How We Love Ourselves

IMG_6105We hear a lot about the importance of loving ourselves these days, and how we can’t love someone else until we truly love ourselves. While I don’t entirely agree with that statement (adult attachment theory shows that it’s through secure attachment to loving others that we feel loved and, therefore, learn to love ourselves), I do know that loving ourselves is a key component to wellness.

Yet what does it mean to love ourselves?

One of the basic principles of my work is that love is action. I’m referring, of course, to the critical importance of recognizing that love toward a partner is not only a feeling – as the culture would have us believe – but is primarily an action. Words are cheap; feelings are fleeting and temperamental. It’s action that is the sustaining and unshakable foundation that supports a lifetime of love.

The same is true when it comes to loving ourselves. We can absorb and read loving words about ourselves but then we have to translate this awareness and insight into action. We can look in the mirror every morning and night reciting loving affirmations but if we’re not acting in loving ways toward ourselves we won’t feel loved. The words are important, but they have to be supported by actions.

These don’t have to be big actions. In fact, it’s the small but consistent actions throughout a day that make us feel loved. I often suggest to my clients that instead of eating on the train on the way to work that they take five or ten minutes to sit down and eat breakfast. What a small but loving action that sends ourselves the message that we matter, that our digestion matters, and that we love ourselves enough to take a few minutes to sit down and enjoy our food!

Imagine the difference between kids eating in the car and sitting down together to eat at the table. Imagine the difference between mindlessly gobbling down a meal and saying a short prayer that offers gratitude for the food we’re about to it. Imagine the difference between eating at the table while everyone is looking at their screens (we have strict rules about no screens at the table) and eating together while we’re looking at each other.

I sometimes imagine that every action we do is an opportunity for connection, both inwardly and outwardly. If we approached life through the lens of mindfulness or blessings, we would be connecting to gratitude all day long: every time we eat, every transition of waking up and going to sleep, entering and exiting the house, reuniting with our loved ones. And when we connect to gratitude, we cultivate a mindset and soul-awareness of abundance, as if we’re constantly saying, “It’s enough.” It’s one very practical and feasible way to reverse the mindset of lack that dominates many people’s minds – especially those who suffer from anxiety – and replace it with the new habit of enough: I am enough, you are enough, my world is enough. It shifts us from looking at what’s absent to looking at what’s present, from what’s lacking to what’s working.

Yet it’s not always easy to take loving care of ourselves. If we were raised watching caregivers who knew how to lovingly care for themselves, we would have absorbed these self-loving habits effortlessly. But as most people’s parents were raised by parents who didn’t know how to love themselves, who were themselves raised by parents who didn’t know how to love themselves (and so on through the generations), we didn’t learn the habits that result in self-trust and self-love and now have to learn them as adults. It can feel like fighting the current, not only of the generational lack of role-modeling but also of the culture at large where everyone is rushing around, forgetting how to take the small but essential actions that create self-love.

Again, if we could walk in our caregivers footsteps, this task of adult-ing would be a lot easier. I often think of the small example of reading food labels. My mother always read labels when I was kid, so I have a vivid visual and somatic memory of her picking up a loaf of bread or a can of food and reading the label. When I left home and was food shopping on my own for the first time, it was automatic for me to read the labels. It actually never occurred to me that people didn’t read labels until I met my husband! Now, my kids see me reading labels and ingredients lists all the time, so I know they will grow up to do the same. It’s not something that I will ever have to explicitly teach them; they will learn by seeing.

It’s not an easy task becoming an adult these days. With so few role-models, we enter our 20s with a variety of habits, some that serve our well-being and many that don’t. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of attending to the multiple spheres of Self that comprise our inner well: physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual/creative, social, to name a few. How do we meet each of these realms? Do we need to meet all of them every day in order to find fullness and aliveness? Without self-trust, it’s impossible to find the answers. But with self-trust at the helm of our ship, we can chart the course (which will change daily).

