“If you don’t love yourself you’ll never feel like anyone else does either”
“Find the love you seek, by first finding the love within yourself. Learn to rest in that place within you that is your true home.”-Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
What shall I write about love?
I could write a poem, try to pick at love, get at the gist of it.
I could tell you a story, maybe a romance or even a tale of brotherly grace-love.
Instead, though, I think I’d like to talk about something else pertaining to love, something true that often isn't addressed:
The doorway through which you must pass in order to love others well has “Love Yourself” painted across its frame in big bold letters.
You see, love is often conceptualized as this compound which won’t be pure unless it is passed through a selfishness filter.
I agree with this idea; however, “loving yourself” is often one of the elements deemed selfish.
This is a grave error. Why? Because the truth is, you cannot really love others if you do not love yourself.
Unfortunately, the belief that “loving yourself” and “loving others” are diametrically opposed to one another is a belief too often expressed in Christian circles.
I saw it recently in a Facebook post. A woman opined that the statement, “She believed she could so she did,” was selfish.
She went on to explain that those who embraced this sentiment would live only for themselves, crushing everyone who stood in the way of them achieving their dreams.
Ah, dear lady, I thought. I get where you’re coming from. I was there for so long.
“There” was a place of deep shame; my shame-box was mislabeled “humility” and “Christ-likeness”.
“There,” meant that if I ever thought I was talented, I quickly corrected my thinking because “pride comes before a fall” after all.
It meant if I heard someone say I was pretty, I quickly checked that compliment with a statement about a part of me I didn’t like or wasn’t proud of.
It also meant that if I ever thought, “I got this, I can do this,” I stopped and quickly made sure I was trusting God, changing my statement to “If God wills it, then it will happen”.
I remember the first “Bible” argument my theology-loving husband and I had. It was over the verse that says, “Love your neighbor as yourself”.
I was wielding the verse as the reason I should not love myself; why it was, in fact, contrary to “scripture” to love oneself.
My husband insisted the verse meant you should love your neighbor and also love yourself.
When you look at the verse, friend, you will see how both “interpretations” work; this is a big reason I no longer try to read every little piece of the Bible literally.
At any rate, our argument ended at an impasse; it would be years before I would revisit the concept of self-love.
Those years passed, and I went to therapy.
When I shared with my therapist my deep distrust in myself and the reasons for it, she gently prodded and questioned me.
Soon, I perceived that refusing to “love myself” was actually causing me to focus on myself more, not less.
Knowing my penchant for research and information, my therapist directed me to Dr. Brene Brown’s research on shame.
I never realized it, but my continuous putting-myself-down-ness was actually self-shaming. And feeling shame about myself was not bringing me closer to knowing how to love others.
In fact, according to Dr. Brown:
Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them - we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed, and rare.
As I blossomed and began to love myself, I experienced the give-and-take of love in a whole new way.
Instead of receiving love as though it was merely someone’s grace, I received love as a person deserving of love; I received it with gratitude.
And this receiving led to connection. And that connection led to love pouring forth from a very real place inside of me.
It’s not conventional wisdom, but it’s true: you cannot love others without knowing how to love yourself.
Poet Rupi Kaur sums it up well, “How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.”
So, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to share ten ways you can become a better love-er by simply loving yourself.
And if you are lonely this Valentine’s Day, dear friend, I hope you will love yourself; I hope you can be both gentle and kind to you. You are human; you are worthy of love. Period.
Alright, here we go.
10 Ways Loving Yourself Will Turn You into a Better Love-er:
1. Smokin’ Hot Sex
Yep. I’m gonna talk about sex. Sorry, not sorry. I used to think it was my spouse’s job to figure out what turned me on and what brought me pleasure.
Knowing my own body, what made it tick, felt selfish.
You know, if all humans were “wired” the same way sexually, it might be okay not to know these things about your body; your partner could look up how to treat you in a manual, and, wam, bam, kazam, fireworks!
But we humans are each unique; we have not only our physicality to contend with, but we also have our pasts to deal with along with our very own complex sets of emotions.
It is your job, friend, to teach your romantic partner how to please you.
Some things will be discovered together, yes, but you need to know yourself well enough to be able to express to your significant other whether or not you like something.
If you struggle in this area, I recommend the book Come As You Are.
2. Better Boundaries, Baby
For much of my life, I offered more to people than what I had to give.
Inevitably and predictably, this always led to extreme exhaustion. Pretty soon, those friends I had been helping discovered I was suddenly unavailable, holed up in my house, hiding away.
Enter boundaries. Like, literally, telling someone you can't. Or won't.
Setting boundaries has allowed me to recover when I serve someone. This in turn makes me want to serve people more. Loving myself = loving others, see?
For example, when I was a waitress, I was better at waiting tables after a good night’s sleep or a deep conversation with a friend than when I took people’s shifts and worked every single day.
Not only do boundaries allow you to recover, but when you love yourself, you know what your limits are, and you place boundaries at the gates of those limits.
You know when to say yes, and when to say no. And you don’t feel bad for your “no’s” either.
One cool and unexpected outcome of loving yourself by installing boundaries? You saying no also makes you much better at accepting other people’s “no’s”, which is supremely important in all good relationships.
