Are You Serious About Loving Yourself? Part 1

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere.

You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”Buddha

If you are serious about loving yourself, chances are it will take a bit more than treating yourself to a new piece of clothing, taking a luxurious bath, or repeating a few affirmations now and then.

It means having the courage to peel back layers of pain and sadness. The courage to be raw and still in the face of whatever rises. The willingness to begin and move through.  The willingness to take the time.

Although it might feel unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or frightening, the reward is more than worth the journey.  Because loving kindness is the seed of happiness.

The practice of loving kindness – our focus today – is a simple, gentle and time-proven method to help you discover the spring of love that exists within and, as a result, enjoy more happiness in life.

You May Not Know What You’re Missing!

Ironically, you may not actually realize you’re lacking in self-love. So how could you even get serious about it? Here’s the problem. If you didn’t feel a pervasive feeling of love as a child, you just don’t know what you’re missing. You haven’t had an experience of it.

Sure, we are all searching for love in the form of that special someone, but often that is part of the problem rather than the solution. We don’t necessarily know what true abiding love really is or how to be an unconditional friend to our self.   Instead, we often criticize and denigrate our self.

Although we may not be consciously aware that we are lacking in love, it typically shows up in the form low self-esteem and self-hatred. These two demons can manifest a range of behaviors and feelings:

  • Blaming
  • Criticism
  • Defensiveness
  • Looking to others for acceptance
  • Poor boundaries
  • Avoiding the present moment
  • Fear of being wrong
  • Feeling flawed
  • Body-image problems
  • Perfectionism
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Drug addiction
  • Inner critic
  • Shutting down
  • Denying your own feelings
  • Continuing feelings of guilt, shame, fear, sadness, hurt, anger
  • Feeling unloved, unlovable, isolated, or alone.

Does any of that sound familiar?

For some of us, it’s painful to admit that love and nourishment may have been scarce, absent, or incomplete in our early years.  Perhaps our parents loved us, but just weren’t very good at showing it.  On the other hand, we might be so focused on feeling unloved that we leave no space for love to sneak in. And, as Andrea DeBell points out, we may hesitate to love ourselves because it seems narcissistic or egocentric. Instead we function on automatic, stay busy, and look for love outside of ourselves.

Discover An Unceasing Spring of Love

I find the practice of Loving Kindness to be a simple and remarkable way to gradually and systematically unblock love, heal sadness, and discover an unceasing inner spring of love.  It’s a practice that I’m focusing on myself right now.

What’s special about this practice is that it is a very simple, yet structured practice that is especially powerful given its sacred origins.

Although this particular approach to self-love originated with the Buddha, it’s universal and can be practiced by anyone. In fact, it’s become a popular practice in the West embraced by people from all faiths, traditions, and those who profess to have none. You might have heard it referred to as “metta” or “maitri.”

The goal of training in loving kindness is to create an ever-widening circle of love.

We begin by learning to love ourselves. This might take some time! Then we extend our love to those we find easy to love. Then we expand the circle wider by practicing love kindness towards those who we consider as neutral like a delivery driver or person walking down the street. Next up are those we find difficult, irritating, and aggravating. Then, our enemies. Ultimately, we expand the circle to include the whole world.

Of course, we don’t expect to love all beings in a flash. We focus on one stage at a time.  Understandably, it’s going to get a little tricky when it comes to the people that we perceive as difficult.

The practice involves the repetition of simple, loving phrases, and begins with directing love towards yourself. Because, if we have no love for ourselves we won’t be able to give love to others.  Often, people need to spend an extended period of time on just this first stage before moving on to extending their love to others.

Loving ourselves in a healthy way is not the same as being egotistical or narcissistic, which are characterized by thinking only – or mostly – of your own self.  The motivation in this practice is to unblock our spring of love for both ourselves and all others.

Love:  the Antidote to Anger and Fear

Loving kindness is considered an antidote to both fear and anger. The following delightful story describes how the practice first began and the power it holds to transform fear.

“This practice was first taught by the Buddha as an antidote to fear. He sent a group of monks to meditate in the forest that was inhabited by tree spirits. The spirits resented the presence of the monks and tried to drive them away by appearing as horrible visions. The monks were terrified and ran back to Buddha, begging him to send them to a different forest. He said, ” I am going to send you back to the forest, but I will provide you with the only protection you need.” He then gave the first teaching on loving kindness. When the monks returned to the forest and practiced loving kindness, the tree spirits were so moved by the loving energy that filled the forest that they resolved to care for and serve the monks in whatever way they could. So not only did the practice of loving kindness remove their fear, it also transformed the beings around them.” – The Heart of Compassion, Part 2 Loving Kindness, The Rigpa Study and Practice Program

The ability to love ourselves is extremely important because – as this story illustrates – it contains the power to heal the world.