At the heart of becoming an adult is developing the ability to re-learn self-trust and develop new, loving habits that cultivate a practice of knowing ourselves and loving ourselves. This is what you will learn in Trust Yourself: A 30-day program to help you overcome your fear of failure, caring what others think, perfectionism, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt. The next round begins this Saturday, June 11th, 2016, and this is the last week to sign up. I’ll look forward to seeing you there.

45 comments to How We Love Ourselves

  • Newly Married

    Wow I always wondered myself about what people say that you cant love someone if you dont love yourself and I thought ” well then if a good loving person comes to us and we dont totally love ourselves does that mean we are not ready to love or what?…. to me it didnt seem right, it seemed as if life was giving you then the opportunity to learn about love and learn to love yourself more…. I am glad you wrote this, thank you for all that you teach God Bless you Sheryl 🙂

    • Yes, loving relationships can help us learn about loving ourselves, and it’s through loving ourselves that we learn to be better partners, parents, friends, and citizens of the world. Blessing right back to you ;).

  • Newly Married

    Hi Sheryl I guess I have another comment, I always have this belief that I think its a misconception or my ego lying to me that says that in order to heal or to find yourself or to be spiritual you have to be alone, or on your own, and I feel like that sometimes a lot, I know it doesnt make any sense and its probably my Gate Keeper telling me that, that I have to be alone to grow or become spiritual…
    I know by what you teach you, you say that being alone or single of course is easy because it doesnt make you grow too much or challenge you like being in a loving relationship. Do you think its my WS?

    • Yes, that’s your Gatekeeper! We can heal in a relationship or out of a relationship, but it’s certainly easier in many ways to be single.

      • Newly Married

        Thank you Sheryl, it’s interesting last night I had a dream about you, you were meditating and you had like a retreat with a pool where people could go learn to love themselves and there I was like walking by and you started to talk to me about loving myself and how to get to the root of my feelings, I was crying over abandonment and I started crying ever harder when I hear that and you said, there is the root of the pain, now hug yourself thats how you love yourself!!!
        Thank you!!

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl, I believe we all love ourselves, like you said when you havent been shown from childhood it will get challenging as you reach into adulthood. It has been challenging for me and its ok because Im human and i am ok with it. Life is about learning about ourselves and grow into people we feel comfortable being. We cant force ourselves to be who are not. We are who are and life is beautiful.

  • lee

    Hey sheryl. Recently I have struggled with feeling like I’m ‘safe’ in a relationship? As in ‘does this person really make me feel safe and comfortable’ could this be another manifestation of fear? I feel a general sense of unease and lack of safety. Thanks

    • Yes, it could be a manifestation of fear, especially if you have a general sense of unease. But there does need to be a basic sense of safety and comfort with one’s partner.

  • Marlene

    This is so true. Thank you Sheryl! I have come a long way from the caffeine/sugar dependent/addicted 20-something I used to be. I understand that the previous generations did the best they could with the resources they had but sometimes I still some resentment and sorrow creep in about how I’ve had to learn these lessons so mechanically. And the fact that because I struggled to love myself I married someone to whom I wasn’t attracted. I took the OYH course but continue to struggle with feelings that he’s “just not my type.” Also, I read many comments on this site that say “he’s exactly what I’ve always wanted in a partner, but I’m anxious.” I pretty sure my husband wasn’t “what I always wanted” but that’s very painful for us both and I’d love to “fall in love” with him if possible. Any suggestions?

    • Are you doing any daily practices to repair self-love and self-trust? Have you taken the Trust Yourself course and/or Break Free?

      • Marlene

        It seems like the “break free” course would be a good next step. Thank you. What kind of daily loving steps do you mean? I eat well, exercise, rest when I need. My therapist keeps saying I need to learn how to play. That’s been hard to learn.

        • Those are wonderful daily loving actions on the physical realm. In order to feel loved, we need to attend on the emotional, cognitive, and spiritual/creative realms as well. This is what I teach in both courses.

