The best and most beautiful things in the world, cannot be seen, or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.
Our desire to feel loved is a primary human need. Love is essential to our emotional health. Most of us don’t think twice about expressing acts of love toward those we care about and love. It’s second nature. Our ability to be empathetic and caring towards others helps to deepen the connection we experience in relationships. Research has found that the level of connection we feel in our relationships play a crucial role in our sense of well-being.
As children, many of us were told by our parents and other adults that it is better to give than to receive. So, many of us internalized this thought as a way of being. As a result, we developed the tendency of spending a lot of time, energy and resources meeting the needs of others while putting our needs on the back burner. When we fail to take care and love ourselves, we fail to relate to ourselves with compassion and loving-kindness. How can we ever truly open our heart to another if we are afraid to first open it to our self? And so the first call of love is to open our hearts fully to ourselves.
A Return to Self-Love
Inside each of us is an invisible emotional tank.[i] When our emotional tank is full, we feel more secure within ourselves, so, we exhibit a greater measure of self-acceptance and self-love. On the other hand, when our emotional tank is empty from all of the energy we’ve spent meeting the needs of others and placing our needs on the back burner, eventually we start to feel as if we’re not deserving of genuine care and concern. This thought leads us to feel we’re not good enough. If we fail to take immediate action to re-fill our emotional tank with acts of self-care and love towards ourselves, our thoughts and actions are much more likely to be dominated by the voice of our inner-critic.
When the voice of our inner-critic dominates our way of thinking and being, we beat ourselves up with harsh and critical words that we wouldn’t dare speak to someone we love, and, yet, we have no problem speaking them to ourselves. Wouldn’t you agree? It is only by developing a practice of demonstrating acts of self-love towards ourselves can we befriend ourselves, be empathetic and demonstrate loving kindness towards ourselves, just as we would for a family member or best friend in need of support and care.
Self-Acceptance is Key to Radical Self-Love
We have to practice self-acceptance to embrace radical self-love. And with so many people striving to achieve the impossible goal of being “perfect,” self-acceptance is not always top of mind. We are accustomed to focusing on our “doing” instead of our “being.” Unfortunately, many of us believe that by being critical of ourselves we will be motivated to be better and do better. Truth be told, this form of motivation often adds to our misery. Dr. Kristen Neff states, “Self-criticism makes us anxious, stress and puts us in the worst possible mindset to do our best.”[ii]
You’re not going to get any brownie points for suffering needlessly. You’re not going to feel better about yourself by bashing yourself because of your imperfections and mistakes. You’re not going to try new things, have the difficult conversations, and do what makes you feel uncomfortable or open yourself up to criticism without being brave.[iii] And you’re not going to be as brave as you’re capable of becoming without accepting all of you – your light and your darkness, your failures, and your successes. Relating to yourself with kindness and compassion helps to develop self-acceptance and self-trust. Both of which are important to harnessing and unleashing the brave in you.
Loving Yourself with an Open Heart
Jack Kornfield states, “When your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” What often derails us from loving ourselves are the “love” messages we have internalized as part of our conditioning as children. It is important for each of us to understand that there is no one on this earth that has gone through childhood to becoming an adult without experiencing some heartache. And in many of our lives, the heartache we experienced came as a result of being exposed to people and environments that didn’t fully support our need to feel loved and lovable. This is all the more reason we need to own our power to give ourselves the compassionate care we need to feel loved and lovable.
Living a loving life includes loving yourself. Loving yourself requires courage. It requires that you decide that you are worthy of unconditional love and that you will give it to yourself regardless of whether someone thinks or feels you are worthy of unconditional love. Loving yourself requires that you become aware of your intrinsic worth which is not defined by your position, possessions, wealth, status, class, race or any other label. You are worthy of unconditional love simply because you are a human being with intrinsic value.
Regarding the development of your practice of self-love, I am not suggesting you should think or believe the world revolves around you. It doesn’t. It won’t. What I am suggesting is this, you can become a warmer, more loving, and compassionate person towards yourself. Then you will have a greater measure of warmth, love and compassion to share with others.
You don’t need anyone’s permission to love yourself. You don’t have to wait on someone else to express love towards you before you believe that you are deserving of being loved. You can decide today that as you move forward you will be just as diligent towards loving yourself as you love others.
It takes a brave heart to love yourself unconditionally. It always has. It always will. We live in a world where many people view self-acceptance and self-love as selfish. And so when you begin to show yourself love on a consistent basis, those around you might judge and criticize you. Meet their ignorance with compassion. Because those people who truly believe that they are worthy of love will hold you and your actions of self-love in the highest regard.
A Return to Self-Love Action Guide
The following actions will help you to see the beauty in you and be kind and loving towards yourself on a consistent basis. They will help you develop a more compassionate voice towards yourself and empower the brave in you.
When you find yourself being very critical of yourself Dr. Kristen Neff suggests that we take a self-compassionate break which includes the following two actions:
1. One of the quickest ways to shift from our critical voice to a more compassionate voice is through a physical gesture. Neff suggests that when we begin a self-critical rant, we can put our hands on our heart, or caress our arm or the side of our face as a way of soothing ourselves with a warm touch. She point out, “As mammals, we respond to warm soothing touches.”
2. Speak a loving kindness phrase to our self. Here’s one of my favorite loving-kindness affirmation by Jack Kornfield: [iv]
“May I love myself just as I am. May I have a sense of worthiness and well-being. May I trust the world. May I hold myself in compassion. May I meet the suffering and ignorance of others with compassion.”