3. Finding True Belonging
It can be exhausting to search for a person or group of people who are exactly like you in every way so that you can finally just relax and belong.
What if I told you, however, that it’s not even healthy to be with people who think exactly like you all the time?
What if I told you that if you love yourself, you will accept yourself for who you are. Then, you will find belonging, from within!
And if you belong to you, then you will find yourself at home no matter where you go.
As Dr. Brown says, “...true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
4. Believing in Yourself; Bringing God into This World
“She believed she could so she did.”
“She” can’t become someone or do something unless she has a deep confidence in herself.
And that confidence does not come from shame or thinking less of herself. It comes from knowing herself so well that she knows who she is and what she wants to accomplish.
Furthermore, when “she” or “he” or “they” sets out to do something, they are being creative.
Creativity is a gift to this world; I believe, in fact, that it brings God to this world.
As writer Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way, “Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source. As we move toward our dreams, we move toward our divinity.”
5. Not Expecting So Much from Those You Love
If you buy yourself flowers on Valentine’s Day, work to ensure your birthday is special, or buy chocolates for yours truly, well, my friend, then you won’t be sitting around waiting for that person who loves you to treat you special; you will already feel special!
Not only that, but knowing what brings you joy can help you communicate with the ones who love you well.
You can tell them what you wish they would do for you or what makes you feel good, no strings attached.
6. Becoming Well-Versed in the Language of Love
Loving yourself helps you know better how to love others.
How? Because you are in tune with ways that actually help recharge you, and this can help you surmise what might help a friend.
Does it help you more when someone listens to you, or when someone tries to solve your problems for you?
When you are sad, do you want lectures or grace?
Would you rather have someone make assumptions about you, or just come right out and ask?
Would you want someone to find out what makes you happy? Do the same for your friend or lover.
7. The Banishment of Shame
When you love yourself, you take care of yourself. You listen to your body and honor your inner voice.
If you believe it is selfish to love yourself or believe in your dreams, then when you accidentally think about YOU, you will feel deep shame.
And shame will make you want to hide. It invites darkness and shadow, not openness and light; self-pity, not love for others.
According to an article for the mental health practice Clearview Treatment Programs, people who live in shame “avoid relationships, vulnerability and community”.
And one of the ways to recover from shame? “Develop self-compassion. ...begin to respond to yourself with love and care and concern, just as you would respond to others with love and care and concern.”
8. Ending the Comparison Game
When you love yourself, you do not need to compare yourself to others.
Comparing yourself to others may seem harmless, but it can lead you down a road of belittling and shaming.
I was once in a group of moms who consistently put other moms down for not practicing parenting the way they did.
It was unkind, but as I listened closely to their conversations, I realized that judging other moms was making them feel better about their own shortcomings.
They worried they weren’t doing right by their children. They fretted over their little’s behavior. But, they concluded, at least it wasn’t as bad as those kids’ behavior!
If they loved themselves, then they would have rested in their own sufficiency as mothers for their specific children. Then, they could have reached out with love and compassion to the moms who were struggling.
Perhaps they would have seen that the mom they were judging was going through a divorce, or navigating special needs.
Loving yourself will help you become more compassionate and empathetic; it is paramount if you want to avoid the comparison game.
According to women’s leadership expert Tara Mohr in this article:
To the extent that women are each not fully empowered ourselves—that we are still denying our own dreams or treating ourselves harshly—we will criticize, attack, and try to sabotage other women, because it rattles us to see in them what we have not permitted in ourselves.
Again, when we accept ourselves and follow our own path, we will be able to love each other.
9. Spreading God’s love
When you love yourself, you open yourself up to God’s love; it is hard to believe God loves you when you are buried in shame.
Do you find yourself thinking that when you finally are able to make the right decisions, God will love you?
Or, when you finally love others completely unselfishly, then, finally, God will love you too?
What if instead, you start from a place of self-acceptance? What if you understand that God loves you right now, exactly as you are?
When you rest in the beauty of God’s love for YOU, you will also be able to love others. You will see God in each human; you will reach out, and love.
10. Paving Pathways for Social Justice
In an article entitled “Radical Self-Love & Self-Care”, life coach Kara describes the intersection of self-love and social justice:
Self-love is radical when you live in marginalized identities because it means choosing to love yourself in the face of all the socialization and conditioning that you have absorbed from a society that is literally built on maintaining those hierarchies and belief systems.
Why? Because those who are marginalized, when they love themselves, will do amazing things.
They will run for political office, where they will advocate for others who are marginalized.
Not only that, but when you love yourself, you won’t take shit, like people putting you down, or leaving you behind.
Making a stand for more equality and fairness toward your own self will empower and open the pathways for others who are lower on society’s totem pole.
What if you aren’t a member of a marginalized community? How does loving yourself help you stand for social justice?
Well, if you love yourself and who you are, you won’t need to put others down or keep them away from seats of power. You will partner with people who aren’t like you because you love yourself enough to know you need others.
So, friend? This Valentine’s Day, and every one to come?
Love yourself, fully, richly, completely.
Repeat after me, “I am good enough. I am capable. I am strong. I love myself. I am loved by God.” Turn it into a mantra.
And when you do?
Watch out world! You’re about to get doused in great big ol’ teddy bear love.