The key to loving kindness practice is realizing that all the love you need is already within you. We simply need to unblock it and let it shine. In doing so, we bring about our own happiness and add a dose of happiness to the world.  It’s a process that any of us can move through successfully with time, patience, and perseverance.

In this video, the contemporary spiritual teacher Pema Chodron tells us how loving kindness helps us to develop an unconditional friendship with our self. This brings a sense of wellness, wholeness, and comfort in our body, mind, and being. As we move through the practice, pain and sadness will arise from time-to-time, providing the opportunity for deeper healing. The secret, she tells us, is not to struggle against the pain in our life. By simply being open and present we can learn to release our past pain and become our own best friend.  I hope you enjoy it.

Find more details about the actual practice of Loving Kindness in Part 2 of this series.

What are your thoughts about self-love? Do you find the idea of self-love comfortable or uncomfortable?  Have you dedicated time to the practice of self-love?

More thoughts on loving kindness:  Exploding the Limits of Our Love

Thank you for reading.  If you liked this article, please share the link with others using the share buttons below.  Thanks so much for your support!  Warmest wishes, Sandra

image:  Public Domain Pictures (dot) net

44 thoughts on “Are You Serious About Loving Yourself? Part 1

  1. I believe the practice of loving kindness pre-dates humanity. Other animals that came before us gave it to themselves, and to their offspring. Compassion is the natural order. It is civilization extended to an extreme that has brought unnatural habits to us. But, to respond to your question, my answer is yes. If you don’t love yourself, you can’t properly give it to others. You will be too unfamiliar with how to apply it. Every being deserves love. Namaste, Sandra.

  2. You’re absolutely right! I didn’t mean to give the impression that loving kindness began with the Buddha! :) Just this particular approach to cultivating a loving heart. Yes, it’s strange we humans need to do this, isn’t it? It makes me happy to hear that you are good with loving yourself. It seems a rare commodity these days at least in the “developed” world. It’s only something I’ve come to of late. Much love to you.

  3. Loving kindness- I like that and unconditional acceptance of ourselves- once we can embrace loving oneself and moving beyond both fear, doubt and judgement is so important. When we know what empowers us and fulfills us then we can embrace making friends with self- I like that.

    Thanks for sharing
    namaste
    Suzie

    • Hi Suzie,

      Oh yes, you seem to swim in this same stream! If we could all move beyond fear, doubt, and judgment we would experience so much freedom and create a different world for our self and others. Thank you.

  4. Another lovely post, Sandra, with much to think about and practical suggestions to making our lives better by spreading love.
    Thank you
    Stella

  5. Hi Sandra,

    I like the way you divided the practice of loving kindness into steps: first practice loving yourself, then people close to you, then people more distant. By explaining it this way you make this concept of loving kindness more concrete.

    I think one weakness of personal development is sometimes it focuses so much on self-help that we focus only inward and not on extending compassion to others. But you rightly point out that loving ourselves is just the first step. And I have found that the more I am at ease with myself, the more motivated I feel to extend my positive feelings to others–my compassion grows with practice.

    Thanks for this post.
    Jay

    • Hi Jay,

      Learning loving kindness in stages certainly makes it more manageable! As you gradually fill yourself up for love, your capacity grows.

      This is a good point about personal development. Some people who write about personal development also have a spiritual view point, but others don’t. It’s more about focuses like GTD, goal setting, and the like. That’s good too, but different.

      I think you’ve really found the key > when we’re at ease with ourselves, we’re naturally more loving.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Hi Sandra
    I wonder if semantics or word use gets in the way of progress. When I practice acceptance and knowingly use that word to describe my behavior rather than the word love, I seem to make progress in becoming a more loving and peaceful individual. The word and concept of acceptance is more consistent with my view and understanding of existence (neuroscience, evolution, social mores etc.)
    Riley

    • Riley,

      I’m really glad you brought this up because some people will not relate to the idea of self-love. It might seem too new-agey or egocentric or uncomfortable. Acceptance is another angle on reaching the same point and really links to the idea of being an unconditional friend to oneself. I really appreciate this perspective! Thank you.

  7. I just love Pema! I especially like what she says here about self compassion being the seed for happiness. It is so true. When you start loving and having compassion for yourself you can quit looking for fault or happiness in others and in the world. Your joy and peace becomes dependent on you! And, only when you truly love yourself, can you love others authentically – unattached without needing them to give your ego something it is lacing. Self love transforms your world.

    • I love Pema too! This is such a beautiful summary of the essence of loving kindness practice. Simply loving yourself starts to break down the barriers between self and others. Thanks for sharing your wisdom insights, Debbie. You are such an inspiration.

  8. Pingback: BIG Infinite Dreams ~ Sunday Self-Reflection « *POSITIVE PROVOCATIONS*

  9. Sandra,
    Love is at our core…in each of us – no matter where we are on our own love journey. And discovering that love within (the love of self) just creates such a truer outward love…

    Love this that you have shared today.