3. Be open to the practice of mindfulness with the intention of embracing the emotions you feel and developing a compassionate voice towards yourself. In the midst of a self-critical rant, make a physical gesture of sitting in stillness and allowing what you feel to unfold. Don’t make attempts to suppress your emotions. Allow yourself to feel and embrace them. It is only through the practice of allowing your feelings to emerge and dissolve without resistance are you able to heal the parts of you that need to feel compassionate care, loved and loveable. Download my 4 Week Guide to Developing the Practice of Mindfulness here.
4. As an author, speaker, mentor and trainer, I’ve found that sharing information about the common cognitive distortions we are all subject to experiencing throughout our lives, helps people feel empowered to better manage their thoughts, mood and mindset. Based on the work of Aaron Beck, psychiatrist David. D. Burns M.D. discusses 10 forms of cognitive distortions in his book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,[v] they are as follows:
- All or nothing thinking – you see things only as black and white categories – there is no grey.
- Overgeneralizations – you see a negative event as a never ending pattern of defeat. For example – if something happened once, it will always happen again.
- Mental Filter – you dwell on the negative and ignore the positive. For example, like a drop of ink that discolors a small patch of carpet in your living room. We focus and get upset over the drop of ink instead of being grateful that most of the carpet is not damaged.
- Disqualifying the positive – dismissing or ignoring any positive comments/achievements/compliments received from others
- Jumping to conclusions – you think negative about something without supporting evidence. This includes, mind reading – you think without evidence that someone is thinking negatively about you, and fortune telling – you truly believe that you know what will happen in the future, without evidence
- Magnification or Minimization – you blow situations out of proportion or minimize a situation inappropriately
- Emotional reasoning – believing that your emotional states legitimately reflects reality all of the time. For example, “I feel it, therefore, it must be true.”
- Should statements – thinking in terms of should, must and ought imposes a view about a situation which may not work with the truth of reality
- Labeling – You identify with your shortcomings
- Personalization and Blame – You blame yourself for something and take full responsibility for an event when the responsibility is not truly yours, only partly yours or not yours at all
Note: From time to time, we are all guilty of these distorted beliefs. If you recognize that any of these patterns of faulty thinking have become your default way of thinking on a consistent basis, reach out for support from a trained mental health professional.
5. Tune-in to what lights you up. One of the keys to a healthy practice of self-love is that of maintaining a sense of purpose and passion in life. Your involvement with tasks and activities that are in your strength zone builds your confidence and courage. And developing connections with people who sincerely care about your well-being reinforces the fact that you are worthy of being loved and cared for. Answer the following statements. They will help increase your awareness of what fires you up from the inside out relevant to yourself, life and work.
· I am passionate about my life/work when I think…
· I am passionate about my life/work when I feel…
· I am passionate about my life/work when I do…
· I am confident about myself when I think…
· I am confident about myself when I feel…
· I am confident about myself when I do…
Tom Rath, author of Strength Finder 2.0 says, “You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are.” This is an important truth. Too many people fail to get to know themselves, so they proceed to work at becoming someone they are not. Reimagining new possibilities and occupying your strength zone requires that you become attuned to your innate passions and strengths. More often than not, tasks that come naturally to you represent your strengths. When you spend time engaged with people and tasks that support the expression of your innate strengths, you will be much happier, satisfied and successful in life.
“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do,” asserts Brené Brown. Your capacity to consistently practice radical self-love starts with a personal belief that you are important and worthy of unconditional love. As much as I would love for everyone who reads this article to embrace radical self-love as a way of being and living, I know there is a persistent attitude in our society that promotes the pursuit of perfection. And it is this attitude that has so many people feeling bad and judging themselves – I’m not good enough, I need to do more, the problem is me.
Dr. Kristen Neff states, “When we criticize ourselves we reinforce the illusion that we are in complete control.” This illusion results in self-deception, ego-centric beliefs and ego-driven actions. The only thing that most of us are in complete control of is how we respond to what happens to us in life.
As much as you would like to believe that you can control everything that happens to you, if you were truthful, you would admit that there have been numerous times in your life when you’ve planned and taken what you believe to be the appropriate actions and the situation still did not unfold as you’d hoped or planned. This is a fact of life that happens, not just to you, it happens to all of us.
It’s enough that you feel at times like you’re in a battle with life. You shouldn’t have to feel that there is a constant battle taking place within you. Don’t you agree? Practicing radical self-love is your solution.
1. As a result of reading this article, what intuitive thoughts and actions did it inspire within you?
2. How can you begin to apply the information from this article in your life?
3. What challenges would you face applying the information from this article in your life? What are some actions you can take to overcome these challenges?
What benefit and value did you gain from this article? I’d love to hear you thoughts. Share them in the comments below.
Who do you know will benefit from this article? Sharing is caring. Make their day.
The theme song for this blog series is "Brave" by Sarah Bareilles. Listen and Be Empowered!
The theme song for this blog series is "Brave" by Sarah Bareilles. Listen and Be Empowered!
Be Your Bravest Self
Image Credit: Kelsey Grant www. kelseygrant.com
[i] Chapman, Gary. The 5 Love Languages. USA. Northfield Publishing. 2010.
[ii] Neff. Kristen. Sounds True Self-Acceptance Project. Web.
[iii] Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly. USA. Penguin Group. 2012.
[iv] Kornfield, Jack. A Wise Heart. USA. Bantam Dell. 2009.
[v] Burns, David D. Feeling Good, The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated. USA. Harper Collins. 1999.