Self-love is the most important work we will ever do in this life.
Wow. There are some things I didn’t anticipate with the launching of this daily reflections experiment. Because of this, I must begin with self-love.
See, old friends (frenemies?) are visiting me with intensity – fear, the desire to please and be liked, self-importance, and right on its heels, self-criticism to knock me down a peg.
Not going to lie, I lost sleep this first night.
The badassest part of these old ways of being showing up is I no longer believe any of them.
Of course, they grab for the wheel, they are loud and unruly, hurling threats, barbs, and doom with impunity. They are hard to ignore.
But I’ve learned some things about these voices - where they originated (before the age of 7) why they are so loud (they’re trying to keep themselves safe) and how to rise above them (present moment and mindfulness).
There is so much in my head that I want to share about all of this and I’m sure the first few days will be disjointed as I attempt to prioritize and streamline themes to create coherence, so please bear with me.
The most important lesson I’ve learned, EVER, is self-love.
Even as I write it down, it seems trite.
Self-love as a concept is easy to misunderstand because so many of us have been raised with conditional love – some in outright abuse, others in unconscious, well-intentioned ways, some in neglect, and some in highly pressured, critical ways.
None of these are love.
Is it any wonder the idea of self-love is mostly just that – an idea we look towards, knowing there is something important for us there, but unable to grasp it?
I’m starting with self-love because it’s the most important lesson - without it, all personal development will be slow and fleeting. Without it, any changes or transformations we make won’t be sustainable because our inner dialogue was developed out of conditional love and will derail us.
I’m writing this at 3 am. I was woken by the need to write this to myself – to love myself in my big feelings.
What I have invited you to, this sharing of my inner world, is incredibly frightening.
I could be hurt.
I will most certainly be exposed which my ego equates to a saber-toothed tiger on the Savannah. It is certain I’m in danger.
Truth is - IT IS IN DANGER.
I am not in danger, however, and I (capital S Self) am driving.
The first thing I learned about self-love is this:
Love is UNCONDITIONAL. Period.
But before I could understand that, I had to see conditional for what it was - I had to untangle the lies I had been told about love.
What are these conditions? They are expectations that must be met before something else can happen.
‘Trust is earned.’
‘Respect your elders.’
‘Play when your work is done.’
‘Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.’
To receive ‘love’ I had to meet certain expectations.
The love I sought most in my life was the feeling of acceptance, worthiness, belonging. I wanted to feel I was right in the world.
Contrarily, I learned my emotions and big feelings made my parents uncomfortable which got expressed in anger (I learned they felt inadequate to deal with them), and I experienced rejection for expressing them.
I learned that my needs were selfish and self-centered because I had a high need for attention (I make sense of my world through externalization) so I made myself smaller, quieter, LESS so I could feel approved of and accepted – loved.
These are just a couple of examples of how I learned conditional love.
I loved myself within those same conditions. I could only love myself when I was above reproach.
I only deserved love if I never made mistakes or hurt another.
I measured my lovability by the ever-changing moods of those around me – and when I failed, over and over, by disappointing them or being selfish, I became belligerent. I pushed loved ones away before I could be rejected.
I became convinced that I was a hard person to love. That I was made wrong. That I was a selfish, self-centered girl that would inevitably hurt you with that selfishness.
Maybe you can relate?
Learning to love this girl, unconditionally, even in her selfishness, in her need for attention, in her ‘wrongness’ has been my work.
The first thing I had to do was challenge the stories. Was this girl, was I, an awful selfish person? Was there another story?
I had to find the things that made me lovable, examples of my generosity and kindness. I had to find these attributes in myself FOR me, not to present to others to justify my existence.
Mainly, I had to recognize that I was treating myself with disdain, scorn, and hatred.
I had to recognize that I would NEVER speak to or treat another the way I did myself. I had to own the abusive relationship I was in and decide to make changes.
I had to take my power back by loving myself, without conditions.
GREAT! Sounds lovely, right? BUT HOW DO WE DO THIS?!?!
One of my most influential coaches introduced me to this gavel I held in my hand at all times.
Those of you who know me well, know that I am non-judgmental, open, and accepting. I could, easily and clearly, see and understand your reasons for any bad behaviors and the brilliance in you regardless.
This beautiful coach (therapy did not teach me to love myself, btw - coaching did) asked me, even begged me to put down my gavel – she repeated it many, many, MANY times and I didn’t understand her; I couldn’t hear her.
After months of her reflecting when I was holding myself in judgment, when I was being unforgiving and harsh with myself, I finally got it!
I FINALLY could see the truth of it. Of course, I didn’t judge you - how could I when I was below you? I was less than you. I was worse.
I learned to lay down my gavel and pick up my hug. I began appreciating myself for always trying so hard. For caring deeply about what others were thinking and feeling.
I began forgiving myself when I couldn’t keep my focus for more than a handful of moments and spent my days chasing one distraction after another without anything to show for it.
To forgive myself for all the times I betrayed myself, didn’t honor commitments I’d made with myself. For all the times I was unkind, abusive – to myself.
To forgive is to love.
It is the most profound demonstration of self-love – whether we are forgiving ourselves or others – it is loving to our whole self.
The reason I must start here with you all is actually to remind myself of how much I love this brave girl (now a woman) who has grown enough to be seen. To risk being hurt and criticized. She is even ready to risk being LOVED and appreciated by the external world.
I must remind myself that while my ego is threatened with visibility, exposure, and criticism, I am so much more than my ego.
I start here as a declaration to myself that I’ve got my own back and am cheering me on. That I am loved and safe. That my mistakes are welcome and that I learn the most through them.
The next 30 days will be rife with my ego freaking out. I’ve named that part of me, the part who always feels threatened and scared, Eggo (yes, like the waffles) because levity disarms her.
I no longer rail against her, trying to cast her out. She has an important role, and she needs limits and maturing – HAHA.
She’s not a good driver and I’ve allowed her to drive for far too many years!
I will talk a lot about my relationship with myself because it is the ONLY ONE THAT MATTERS.
We cannot give what we do not have and the love I was giving was conditional because I did not have unconditional love for myself.
I hope you, too, begin to treat yourself with care, honor, and devotion. Do not mistake this as self-indulgent or above others - that is not love.
Love does not compare. It does not judge. It invites honesty and compassion. It encourages us to be better, do better for ourselves and others. It demands our best FOR us.
Whenever I feel disconnected from myself, trapped in my head - my way back home is to breathe. To feel my feet on the ground. Love is there. Eggo is not.
I’ve been doing A LOT of breathing and feet-finding in the past 24 hours and expect much more to come, and I thank you for joining me in this experiment.
I’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences with self-love or forgiveness - we can all enrich each other in this way. I love you BECAUSE I love myself.