We 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.