ot long ago a client came into my office saying with a frustrated voice – “I KNOW I need to love myself more, but HOW the hell do I do that?” She wasn’t the first, or the last one, to do so.
As we celebrate a month filled with messages about love, what does it mean to truly love one’s self?
I like to think of LOVE as a verb - an action or set of actions that we do to take the best interest of another (or Self) into account before behaving. The byproduct is a feeling of love - those yummy feelings we so enjoy feeling. Yet we confuse the feeling as love itself. If it’s not present in the relationship then there must be no love. We forget that we have to DO something to create those feelings internally.
In couples counselling, I hear couples express the lack of passion and love in their relationship. And when I ask them what they DO together the answer is often that they don’t have time.
Think about what it is like to go to the gym or exercise. There are great feelings (hormones and physiological changes) as a byproduct of the exercise. Yet, often we still don’t want to go to the gym (until it becomes habit forming). But why not? It makes us feel good. Loving is the same. It’s not always easy to take a step towards someone especially when that someone is us!
As women especially, we are taught, directly and indirectly, to take care of others. Our nurturing skills are used to make others feel better but that doesn’t get reflected back in how we treat ourselves. Then we feel depleted and resentful, perhaps taken advantage of, and so we develop coping strategies, not usually the effective and healthy ones, to make ourselves feel better.
How well do you know yourself?
Using mindfulness (paying attention, with no judgment, to the thoughts/feelings/sensations in the present moment) to quiet the mind and listen deeply and non-judgmentally to our heart’s desires. This is an intention. It is a seed we can plant infused with love and kindness. But why don’t all seeds or intentions come into being?
We need to persistently and consistently focus on that desire to make space for it in our lives. Like all things, seeds need the right conditions to grow and blossom. What are the conditions of your inner world? Is there sunshine, water and healthy soil? Or is there negative self-talk, inflammation and lack of nourishment?
Think of an intention for yourself right now, are you creating the environment for it to blossom?
Self-discipline is an act of self-love. Discipline, not as reward and punishment, but as a focused study. In this case, the discipline or study of Self and your heart’s yearning. As we study it more, become curious and aware, we cultivate knowledge of our coping strategies that have been developed over time. We can start to unlearn old patterns and create new ones that are more nurturing to our beings (not just everyone else’s in our lives).
With self-knowledge comes the wisdom to take our best interests into consideration when we make choices; not only to momentarily soothe our emotional state but to truly care for ourselves. Cultivating the discipline of Self is understanding how best to care for self (self-care) beyond bubble baths and scented candles. What do you need? We are driven to get our needs met in whatever way we can.
Part of the process is understanding our relationship to the coping strategies - why do we do what we do? When we understand this, we can start to develop new strategies. In the short term, we will continue to have cravings for the old ways, we can start to recognize these cravings as signals from the body that we need to care for ourselves in a new way.
We have control over what we DO and a moderate degree of control over what we THINK. These two things play a big role in how we feel and our physiology. When we feel great - we are more likely to do things that generate more good feelings.
What are the Physical patterns that occur when the craving shows up?
● List them all down………………
● So, what is one thing you can do that you know makes you FEEL nurtured/loved? It can be a small act. Can you create a list of 3-5 things? Or maybe 8-10 things?
● Once the list is created, can you schedule some of those things today and throughout the week.
What do you Focus on when you are in the midst of the craving?
● List down the specific things you focus on……………
● Start to notice when you get a craving and you start focusing on any of those items. Instead select something from the list of things you created.
What are your Language patterns? What do you say to yourself?
● What is the story that you tell yourself? Can you write out a new story that you read to yourself daily and when you notice those old language patterns appearing?
If we think of LOVE as a verb, what are the actions to best care for yourself? What will create the best possible inner environment for the seed of your intention to grow and blossom?