In our society, and perhaps in our world, we have it backwards. Our songs, movies and novels often speak to love as being found outside ourselves, and it is often implied that if we want love then we need to get someone else to love us and to ‘do’ the loving of us for us. In our quieter moments when in touch with our higher selves we know it doesn’t work this way. We know that love is an inside job always and forever. No one likes to hear this because it seems easier to get someone else to do it for us, as in… please love me so that I can feel loved.
But the catch is, if we don’t already have self-love which is self-generated, and for which we have an inside reference point, then we won’t even recognize love when it is actually there for us, coming to us from someone else. That’s the dilemma. There is no getting around this. When it comes to love, we have to first love ourselves, or else love doesn’t register as love at all, even when it is genuinely there.
Patterns repeat and so let’s say that a person had parents or caretakers who did not love themselves and who did not show regular, unconditional love. And, let’s say these caretakers were emotionally unavailable. Then it stands to reason that the child-receiver of this treatment will learn that love means ‘unavailable’ and ‘conditional’. And, since the love-pattern this person was shown was either conditional and/or unavailable, this is the love-pattern he or she adopts. This isn’t a rational, conscious decision. This is a patterned, unconscious, this-is-just-what-I-know, decision. Since it is simply a known experience, it is like trying to explain water to a fish.
A person will often say, what do you mean, ‘unavailable’ and ‘conditional’ love is what love means to me? That sounds awful, uncomfortable and well, just plain unloving. I don’t subscribe to that kind of love, no way, no how.
However, just because something is uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it isn’t also familiar. We all have adopted certain uncomfortable beliefs that over time become familiar to us. Unfortunately, when it comes to human conditioning, familiar overrides comfortable just about every time. We do what we know. Our patterns of what love means to us often run the show unless we consciously observe and attempt to change them.
Our patterns of love influence our ability to give, receive and to recognize love. Our patterns of love impact our ability to love ourselves and this in turn greatly affects our self-esteem. A person who loves him or herself dearly and deeply and unconditionally – which is a lifelong spiritual practice for us all – makes very different choices than someone who lacks self-love. Our level of self love determines how we treat ourselves, who we spend time with, who we date, who we marry, what we eat, how much sleep and exercise we get, how we dress, where we choose to go to school, what we do for work, where we live, what boundaries we set with others, the pace with which we go through life, how high we aim with our goals, and generally what we feel we deserve in life.
Given how far-reaching and impactful having self-love can be, working to enrich and increase our self-love is a very healthy, wise endeavor.
When we love ourselves, it changes how we give and receive with others. It changes our motivation. It makes us less needy, less manipulative, less lonely, and less controlling. When we have self-love, it gives us balanced power. It sets our hearts free to make authentic choices that are best and right for us.
Other words you can use to grasp the elusive concept of self-love are self-acceptance, self-respect, self-appreciation, self-esteem, self-value, self-understanding, self-forgiveness, healthy self-talk, self-compassion, self-comfort and self-care, to name a few.
So how do we increase our self-love? We can notice how we talk to ourselves and we can notice ways we attempt to get love from outside ourselves and begin to correct this societally taught notion and urge.
Considering that self-love must be self-cultivated, meanwhile dominate culture bombards us with the opposite message – that love comes from outside sources, we might work this quest as one works overcoming any strong addiction or compulsion. We have to be diligent to reinforce the true concept that love is an inside job and practice the nurturing words – I love myself – until it sinks in and becomes a way of life.
Self-love is a skill that can be learned and practiced as any other spiritual practice such as prayer and meditation. In fact, using prayer and meditation to claim and cultivate more self-compassion and self-love is a great idea.
The truth is that when we love ourselves first, we give ourselves a full tank of all kinds of internal resources from which to give and love others, and this changes everything.