  • Kalika

    Sheryl,
    I love the parenthetical note in the beginning about adult attachment theory: it’s the story of my life with how receiving love from my securely-attached husband is healing my insecurities. What you write connects well with something from Amir’s book _Attached_ which I want to share with other readers. “If you are anxious, the reverse of what happens when you meet someone avoidant happens when you meet someone secure. The messages that come across from someone secure are very honest, straightforward, and consistent. Secures are not afraid of intimacy and know they are worthy of love. They don’t have to beat around the bush or play hard to get. Ambiguous messages are out of the mix, as are tension and suspense. As a result, your attachment system remains relatively calm. Because you are used to equating an activated attachment system with love, you conclude that this can’t be “the one” because no bells are going off. You associate a calm attachment system with boredom and indifference. Because of this fallacy you might let the perfect partner pass you by.”

    • Clara

      Fantastic quote Kalika! Thank you for sharing! Wonderful to place Sheryl’s wisdom and work within the framework of attachment theory. It makes a lot of sense!

  • Rhea

    Dear Marlene,

    Did you have these kind of doubts before you married your husband?

  • N

    I am signed up and cannot wait for the course to begin! I know that I need to attend to myself through the four realms and I look forward to finally doing so – because I know from what you have said in Open Your Heart and through the Break Free that once we focus on the four realms within ourselves – physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual, we will begin to feel a wholeness… and once we have wholeness… we will no longer fixate on the anxiety and the thing its placed its hook on 🙂

  • Marlene

    @Rhea Yes I did.

  • Marlene

    I had an anxiety-ridden courtship and the anxiety/heartache over it never went away completely. My husband is a good man and I thought if I made a decision and stuck with it my heart would “catch up.” I feel foolish to some degree.

    • Hearts do catch up when we take the necessary actions toward self-love. No need to feel foolish, Marlene.

      • Marlene

        I do take loving actions toward myself and my husband. I’ve been working on this for a while. Seem to be stuck. Maybe there is more or something I’ve overlooked.

  • Rhea

    @Marlene,

    Thank you for responding. Sending you good thoughts.

  • Bra77

    Hey Sheryl I have a question on red flags. Is moodiness a red flag? My girlfriend can get very moody (especially while she is pmsing) but it never seemed to both me because both my sister and mom are moody. My friends this past weekend kept on telling me about it and it really started me to doubt my relationship. Is moodiness a red flag or just something she needs to work on? Thanks

  • Onedayatatime

    Is there any one action I can take that I can put all my focus on to start to make a lasting change on this subject? Loving myself can seem too overwhelm and sometimes it seems boring. It also doesn’t necessarily cut through the negative thoughts. I am still struggling to follow through with any one practice but I also don’t know what to prioritize (exercise? Gratitude? Compassion towards myself? Acceptance of myself? Mindfulness? Meditation? Reading? Journaling? Creative projects?). I also doubt wether something is going to work or lack the motivation to be consistent. I’ve done trust yourself twice. I run somewhat, I’ve tried meditation here and there (usually don’t feel anything in a body scan unless there’s physical anxiety). I’ve tried many into to yoga one month sessions and then don’t end up going back. Journaling doesn’t seem to stick either. And there’s (probably) many reasons why I don’t follow through with these things. One I’ve about and tried a few times/had the interion to focus on is eating and preparing food. Eating ends up being my last priority at times, I don’t particularly enjoy making food and literally procrastinate to do it. But I find this overwhelming too.

    • If resistance is at the helm of the ship, it doesn’t really matter what you do because resistance will always sabotage it. So my recommendation to you is to work with your resistance, which means naming it and getting to know it very well.

  • choosehappiness

    Hi Sheryl

    I have much difficult with self-love, in the fact that I live in constant regret. If only I had done this or that, then my life would’ve turned out better. I feel Im either in regret of the past, in a state of anxiety over my life choices, or anxious for the future (IE my marriage/career). This regret and anxiety never lets me be fully present, so much so that I miss things which down the road cause even more regret. Sometimes my regret is so painful, the way I talk to myself at times. I would never speak to a child or a loved one the way I speak to myself. I’ll say “how could you be so stupid” or I’ll find myself asking for forgiveness. It makes me feel like I really don’t love myself

    Do you have any articles about this (with regret and negative self-talk)? Does your course address this in any way?

