3 Steps to Take Before You Can Love Yourself.
“You must love yourself before you can love another,” “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” “Love yourself first,” but what does it really mean to love yourself?
And why do we need so many reminders? Is it that hard? Does everybody assume we naturally hate ourselves and we need to be told to love ourselves instead? And isn’t there still some layer of shame/guilt associated with loving yourself too much?
Does self-love have to do with getting massages and pedicures, with exercising and eating healthy? Does it have to do with self-affirmations and positive self-talk? How much of all of these things are needed until we can fill that deep, abyssal void within that can feel so insatiable at times?
Maybe for some of us, the wound that created the void is so deep that it never fully heals, no matter the amount of care. The intrinsic belief of being unlovable is so ingrained in every fiber of our being that no amount of attention, positive affirmations and acts of kindness can convince us otherwise.
Whether we try to fill our own cup with positivity, loving thoughts, self-care and self-forgiveness, or we seek out external approval, attention and praise, it just never seems enough. That evil-spirited, destructive and cruel inner voice will come out screaming and ever-confirming how unlovable we truly are.
But how did we get here? Where did this this constant self-criticism come from?
Let’s think of ourselves as babies. A baby comes into the world and is not really concerned about whether or not she loves herself, whether she’s loved or loveable. She’s concerned about every single passing moment, her now, her present. Each new thing is a new conquest, a new victory in the satisfaction of her basic needs. Things begin to shift the moment a little tiny word is introduced, and that word is No.
The moment parents start redirecting a child’s innate behavior and the notion of good and bad is introduced, the child starts to understand that there is a qualitative value to her actions and her thoughts.
As the child grows, the number of conditions grows too. In order for the child to be accepted and loved, she must behave a certain way, she must act, think and speak a certain way.
Of course it’s inevitable that, as we experience this human existence in society, we must be able to function in it and surrender to some of its limitations. However, the degree to which the child interprets the limitations as her own personal ones and the amount of judgment and criticism she’s exposed to will determine her self-esteem and her basic sense of worthiness.
How much was she allowed to dream? How big were her dreams allowed to be? How many times was her wild spirit dampened by negativity and criticism? It’s as if we started off as a vast and powerful ocean and we are slowly reduced to a little stream. We were once big and infinite, but we are now small and defined.
So we can all agree that the first scars come from childhood. Whether they knew it or not, all parents made a dent on our self-esteem and capacity for self-love, no matter how well-intended. We all have to come to terms with the fact that the people who gave birth to us failed to love us unconditionally and therefore we must be defective to some extent. This is the first scar.
Every subsequent human relationship will also shape our capability to love and be loved. Society instills in us this need for bargaining, giving and taking, right and wrong, should and should not, so that we rarely take people, situations and relationships on face value. Instead, we add on our own evaluation, expectation, judgment, ideal to what they should be and why.
And when they inevitably fail to comply, we feel sad, disappointed, resentful, and we find confirmation in a basic storyline we have been telling ourselves, such as “I am not lovable” or “men are jerks” or “people are mean”.
And then comes adulthood, where we are often completely defined by our identity, our responsibilities and our choices. We find ourselves suddenly living in a little box where everything is labeled and valued for us. Every effort is measured by the success of its outcome, everything is defined by the value society places on it. The very same society now tells us to go love ourselves more!
First we are reduced to the tiniest possible thing that we can be, and then we are told to love ourselves anyway.
You don’t look like a supermodel, you don’t have the latest gadgets and the best clothes, you don’t have the perfect relationship, you don’t have a successful career, you can’t do a headstand on the edge of a cliff, you don’t have a million followers on Instagram and you don’t effortlessly travel the world, but please love yourself more!
Get that massage, splurge on that vacation you cannot afford, buy that outfit, go on that exotic retreat! We were trapped, so that we can now spend a lot of time and money trying to escape.
So how do we untangle ourselves from this predicament? How do we stop measuring up to impossible standards, comparing ourselves to others, trying to escape our reality? How do we truly love ourselves regardless of what society wants us to be, regardless of the roles society prescribed for us?
As someone who has struggled with self-love her entire life, I finally came to the realization that three things need to happen before we can even begin to love ourselves and consequently bring in more love all around us.
- Self-awareness. Know who you truly are. Go on a treasure hunt within. Find what makes you sparkle and what turns you off, know your strengths and your weaknesses. This is a lifetime process, but the more aware you are the more you can make choices aligned with your essence and therefore reduce the duality and the separation between your truest, most authentic self and how you show up in the world.
- Self-acceptance. Whether we were loved and supported growing up, or we were hurt and let down, whether we were told No too many times or left to fend for ourselves, we need to come to terms with our past, our story, and not only accept it but embrace it. Embrace all the moments that led you to this present one. It was all necessary for your growth, for your development, for your blossoming. Living in a victim mode only robs you of the possibilities of the present moment, let it go.
- Self-allowance. Give yourself permission to be who you are. Turn that No into a Yes. Explore what lights you up and do more of it. Acknowledge your flaws and allow them, rip the judgment out of the equation. There is only light because there’s darkness. Your dark side is necessary and needs to be acknowledged and allowed. There is no assigned value attached to your being, you are allowed to be yourself and cannot be compared to anyone else. You are magnificent in all of your expressions, you are a human manifestation of the Divine. Perfection is not of this world, but you, on the other end, are, and your mistakes are what create growth and change.
We must understand that we cannot love someone we don’t know very well, someone we don’t fully accept and someone we judge.
Once we are in touch with all of us and with our very essence, we are empowered with self-knowledge and self-confidence, and that translates to making decisions that come out of love not fear. We will then not want things because we are lacking something or because we wish to be someone else, but simply to align with and enrich who we already are.
Vita Semeraro is a holistic health coach, a yoga teacher, a feng shui consultant, and a writer. She likes to share her findings in her never-ending journey to self-healing, self-love and self-actualization with the intent to inform and empower others. She takes a holistic approach to wellness and health that embraces the mind, the body and the spirit. Vita believes that cultivating self-love is the premise to living a healthy and fulfilling life. She encourages self-love as a radical daily practice expressed by the thoughts we think, the food we eat, the spaces we occupy, and by cultivating a spiritual and mystical life. She recently founded Lotus Bee Om, where she plans to offer healing to our inner and outer spaces by bringing harmony to the body and the home through yin yoga, reiki and feng shui. You could contact Vita via Instagram.