I ended the last article about Unconditional Love with the call to love yourself first, kind of reversing the Golden Rule: instead of asking you to treat others as you wish to be treated, try to give yourself the unconditional love that you wish to give to others. This does not make the Golden Rule less golden. We so need it in this tarnished world of pain and suffering. It does, however, address the need to add to this rule. Many people are terribly harsh with themselves. If you are the kind of person who is inclined to build up your friend or kid while neglecting yourself, if you rejoice with others’ success while trying to hide your own light under a bushel, if you offer attention, acceptance and understanding to others while withholding such offerings from yourself, this article is written for you. All others are not to read on….
You are in good company. Millions of people suffer from quite a bit of discomfort when it comes to self-love. “Really?” your inner sceptic might now ask, remembering the enthusiasm with which the same millions post selfies. And you have proof of that enthusiasm as “selfie” is now an acceptable word in the Scrabble game. It is official. The word and the deed are here to stay. What, however, does this proof but a hunger for recognition that cannot be satisfied? Narcissists too are lacking in self-love – however little sympathy they elicit with their endless appetite for more. Lacking the ability to self-love is a ubiquitous phenomenon caused by a variety of obstacles. Let’s address four of them, right after clarifying what I mean and not mean with self-love:
Self-love is not getting what we want because we deserve it. So, granting me the expensive hair color the woman on TV wears with pride is not “it.” Neither is it any other form of preoccupation with my own self. Love is never a private affair. It is impossible to love ourselves without loving others as love is a response to life, to the interconnected whole to which we all belong. When I hurt, others hurt and when others hurt, I hurt. When I am elated, others are elated and when others are elated, I am too. When I hurt Earth, others will suffer and when others suffer, Earth and I will too. These relationships are often not felt because of their subtle and dynamic nature. Nevertheless, we are One and cannot be taken apart.
Self-love is no different from other-love, even though I need to focus primarily on myself to serve best the vital “in between,” our divine relatedness in this world. Both self-love and other-love mean to be of benefit to life and the living, to encourage, be empathetic, compassionate and available. Both are thus the opposite of isolation and loneliness. Unconditional love specifically means to accept our nature and level of maturity as well as to give attention and understanding to self and other. With no further ado, here are four common obstacles that stand in the way of self-love, obstacles you need to remove, however arduous this may be:
SHUTTING OUT OTHERS
Sometimes we try to love ourselves without much regard for others. Indifference to others’ suffering is a major culprit in receiving love. We need to care about the world and not pretend as if we can be happy by ourselves. Ironically, because shutting out others often results from trauma and neglect, we might have to take a detour and self-preoccupy, possibly in psychotherapy. We need to let go our past and build up inner strength to become capable of receiving and giving love.
JUDGMENT AND HIGH IDEALS
Our own judgement of what is lovable causes rigidity, shame and anger. Learn to relate to your imperfections; forgive yourself and others for being human. Ask yourself if you were more lovable if you’d embody your ideal. It is my experience that we are rather turned off by close–to-perfect people. Who wants to hang out with a machine?
LACK OF INNER PEACE
We live in an age of humongous problems: outrageous consumerism, climate change, nuclear threats, globalization. Being faced with such huge phenomena can cause helplessness and anxiety, inner states not exactly conducive to self-love. Our focus needs to be on what we can change, individually and politically. Also, we can choose to lead a simpler life and keep perspective. Donating to the Red Cross might be a good beginning. Meditation and reconnecting with nature are invaluable ways to calm the mind (see Chapter 10 in A Unified Theory of Happiness). As inner peace returns to us, we can pay attention to the moment, the only time in which love can thrive.
Any attention to self can feel like a throw back into ancient times in which even the heroes lied and pilfered.1 Self-interest looks suspicious as we are known to be greedy and cruel. Especially Christian churches, quite hypocritically, used to cast out dire warnings against anything to do with the self. Guilt was supposed to prevent us from going to the dark side. We were to resist temptation and take ourselves out of the equation, which we, of course, could never do.
Civilization has made it difficult to see our true nature that loves and trusts. We are born to experience empathy, open our hearts, feel quiet with the stars and trees and live with zest and will. Maybe we need to give ourselves permission to self-love. It might be scary to let go of guilt, but when the energy of love can flow freely within and without, we all become happier for it.
1) To understand our cultural evolution, you might just love to take The Modern Scholar courses by Professor Timothy B. Shutt, such as on Celts and Germans; Homer; Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans: The Foundations of Western Civilization.
NOTE: If this post in any way “spoke” to you, and you believe in might to others also, please consider sending them its link. Moreover, if you you’d like to read other articles I’ve written for Psychology Today, click here.
© 2017 Andrea F. Polard, PsyD. All Rights Reserved.