    Thanks, looking forward to your course on June 11th!

  • Caitlin

    Hi Sheryl,
    I have read your blog for nearly 4 years now and your words have helped me so much! The thing I am struggling with at the moment is that I started reading your blog when I was with a previous boyfriend who ended up being the wrong person for me. I am now with someone new and feel a stronger connection but still feel anxiety. I worry now that if I am experiencing the same anxiety and thoughts as I did in my last relationship does it mean that this relationship is wrong too? Am I just trying to convince myself again?
    Thanks, any help would be appreciated!

    • Why was your previous boyfriend the “wrong” person?

      • Caitlin

        There ended up being a lot of red flags in the relationship, such as lying to me and talking to other women behind my back . With my new boyfriend there are no red flags and I completely trust him unlike my last boyfriend but I still get these intruding thoughts and it makes me think “what if it’s just going to turn out like last time because I’m worrying just like before?” I guess I still feel as many of your blog posts have talked about “if it’s right then I shouldn’t be anxious”…
        Thanks for replying to me!

  • Caitlin

    There ended up being a lot of red flags in the relationship, such as lying to me and talking to other women behind my back . With my new boyfriend there are no red flags and I completely trust him unlike my last boyfriend but I still get these intruding thoughts and it makes me think “what if it’s just going to turn out like last time because I’m worrying just like before?” I guess I still feel as many of your blog posts have talked about “if it’s right then I shouldn’t be anxious”…
    Thanks for replying to me!

    • There’s a big difference between red-flag anxiety and intrusive thoughts anxiety, even if they feel somewhat the same. If you tune into yourself, it sounds like you know that this is a loving relationship, and that the anxiety is coming from your own fear that has nothing to do with the health of the relationship.

  • Michele

    Hello, I’m wondering if anyone has any advice. I’ve been experiencing some doubt/anxiety about my relationship after reuniting with my boyfriend – he split up with me very suddenly and we were apart for about 4 months before getting back together. At first I was very happy, and we’ve talked about our problems and he has made a great effort to improve. But as the reality of what happened set in I began to question if it was the right thing. I flipped back and forth a few times, took some space and decided I want to be with him but the thoughts still won’t go away. I’ve been reading through the site and trying to practice mindfullness, but am struggling to gain perspective. I overanalyse how I feel when we are together, wonder if I’m too young to commit, and ruminate constantly. He wants us to move in together, and I’m really struggling to work out what to do – I don’t want to break up, but part of me screams that I can’t do this. I’m considering taking the Break Free course when I can afford it, but am not sure if this is relationship anxiety or me just needing to let go. Sometimes I can calm down, but then this uneasiness is always present, and the thoughts that ‘you’re making a mistake’ won’t seem to go away.

  • SF

    Hi Sheryl,

    Just a note to say “Thank you.” I am newly engaged to an incredible man, and I wouldn’t be able to say that without the guidance I’ve received from reading your many, many insightful blog entries and articles posted around the web.

    In a tizzy of anxiety, I just decided for the first time in so long to journal a quick note to myself… calling into the light my anxiety. It felt very scary to confront but ultimately allowed me to arrive in peace at the conclusion that I am making a loving choice and there’s nothing worth fearing… just as FDR suggested 😉

    THANK YOU… I am sure as the wedding date draws closer, I will be relying more heavily on your unique and profound insight.

