True Love Takes Self Love

By Charity Hagains MA, LPC-SS

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“If you don’t love yourself, you can not love others.  You will not be able to love others.  If you do not have compassion for yourself than you are not able to develop compassion for others.”  -Dalai Lama.

In my work, I strive for my clients to reach a level of self-care that allows them to truly care for others.  Through encouraging themselves, they learn to encourage others. Through loving themselves, they are able to give love to others.  Through nurturing their inner-self, they more generously nurture others.  While these are simple statements, they are the most difficult concepts to put into practice…at first.

In a culture that tells us to “put others first” and “treat others the way we want to be treated,” we rarely see self-care as a valued activity.  Likewise, our society pushes us towards self recrimination and motivation through fear.  As we place ourselves in competition with everyone around us, we isolate ourselves and devalue human connectedness.  We use our increased technology not to truly connect with those around us, but to more closely examine and compare ourselves to one another.

In her book, Self-Compassion, author and researcher Kristen Neff says, “I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they will become self-indulgent.  They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line.  Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”  Fighting against this culture of self-inflicted pain is a struggle for all of us.

“If it’s easy it isn’t worth doing.”  “If you want something too much you are only setting yourself up for disappointment.”  These are the statements that hold us back.  They make us believe that we aren’t suppose to have all that we desire.  They keep us from reaching our goals even when we know how to achieve them.  Even when we see the path that leads directly to where we want to go, we question and doubt ourselves.

“I am fat.”  “I am in debt.”  “I will never be outgoing or social.”  “I will never have what I want.”  This is the personal narrative of too many of us.  These statements tell us that we don’t like ourselves, so how could anyone else?  If we feel poorly about ourselves, no amount of complements will make us believe we are wonderful.  Without first loving ourselves, we can not believe anyone else would either.  “My parents love me because they have to.”  “My husband loved me when I was young, now he is stuck with me.”  “My friends keep me around to buy the drinks.”  We will fill in whatever excuse we need to so long as our personal narrative remains true.  To change anything in your life you must first change your personal narrative.

Re-writing your story, your inner dialogue, takes work.  Every workout comes with some level of discomfort and disbelief.  If you have ever spent time in the gym you know what I’m talking about…the first part sucks.  You go (because you said you would) and you battle through the workout.  The next morning brings awareness to areas of your body that you had long forgotten about and took for granted until every movement becomes a well known siren of soreness.  It takes time and persistence to wake up with only mild discomfort.  It takes commitment to make it through the beginning and reap the benefits of lower cholesterol scores or fitting into those long coveted pair of skinny jeans.

Your emotional health is no different from your physical.  If you want change, there will be discomfort.  You will examine those areas inside of yourself that you have long taken for grated as those unconscious thoughts and beliefs systems begin to be brought out and questioned.  There will be pain and doubt and new ways of living that take a lot of getting use to, and that’s only the beginning.  It’s the beginning because it’s change -an evolution of thinking and the birth of transformation.  Each step you take towards self-care, compassion, nurturing, and health is a newly forged path through life.

Fighting through the beginning is worth it, but you will only realize that once you are on the other side of the path.  You will have to make sacrifices and choices that are not always enjoyable but are forever in your benefit.  It’s an indescribable feeling to turn around once you have started down that path and see how far you have come, how much you have learned, and how many of those around you are following in your trail blazing path.  New living brings new relationships, new levels of love that you hadn’t known before, and new experiences that you had never opened yourself up to.

Before you can embrace all of that, you must first embrace yourself.  Become a beacon of self-compassion, authenticity, and imperfection.  These are the characteristics of wholeness.  Loving yourself fully can finally allow you to be fully loved and to share all that you have with those whom you care so deeply.  May your Valentine’s Day be filled with self-love and true transformation through acceptance and connection!