About a year ago, I was offering relationship coaching to a couple, Jane and Michael (not their real names). They were both lovely people, but they couldn’t stop arguing. Jane, was suspicious that her partner, Michael was cheating on her and that he didn’t love her. Try as he might, Michael could not convince Jane that he loved her. This affected every part of their relationship. Whenever Michael was a work, Jane would send him messages accusing him of being with someone else. When they were together, they would fight about how he wasn’t able to focus at work. Trust and love were leaving the relationship and they were struggling to find a solution.
Over time, Jane had the breakthough that she needed to be able to love herself in order to feel that love that her partner had for her. She realized that her feelings of suspicion were rooted in past relationships and in the family dynamics that had been present during her childhood. Throughout her life she had been taught that she was unlovable. She had been told that and shown that in so many ways, that she had begun to believe it. And now her belief that she wasn’t worthy of love was threatening to tear apart her precious relationship.
It isn’t always easy to know how to love yourself.
I offered her a series of practices to use as a doorway for her to develop the ability to feel and show love for herself. Over time, she was able to find her areas of vulnerability surrounding love. She found where she was defending herself and she was able to put down her armor. Through this process Jane was able to awaken her love for herself. Once she was able to see herself as being worthy of love and once she actually gave herself the gift of loving herself, she was able to allow Michael to love her.
Steps to Develop Love for Yourself
1. Tell Yourself that You Are Worthy of Love
The first step to learning how to love yourself is to tell yourself that you are worthy of love. Many of us live in thought patterns that tell us that we are not worthy of love. How could anybody love me? Of course he doesn’t love me, I’m not worth loving. Recognize this pattern and then break it. Quite often these thought patterns were instilled in us at a young age, but now is our opportunity to shift our beliefs about our worthiness to be loved.
Take a few moments to sit quietly. Come to a centered place. Once your breathing is calm, your emotional state is calm, and your thoughts are calm, whisper these words: “I am worthy of love.” See how your body and mind respond to this statement. If you have spent a long time with the belief that you are unworthy of love, there will be a reaction within your body and your mind. There may be a subtle tensing in your chest. There may be the barrage of thoughts that seek to refute such a simple and truthful claim. There may be the inner critic who is quick to say, But what about all those times that you proved that you are unlovable?
Again whisper the words, “I am worthy of love” and sit quietly to witness the reaction that you have to those words. The felt sense within your body and the thoughts that arise will lead you on the proper trail to discover what is blocking you from loving yourself.
2. Recognize That There May Be Parts of Yourself That Are Afraid
As you learn how to love yourself, realize that you might actually be learning how to love yourselves. You are one person, but there are many parts of you. There is the child inside of you. There is the responsible adult. There are many other identities within you as well. Each of these identities exist for a reason and they have their own needs.
One of the identities that we hear from a lot in our inner dialogue is the inner critic. This inner critic is one of the ones inside us who tells that we are unloveable. What the inner critic is actually saying is this: I am afraid to love and be loved.
This fear that the inner critic carries is rooted in legitimate memories of times when you’ve been hurt by those who love you. The inner critic remembers these times and its job is partly to protect you from being hurt again. The inner critic is like an over-protective parent who would rather dominate you with fear than let you take those first few steps on your own to realize that you can walk on your own. In the view of the inner critic, you are still a little child who cannot defend themselves.
3. Show Those Fearful Parts of You Love and Gratitude
When you hear the inner critic’s voice, thank it for its concern for you and ask it to step aside. Ask it to give you the space you need to love and to trust. Explain to it that you are not the child that once was hurt. You’ve grown and you’re continuing to grow. And you’re ready to love openly and with your whole heart. Loving in this way requires that you let down some of your armor and that you become vulnerable. The inner critic and other parts of your self don’t want to be vulnerable. They want to scare you into safety. So, show this part of you some love and gratitude for the intention of protecting you and ask it step aside.
Maybe it sounds like I’m asking you to talk to yourself and that is exactly right! Talk to parts of yourself. These voices within your head are part of your patterns of thought. As you become aware of those different voices, you will become aware of their individual needs and the parts of you that they are there to protect. Recognize that each of these parts of you is a defense mechanism that has been put in place to protect the vulnerable and lovable parts of you.
Through mindfulness meditation practice you can begin to recognize the voices of your defenses. As you come to recognize them, you will better how to love yourself and how to show that love to yourself.
4. Treat Yourself with Love and Respect
It is now time for you to prove to yourself that you are worthy of love and respect. This is where you get to practice loving yourself. This is best done in three ways, through deepening inner work, nurturing creative expression, and caring for the body.
Mindfulness meditation practice is a powerful way to develop self-compassion. Through mindfulness practice you gradually build an understanding and a relationship with those voices that come into your mind. Through practice you can become better able to accept what they have to say. The sting of negative criticism dissipates when you realize that it is only one aspect of reality. The pain of disappointment fades with time and slowly you come to realize that in this present moment you are sitting with yourself and you are in a place of power.
Taking walks in nature is another way to deepen your inner work. There is something powerful about quiet majesty of nature. The cycles of the seasons and the powerful beauty of nature are powerful healers.
It is important to remember to demonstrate self-compassion through care for your physical body. Eating healthy foods and exercising regularly keep your channels open to deepen your inner work and for the unfolding of self-love that you deserve. By exercising, you are able to deepen you breath, which helps to clean toxins out of your body. This helps you feel better about yourself.
Creative expression is another way to show love for yourself. When you give yourself time to paint, draw, write, or create poetry, you are giving time to parts of yourself that want to express and be heard. You are telling that creative child within you that they are important. Practice treating your inner child to creative, loving experiences.
Meditation, exercise, creative expression, time in nature, and self-compassion will help you build the kind of relationship you need with yourself before you can be fully present to love and be loved in a relationship. Give yourself these gifts of self-love.
5. The Daily Practice of Giving Yourself the Gift of Love
Developing love for yourself is not a one-time event. If you are not drawing closer to your self, you are drawing further away. Throughout this journey of life, you are constantly changing and evolving. If you are not in tune with the changes that are going on within you, and if you are not integrating new experiences and new views into your reality, then you are drifting away from who you truly are–you are falling out of love with yourself.
Practice daily love for yourself. Develop a ritual of self reflection and self-compassion. Create time and space for this. Everyday should include time for this practice. By scheduling it into your daily schedule and keeping that appointment with yourself, you are showing yourself that you care.
As you open yourself to giving yourself the gift of love, you will see it reflected in your relationships with others. You will be able to give love more fully. You will be able to accept and cherish love more fully. Your ability to love yourself will continue to grow. Once you better understand how to love yourself, you’ll be better able to love others.