Self-love is a concept that comes up often with my hypnotherapy clients. Loving and taking good care of oneself can make a massive difference to the quality and richness of your life. Yet when we’ve been taught that putting yourself first is selfish and that everyone else’s needs should come first, it’s a difficult pattern to turn around without help or support.
The end result of this pattern of selflessness, putting everyone and everything ahead of your own needs, is misery and burnout. I’ve seen many women over the years who have ended up stressed out, burnt out, and utterly miserable because they’ve spent their whole life taking care of their partner, children and household, business or job, and having no time for their self. It may seem admirable to the outside world, but the inner sense of emptiness can be excruciating. From my experience, it seems that the underlying driver behind lack of self-love, is low self worth.
First of all, let’s define what self-love is. Self-love is having regard for one’s own happiness and wellbeing – taking care of your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, social and any other needs. Self-love is not selfish. If you don’t take care of yourself, who will? And not only that, if your love tank is empty, how can you be loving and giving to other people in your life – your children, family, friends, clients etc.?
In my second marriage, which was a huge learning experience for me, my ex-husband would tell me how selfish I was any time I chose to do something for myself over doing something for or with him. When I started going to yoga, he would complain that I was always at yoga and never spent any time with him (when I was going two evenings per week). He would complain if I was journaling, drawing, crocheting, or on social media in the evening rather than giving him attention. I remember one night watching him lying there on the couch with his feet up, completely engrossed in his phone. There was no conversation or engagement, yet I felt I couldn’t do anything I wanted for fear of being called selfish. When we got together, he seemed to appreciate that I ‘walked lightly on the Earth’ and grew vegetables, had my own chickens and cooked meals from scratch. Not long after he moved in, he complained that I was always in the garden and never wanted to do anything with him. My life started heading off on a different track. I became caught up in his hobbies and interests, and neglected my own. I would look at my Facebook feed and think, ‘This isn’t my life’. It’s taken me almost two years to shake off this belief that I’m completely selfish, and get back into doing the things that keep me well and give my life a sense of meaning and purpose. And learning to love myself and take care of my needs is still a work in progress.
I see many of my clients try to ‘get’ love from others in a similar way. I call this the ‘indirect route’, and it goes something like this: ‘If I take care of everyone else and bend over backwards to do everything they want me to do, then they will love me/give me what I want and all will be well’. Unfortunately this doesn’t work.
The direct route is making sure your own love tank is full by doing what you need for your own wellbeing and happiness. It may be that you need time out to meditate, read, sleep or do something creative. It may mean getting up early to go to yoga, the gym, or for a walk. It may mean eating better quality food to nourish your body, or spend time building a business or developing a skill, or even catching up with friends and loved ones who fill you up.
The direct route involves meeting your needs directly, and communicating this to others who may be affected. I call this ‘being straight up’. It can be difficult for some people to do this because they feel unworthy, or undeserving, or they may be afraid of how other people around them may react. You may feel guilty, or judge yourself as lazy or selfish by meeting your own needs first.
If you don’t fill your own love tank, you may end up feeling resentful and hostile toward the people who you’ve been doing everything for. This is not only unreasonable, it’s also painful for them to be on the receiving end of your hostility because they cannot read your mind, and they’ve actually done nothing wrong.
Loving yourself takes effort and involves work. It can be uncomfortable, challenging, and downright unpleasant. For example, loving yourself may involve cleaning up your home environment – getting rid off clutter, repairing or replacing things that are broken, painting or redecorating rooms. This takes time, energy and dedication to see it through to the end. Aspects of it may feel difficult, such as investing money in the project, or even unpleasant, such as sanding and painting. The same may be true of investing in your health – spending money on gym fees, a personal trainer, or a naturopath. Taking liquid herbs can be unpleasant, and exercise is uncomfortable if you’re not used to it. Even eating healthy food can feel like a challenge if you’re accustomed to the taste and texture of highly processed food – plus the time investment it takes to prepare a decent meal can feel like an intrusion. But these things are all a worthwhile investment into a happier, healthier you.
A good question that Teal Swan poses is to ask your self with any decision, “What would a person who loved themself do?” You may be surprised by the answer. I have found that asking myself this question holds me to a higher standard.
I recently had an experience when a guy I’d been dating was telling me how he’d like to spend more time with me, that he misses me. He wanted to take me out on a Sunday – my only free day. Now this sounds all very sweet. However, the relationship was very skewed towards his wants and needs. I felt stressed when I was around him, and constantly felt like I had to defend myself. I felt pressured to fit into the kind of relationship he wanted, and he didn’t seem to take my needs or wants into consideration. He made a lot of assumptions based on his view of how a ‘relationship’ should be, and would offer advice or tell me how to do things I have more knowledge about than him. When I asked myself the question “What would someone who loved themselves do?” the answer was ‘Work on your own projects and goals, and stop letting him walk all over you”. Ouch! So I told him no, I wanted to stay home and paint my fence. And I felt good about this. I also had a conversation with him about boundaries and the assumptions he’d been making. Yes it was uncomfortable and challenging, and I felt quite vulnerable, yet I’d rather be single than in a relationship where my boundaries are constantly being disrespected and my wants and needs overridden.
Ask yourself this question today, “What would I do differently if I loved myself?” Which direction is your heart calling you in? Let me know what you come up with.
If this article has triggered something in you that you’d like to explore, get in touch and I’d love to help you discover your own deeper truth.