Self-love is an absolute prerequisite for healing. Without it you will not care enough about yourself, your health or your well-being to do the hard work necessary to get well. Far too many of us think of healing as a passive activity, something that someone else does to us or for us. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Healing is an internal process of correction and rejuvenation. Others may help the process along, but the hard work of transforming your suffering into meaningful change belongs exclusively to you. Making this transformation takes insight, awareness, patience and courage. But most of all, it takes love.
How do you go about learning to love yourself? The first step, according to author and weight loss counselor Dr. Matthew Anderson, is to accept that your life doesn’t work well unless you do. A life that is working well is based on healthy self-esteem, and healthy self-esteem is based on healthy self-love. Understanding this will help you to accept that you must make loving yourself a priority before you will begin to heal.
The second step is accepting that loving yourself and liking yourself have nothing to do with one another–in fact, you can love yourself without liking yourself very much at all. The things that you like or dislike about yourself are almost always related to ego or personality–your habits, your looks, your weight, your smile or a hundred others things about yourself that express who you are–or who you think you are–in relation to the rest of the world. They are the superficial qualities with which you compare yourself to others (and usually come up short.)
But love is not about personality, and you can love yourself–in fact, you must love yourself–whether you think you deserve it or not. If you want to be well, you must learn to accept, value, nurture and care deeply for the person who exists beneath the façade of your personality–to see your flaws and frailties as inherently just as lovable as the desirable parts of who you are. Self-love is about abandoning your pursuit of perfection and demanding nothing more of yourself than that you live as honestly and as authentically as you can.
“…Self-rejection comes from having an image of what it means to be perfect and never measuring up to that ideal. Our image of perfection is the reason we reject ourselves the way we are, and why we don’t accept others the way they are.” ~Don Miguel Ruiz
Draw a line down the center of a page in your journal. At the top, write the words, “What I like about myself” on one side and, “What I dislike about myself” on the other. Then spend about 10 minutes quickly writing everything you can think of that you like and dislike about who you are. If you are like most people, you will have many more dislikes than likes before you are done.
Next, spend a few minutes reading over what you have written and connecting with how you feel. Some people find the first part of this exercise comforting, because it reminds them of the good things about themselves that they tend to forget. Others focus on their negative qualities and feel angry or upset. Whatever it brings up for you, just sit with your feelings for a while without judging them or trying to make them go away. Bringing these thoughts and feelings to awareness is the first step to letting go of the pain of self-rejection and moving into self-love.
When you are ready, set an intention to begin to accept every part of yourself, meeting both the positive and the negative with self-love. Take three slow cleansing breaths, saying out loud each time you exhale, “It does not matter that I am not perfect, I still deeply and completely love and respect myself for all that I am.” Finish the exercise by writing in your journal about whatever thoughts and feelings come up.
Next Exercise: Learning Forgiveness