  10. For those of you who are having a difficult time loving yourself and are slowly working through it, I found a good way to do it was to stand in front of the mirror, look myself right in the eye, and repeat:

    “I love and accept myself just the way I am.”

    It’s a simple sentence, but if you’re lacking in self-love, it is NOT easy. For a very long time, I couldn’t repeat those words without bursting into tears; they felt like such a lie, but the little girl inside was letting go of her pain when she was told that she really WAS loved.

    You know you’re making progress when you can say it to yourself and instead of crying, flash yourself a big grin!

    Good luck!

    • Hi Taz,

      This is a wonderful exercise. I’m so happy for the healing you’ve found. You’ve been through quite a process. It’s inspiring to see that you’ve gotten to the other side and love yourself with a big grin. Thanks for sharing your journey of self love.

  11. Terrific post, Sandra.

    When I first started meditating, and became “mindful” of my thoughts . . . I couldn’t believe the nasty stuff I said to myself. I’ve since eliminated that “inner critic” who insists on perfection, rather than progress.

    I used to hone in on the ONE thing I did wrong that day and “berate” myself for it. Now, I focus on the 99 things I did right. :D

    • That’s so inspiring, Nancy. Meditation is a journey and it’s helpful to hear what it’s like as our meditation evolves. Thank you for giving us a bird’s eye view.

  12. I’m glad to you you made a strong point about the connection between low self-esteem and outwardly manifested negative behavior (blaming, criticism, etc). In my work with prison inmates I see quite clearly the disastrous effect of a lack of self-esteem and self-love.

    • That’s sad, Bob. For some of us, it hits very hard and deeply. Then the impact is like a pebble in the water affecting many others as well. I appreciate your perspective and experience.

  13. Hi Sandra,

    As I reflected on self-love thanks to Evelyn starting the ball rolling, I asked myself a question. Would I be happy being my own friend and hanging out with myself. I realized that the answer today is yes. In the past, a lot of pain prevented me from loving myself. I doubt I could have survived my own company back then. But today, after learning to manage my pain, it is much easier and more fun to hang out with myself. There is just so many interesting things to do.

    Practicing loving kindness on ourselves first is a necessary foundation before we can love others. Apart from repetition of simple loving phrases I think it also helps to remember what you enjoy doing and why. It is sort of like finding common ground with ourselves to enjoy the company of a kindred spirit. This is one of the reasons I enjoy my own company. :)

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

    • That’s a great question, Irving. I’m glad the answer is yes today. You really go to the heart of the challenge when you speak of how pain prevented you from loving yourself. It’s scary to face the pain and it’s no wonder that people avoid it. But that just brings pain or deadness too.

      Part of loving ourselves is coming to know ourselves. So I fully agree it’s essential to know what you enjoy doing and why.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  14. Hi Sandra, so appreciate this long, thoughtful post.

    Oh yes, I have struggled with low confidence for as long as I can remember. Some of the problems you list are sadly all too familiar.

    But these days I am getting close to defeating it forever. Of course moments of low confidence still spring on me from time to time but they are becoming rarer and are far out numbered by feeling of confidence and the contentment that comes from that.

    I’ve also noticed that love does spread. In the past if someone had “wronged” me I would have dwelt on that and been upset by it for days, weeks or even months. These days it’s much easier to shrug perceived slights off and move back to thinking of something more positive.

    I was amazed the other day to see someone wrote a whole blog post criticising me for writing an extremely popular blog post about Twitter tactics. The thrust seemed to be that I was no a Twitter expert so should not be writing about it.

    It was embarassing to be written about like that and my first thought was to rally my friends and ask them to leave comments defending me to prove that I was in the right, not him.

    But then I just couldn’t see the point in that. And why drag my friends into it when they had more interesting things to think about?

    I decided the blogger was just a bit misguided, hadn’t done his research very well and probably no one was reading his blog anyway.

    So I left him a pleasant comment thanking him for reading my blog and listing a few reasons I love Twitter.

    I am also picturing in my mind forgiving people who’ve hurt me and mending my broken heart and theirs. It’s practice for when it really happens.

    It all comes from self-love and I look forward to practicing it more myself and reading your next post on how we can master self-love.

    • Dear Annabel,

      I’m so moved by your comment. It’s funny because you are someone who immediately comes to mind as not needing a post like this. You do exude confidence. It’s an inspiration to me, and I know it will be for others, to know that it’s taken effort and determination but you’ve transformed low confidence into confidence as the norm and now have the happiness and contentment that comes from that. We all really need to hear from people like you who have gone through the fire and come out the other side. Sure, there will still be difficult moments, but it’s nice when they are few and far between.

