The concepts of self-love and self-compassion can bring up all kinds of things for people. Your first reaction to a self-love practice or tool that I might offer to you in therapy could be something like, “Oh crap, I can’t do that. You get in trouble doing that.” In trouble with who? “I don’t know. Someone.”
Or, your reaction could be, “Doesn’t that make me a narcissist?” Or, “Doesn’t that make me selfish?” Your reaction could be an immediate flareup of historical guilt, guilt with unknown origins. Or your reaction could be shame. As in, “So what, are you saying that’s not already what I am, or what I’m doing?” Whatever the immediate reaction may be, it is valuable information for both of us in the therapeutic process.
Self-love and self-compassion are at the center of my therapeutic approach, and I swear to the gods, these practices will change your life. They sound abstract and deceptively simple on the surface. But if you give it about one year of focused practicing, the odds are pretty good that you will be in a totally different place in every area of your life. Unkind colleague or employment situations seem to eventually dissipate, and unkind relationships can’t help but end. Slowly, your external world begins to mirror the kinder and more loving world you are creating on the inside. It’s almost spooky. I swear that if angels were real, they would tell you that peace on earth begins with creating peace on the inside.
This is not about being self-absorbed or “selfish”. It’s about caring enough about yourself to work on getting into the habit of kinder internal dialogue, and enough to show up as the person your heart knows you can be in the world (who I’m sure, is a kind and caring person, contrary to the idea that this will make you more “selfish” or “self-serving”). Sometimes this means coming up with a really solid and reasonable plan for changing courses in some area of your life. Sometimes it means just caring about how you feel as you make your way through an average day. What it always means is the eventual revelation that YOU ARE IN GOOD COMPANY WITH YOURSELF! What a lifelong gift! It feels like shifting your internal GPS to get onto the better feeling path, even if, at first, you are just focusing on slightly better feelings and slightly better feelings. Committing to your most deeply held dreams is deeply self-loving, and being okay with however it all turns out (or at least, committing to making good meaning out of whatever way it all turns out) is deeply self-loving, too. I used to be deeply enamored with the “tortured artist” archetype, but if you are tortured beyond the necessary “torture” of plain old life itself (whatever that means for you), it’s going to rob time and vitality from your craft.
It eventually begins to feel beautifully DEFIANT to completely, deeply love and embrace yourself. American culture tells us we should not. It begins to feel like a big “HA!” that flies in the face of consumer culture — Sort of like, “I WILL live happily ever after- sort of- with myself! Thank you!” This doesn’t mean you don’t need other people in your life. You do. And they need you, too. Knowing that YOU are the one you’ve been waiting for will enhance your relationships, and I am not the only therapist saying this, and no, it is not just the “lunatic fringe,” I promise. Renowned therapists like Richard Schwartz, the creator of Internal Family Systems theory wrote a damn book called You Are the One You’ve Been Waiting For. Of course, Western culture, ever since the Romantic era, would have intelligent adults believe that there is one special person out there who will save them and with whom they are going to live happily ever after. I’m here to tell you that if you believe your partner is supposed to make you live happily ever after, your relationship will probably not work out. Your partner needs for you to be able to make this connection to love, peace and beautiful feelings on your own, without need of them. You can’t expect them to help you plug into that feeling channel consistently, on demand. It’s a recipe for resentment, and an ongoing, rankling emptiness in the center of your life. Popular culture, the media and cinema pump this beautiful illusion of partner-as-rescuer up into the shimmering chimera it has become in all of our minds — how tempting to believe it might be true.
Life is already hard enough. You might as well deeply love and completely embrace yourself. This is one of the most powerful things that is always within your control. It makes it easier to authentically be a light for others, too. This, too, is a choice that is always in your hands, and that can never be wrested from you. You are the wonderful person who has kept you alive all the way up to this moment, and you deserve this. You deserve for every moment from this day forward to be spent reveling in the preciousness and mystery of life. You deserve to sing your song, write your play, whatever it is. Do it! Life is already a fierce journey, and you’re braver than you may think 😉