere.
- Give yourself the time you deserve. Erich Fromm, in his book: ‘The Art of Loving‘, describes love as an art that requires patience, confidence, discipline, concentration, faith and practice daily. That’s quite a tall order, and loving yourself is no different than loving someone else. You must give yourself the time and reflective space that you deserve.
- Don’t waste your time trying to defeat negative messages head on. You won’t succeed. You will always have them. After all, no-one has better evidence than you as to what a useless, worthless, spineless, stupid etc. etc. person you are compared to the rest of Society.
What you can do, however, is continue on your self-love path around these self-lies. Little by little their significance will recede and you’ll find their ability to hurt you recedes with them.
And in conclusion . . .
Don’t be hard on yourself with this self-love stuff. Don’t chastise yourself for any failure to embrace every aspect of your being. That will come.
Try to think of yourself as the unique organism you are, more grounded than a tumbleweed but not as stuck as an oak tree.
As you generate healthy self-love, feel the power of its rich nutrients filling you and strengthening you. This strength provides you with inner power to act as well as a shield against others’ negativity. Ultimately, you will find the manifestation of your love will melt away the hurt and fear that prompt others to act negatively.
Love is the universal healer.
With love. Christopher