      Once you become more known as a blogger, criticism is sure to follow! I’m sorry about that blog post, but I’m also delighted that you’ve evolved a positive way to work with criticism. So if criticism does come, you can grow stronger by applying your successful method. [Successful blogging and successful confidence!] It’s funny because someone started questioning me on twitter the other day, suggesting one of my tweets was disingenuous. I’m sensitive, but I’m also trying to be less porous. I took a moment to consider if there was something true in what he was saying and responding in that fashion. In my spiritual tradition, the approach is usually to not respond to criticism, so that’s another path to take.

      You really have a heart of compassion to engage is this beautiful visualization of forgiveness. Thank you for sharing it with us. I really have appreciated your comment so much.

  15. Love of self is not selfish love. It is all encompassing, allowing you to give freely what is so full inside. Struggling against pain and dissatisfaction is a daily choice. Either you do struggle, or you don’t. Recognizing when you do face upstream paths with difficulties, one may learn to accept those moments, not as a failing, but as a discovery of one’s self in transition. Moving from there, into loving yourself inside of this discovery opens many doors. Walk through them one at a time, accept the endless beginnings we choose, and love yourself on the journey.

    • Hi Dean,

      I really like this image of all encompassing love. You’ve beautifully articulated how to walk the path with acceptance and, perhaps, even eagerness and self love at your side. Thank you!

  16. Thank you for another thought-provoking and action-prompting blog post. I kinda like thinking about self-love with the usual metaphor of an oxygen mask dropping in an airplane. Get it working for you, then you will be able to get it working for others. Your suggestions make it easier to make that happen.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Sue. I love the idea of unconditional friendship with ones self too. It might be easier for some of us to relate to than “self-love” which might sound narcissistic.

  17. I love the Oscar Wilde quote, ‘To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.’ I adopted it as sort of a motto in my teens, as a sort of affront to the romantic you-complete-me nonsense I had no patience for, but now I see that it can be read as more than facetious wit. I’m beginning to understand it’s not really possible to have a good relationship with anyone else unless you have a good relationship with yourself. I may never get to extending love to the whole world, but your post is a lovely reminder that it’s possible.

    • Hi Jennifer,

      That’s funny because it never occurred to me to see the Oscar Wilde quote as facetious wit! Our perceptions are so varied. I do like Pema Chodron’s phrase of being an unconditional friend to yourself as it sounds far less syrupy than loving yourself!

      I think it’s quite challenging to love the whole world, but this practice does help us to push our limits a little at a time. There’s a lot to the first step though of simply learning to love ourselves!

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  18. You cannot give away what you do not posses.
    Before you love yourself it is impossible to truly love another.
    You need to be able to accept who you are for who you are. You might not be perfect, but you can be a perfect version of you.

    No one in the world is perfect, accept yourself and try to find a positive balance.

  19. i particularly like this sentence, “The ability to love ourselves is extremely important because – as this story illustrates – it contains the power to heal the world.” It does start with us and then moves outward. You are so right, that the lack of self loves results in low self-esteem and self-hatred. We all need to look inside to solve the puzzle of whether the self love is there, and if not, why not?

  20. Pingback: Unconditional Love, Unconditional Friendship | inspired type

  21. Pingback: Celebration of Health Posts 2011 « this time – this space

  22. Pingback: Celebration of Health Posts 2011 « this time – this space

  23. I recognise that this is an older post, but I came across your blog a few minutes ago and felt I had to comment on this particular piece of writing. I haven’t even watched the video yet because I was too excited to come across this text, written so beautifully. This is exactly what I need in a time of my life when my love for myself is so conditional. Thank you so much for writing this.

    All my love.

    • Hello Kirra,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and let me know how much this post touched you. I really appreciate it very much. Writing this and working with self-love has been an important turning point in my life too. I wish the best in your practice of going beyond the condition form of love for yourself and others. Healing always begins at home though!

  24. I am so glad to have come across this post. For many years now I have been in the process of “recovering” from the effects of growing up in a violent, alcoholic home. I now feel I am near the end of dealing with the past.

    I have been working on loving myself but, until recently, had placed such blame on my 5 year old self that I couldn’t look at a picture of me at that age without wanting to just spew venom at the image. For the past few weeks, I have had a picture of me at age 5 on my dresser and have been practicing compassion for myself at that age. As a 5 year old, I did the best I could surviving in that chaotic, and often dangerous, environment.

    It is time to see that I did my best throughout my life and to stop the self-blame. I have been addressing my binge eating and realizing I still use this behaviour as a way to continue feeding my anger toward myself, reinforcing a pattern that I picked up around age 5. I now see that by letting go of binge eating that I will finally come to peace with myself and no longer use binging as a way to continue to harm myself with my anger.

    So, self-loving for me means letting go of this destructive pattern of disordered eating. While I’m a little fearful of letting go and truly loving myself, I am ready. Thank you for being part of that process.

Comments are closed.