I was talking with a fellow therapist recently who also grew up in a religious home and I was commenting on how far I’ve come in terms of liking myself. My friend replied, “but do you love yourself?” I’m not sure how I answered her that day, but that question stayed with me. Do I truly love myself? What does that even mean and what would it look like?
A little background. Mine was not an ideal childhood. I know many (maybe most) people can say that but I’m sharing it to give context to what I’m writing about today – self-love. My parents had several physical and emotional challenges and so there wasn’t much focus on my needs or feelings. My family had a strong belief in God and the Bible. I had a particularly strong love for Jesus. I loved reading and hearing stories about Jesus, about his kindness and contagious love, even to those whom society deemed unlovable. I felt I wasn’t being treated very well by my family but I believed that Jesus loved me and that he saw my good heart. In clinical terms, Jesus was my “good object.” The downside of my strong faith and deep desire to please Jesus, was that what I was also learning from my understanding of the Bible and from Sunday school teachings was that suffering was good and even that it was to be welcomed. In addition, I learned that I should never think too highly of myself (although that might have been a teaching more from my mother than the church.) These beliefs that I internalized have taken years to unpack.
As those closest to me know, I had several bouts of depression starting in Junior High with the last one being about 30 years ago. I’ve had difficult times since then and periods of sadness and melancholy but I wouldn’t say they were major depressive episodes. I’ve learned a lot over the years that have helped me keep depression at bay. I’ve had many years of psychotherapy and even experimented with psychoanalysis for a year and a half where I was “on the couch” four times a week. My first therapist in Boston started me on the journey of self-discovery and because of her fine clinical skills and my own work at self-discovery and healing, I live life more joyfully. These experiences factored into my becoming a therapist as well.
I’ve learned over the years the importance of knowing who I am and valuing myself, foibles and idiosyncrasies and all. I definitely like myself more but can I say I love myself? Maybe it’s splitting hairs or maybe it’s not that important to know as long as I like myself. But it did get me to wondering what it would it look like if I truly loved myself?
When I went back to my friend to ask her if she remembered asking me that question and what exactly she meant, she explained that she believes that if we truly love ourselves that we recognize and have a deep knowing of being connected to our source or our goddess, that we are love, and we are “enough” just as we are in this very moment.
I do believe that and at the same time I still wondered how that translates or, again, what does loving myself look like? The answers are different for everyone. For me, some of the indicators that I love myself include:
- Not playing small.
- Forgiving myself for times I don’t present my best self or I hurt someone.
- Living to my fullest, which includes believing in myself.
- Being less self-deprecating or making others feel good at my expense.
- Living authentically.
- Being less judgmental of others and myself.
- Allowing good things to happen -not only allowing, but welcoming them and delighting in them rather than feeling guilty or uneasy.
This may seem like a lot of self-focus but it’s not in order to build up our egos. It’s not about our outward facades. Building up our egos so the world applauds us, separates us from others. What I’m talking about is our “divine” selves, our internal world and motivations. The more we love, accept, and celebrate who we are in these deeper ways, the less we care how the world sees us or how we look in an egoistical way. Instead, we have more love for ourselves and that love overflows to other people. Namaste.