    With love and appreciation,

    Shannon

  • Kat

    Hi Sheryl,

    I know you have a ton of people hoping you can “confirm” if they have relationship anxiety or not. Well I have for months religiously read your blog and I am 100% sure I have relationship anxiety. My loving partner is 3 years younger than me (I’m 25, and my hormones are likely going baby crazy whereas he is a typical yet very mature 22 year old man). I was hoping you could let me know if I am on track with identifying my real fears. I have internal work to do for my Wounded Self, but I believe much of my relationship anxiety is centred on him being younger than me. My intrusive thoughts are “he’s too young for you” and “you should be with an older man”. The problem is, I’ve been with older men who were much less mature than him haha. My triggers include seeing buff, hairy, manly older men. My boyfriend is cute, but he looks his age. Sometimes I am so attracted to him, other times he looks like a very young man to me and it spikes the anxiety! Yet I still feel attracted to him and when we are alone laying in each other’s arms thjngs feel so right. But sure enough, at a slow time of the day, I “need” to start questioning the relationship. My answer is never to leave him, yet I am afraid I will?! To be honest I am more anxious about getting anxious again than I am about anything else. I love his hair styled a certain way and a bit of facial hair, but I don’t want to seem controlling or shallow! I can’t help wanting manliness though at my age. I do love him and in many ways he is very manly, to me manliness is defined by how he treats others and me, which is amazing and for the record he does want a family and all the same things in life as I do. It’s like we were meant to be…except I wish he was also 25. Anyways, sorry for the ramble, I’ve put a lot of work into this and am thankful I didn’t call it off when these intrusive thoughts began in February. I am still considering taking one of your courses, perhaps the self love one, just to really dig everything up and leave this Wounded Self behind for good.

  • Olga

    Hi Sheryl,

    Thanks again for a helpful blog! I decided to face my fear, and introduce my boyfriend to my parents tonight. The thought alone scares me a lot, but I know that when I don’t have the fear, it feels like the right thing to do. Thank you for your supporting words, for I would have ran away if it weren’t for your blogs.

    Love,
    Olga

  • KL

    Hi, I tried alot of things from acting as if I’m loving towards my partner. I keep reaching the point of turning back which is my anxiety, my fears and a very huge resistance. It feels alot like I’m forcing myself to change for my partner that I cannot be myself and I always fit myself for her not having my own stands or just keep saying the usual word “it’s okay”, but whenever I keep looking for certainty it feels so hard. I find myself telling that I’m not being honest with myself too, too young to settle, date alot of girls to find out who you are and what do you really want in a partner, someday you’ll find who you really want to marry, even though there are alot of good things with my partner, she fears that I might fall in love with other women thus have the capacity to control me. Heck we’re not even exclusive. I tried journaling too, praying to GOD, excercising and solitude. I just keep sliding to a quicksand which drains my life whenever I struggle with certainty and feelings. I know I have a very negative attitude, I have hidden addictions which causes me to clean my house too frequent, watching too much television, surfing the internet and procrastination. I might be emotional unavailable or I plainly don’t want this girl. I need some help I tried reading books but keep having the patterns, I’m trying my best to handle my anger first before everything since it is a manifestation of something inside of me, and trusting GOD and myself to change for the better. I even don’t know what it feels to settle or to get married nothing is important to me rather than myself but I don’t want it anymore.

  • Northernlass

    Hi! I have this question/issue that’s been troubling me and I wonder if Sheryl or anyone could help me out.

    I agree with everything you teach, Sheryl. And on reading your articles about fallacy of the idea that there is ‘The One’ for everyone, it strikes a chord with me. I believe doubts in a relationship, unless there are obvious red flags, aren’t a sign that you’re with the ‘wrong’ partner but that you need to dig deeper and find out where the doubts are coming from, I.e fear of loss og grieving the single life etc. However I find it hard to reconcile this idea (that we choose who we are with ourselves) and the idea that some things in life just seem like they’re meant to happen. Like chance encounters with people who encourage us, events like ill health that help us to see we need to slow down and take care of ourselves, and yes, often the incredible circumstances that bring us to meet or find our partner. Would appreciate any input :-).

  • Ella

    Sheryl,

    Do you think you’ll ever write / do a course on narcissistic mothers? Fathers?
    I hope so.