When I was a kid, you’d be chatting about this celebrity or that and someone would pipe up and say, “oh, I don’t like him. He loves himself!” It was a mark of absolute arrogance if we said that someone loved themselves. But of course this wasn’t a reference to the particular celebrity, saying that they were giving themselves lots of love, looking after themselves, mind, body and soul. Rather it was about us thinking that perhaps they thought their excrement had the aroma of roses – to put it bluntly: that their shit didn’t stink. You don’t hear the turn of phrase around as much these days, or at least, when you do, it’s about self love – the concept of looking after yourself first and foremost, so that you can be the best version of you, and show up as best as you can for others in your life. My Instagram feed is full of it – self love, self care, love yourself, how can you love someone else if you don’t – almost the endpoint of our ever advancing humanist approach.
I’m not sure if it’s coming across here, but perhaps I’m a little sceptical about this kind of stuff. Not because I don’t think it’s important, but because I think it’s often portrayed out there in internet-land as something simple and immediate. The truth is, for most people it’s a process. It’s not something you can just get someone to do with a little Insta post or a pat on the back. It takes time, commitment, mistakes, failures, growth and more learning than you can poke a stick at. We’re not talking about making a decision and being able to immediately experience this. We are talking about (in many cases) turning around years of thinking the opposite, years of pleasing other people, and years of being selfless and putting others before ourselves. What makes it ever harder is that so often the causes of our thinking are difficult to identify.
So often we place our understanding of ourselves around what it is we think others value about us and what their expectations are. And I think we sometimes misunderstand exactly what it is that is valued. And I have certainly made assumptions about what others expect of me and turned out to be completely wrong! The thing is, if we assume that people value us for what we do and not who we are, if we’re talking about personal relationships, then we’re probably wrong. Yes, I know – the relationship with the boss at work is often different! You might suggest that there’s nothing wrong with placing value around what you do – “I’m such a great teacher/banker/plumber – I always give my very best when I’m at work and I’m so skilled and knowledgeable in my area, and that’s what makes me who I am.” Sounds great, doesn’t it. So what happens when you can’t do that thing anymore? You break your arm in multiple places and can’t fix any pipes for six months. How does the label of plumber sit then? Putting our self worth and our beliefs about how much love we deserve from ourselves around a label is fraught with psychological danger. Think of the wife and mother who struggles with her identity when her marriage goes pear-shaped. Think of the professional footballer who breaks a leg and gets the news he will never be able to to run flat out again. The list of possibilities is endless – the danger of equating worth with labels is clear.
In my mind, we need to start somewhere else to be able to give ourselves love. And I believe it starts with knowing what we value. Our values guide our decision making and are really the core of who we are – and it’s when we aren’t living in alignment with these that we find ourselves most difficult to love. So on the path to self love, I have tried to
ensure that I live in alignment with my values. It hasn’t been something that has happened all at once, but the longer I go on and the more alignment I have created, the easier it has become to maintain. I won’t go on about the details here – probably they’re best explained by my previous posts! If you’re not sure of your values, you can find a range of values identification activities online to help you. It’s funny: as I’ve made changes in my life, I have noticed my values shift. Many things that I thought were important to me, central to who I am, simply no longer move me. So as my values have become clearer, I have found myself so much more acceptable. To me, self acceptance is the true core of self love – and you can only accept yourself once you find out who you are.
Oh shit! That’s another can of worms! I’m not going to go into the process of self discovery any further here, other than to say that for me, mindfulness has been at the core of it, as well as taking a range of different opportunities for honest reflection and growth. But I think I’ve gone a long way further than I intended with this post. You know, I just wanted to say that you shouldn’t be intimidated by all these things you hear around the place, telling you to love yourself when you feel so desperately unloveable. It’s going to be journey, and it’s going to have bumps along the way. You might find things you don’t like – but I think that’s where the opportunity is. What now? From experience, I’d say that the best thing to do is accept where I am right now. Be comfortable in the knowledge that I will change what’s not working. Be grateful for the things I do have right now. Move forward in unrelenting alignment with who I am. What else can anybody ask? I don’t know to be honest, but I’m not going to assume anything! Except maybe that I’m not done with this topic…