by guest blogger Pam Fullerton, psychotherapist and writer
I’ve written recently about giving—giving to others, giving to your relationship, and being aware of the imbalance of giving and the way over-giving can cause harm to you and your relationship. But today, I’m going to talk about a different form of giving: self-love.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how hard people can be on themselves. I see it in therapy all the time. It can range from feeling they are not worthy to extreme shame and self-loathing. I feel so sad because, as I get to know the people I work with, I grow to care a great deal for them. I hope to put a huge dent in this problem. So join me in embracing self-love—this is how to do it!
I love the concept of paying it forward. I still have the “torn-up check” that my hairdresser returned to me more than 20 years ago because she knew that I couldn’t afford the haircut. All these years later, she’s still my hairdresser and a dear friend. And I have “paid it forward” many times since!
However, I want to suggest something in addition to the concepts of “paying it forward” and “random acts of kindness.”
Recently, someone shared with me the recognition that when someone compliments him, he politely says thank you but does not fully embrace the compliment. He doesn’t allow himself to fully appreciate the compliment because he’s thinking, “But if you really knew me.” “Oh,” I said, “you mean that humanness in you?” Meaning that all of us have insecurities, things that we don’t like about ourselves, moments when we feel shame for our actions. Meaning our personal challenges that we all experience and the “humanness” that we all share. I feel it’s compelling to share with you that this person is a much-admired spiritual leader.
The reason that I share this with you is because this is a global challenge; we all struggle from time to time with self-love! Another person shared that she’s great at taking care of others but feels terribly uncomfortable if she does something for herself. This could include cooking only for her (healthy, nurturing cooking), buying a new piece of clothing, and so on. I smiled warmly and said, “Well, then, you must do it and be uncomfortable.”
The reason I said this to her is that anytime we do something new that’s not in our comfort zone, we will feel uncomfortable. My mantra is “Comfort zones are expanded through discomfort.” Well, I can’t take full credit for this mantra; I heard a yoga teacher make this statement while doing Yin Yoga! I thought, “What a perfect metaphor for life.” So what I’m suggesting to you today—embracing self-love—may be out of your comfort zone now, but hopefully, eventually, it will fully be in your comfort zone.
Here is my question to you! What did you do today that you embraced as self-love?
What is self-love? Overall, of course, it’s when we love who we are as a person. But I’m referring to moments in our day that we tend to write off as no big deal. I want you to embrace those moments, be mindful of them, and really take them in and turn them into moments of self-love. For instance, try embracing a compliment someone gives you, or even transforming a compliment that you gave into a show of self-love.
You might recognize, for example, when you were patient at a time when it wasn’t so easy to do so. Embrace that recognition as self-love. Take in things you do for others as giving, of course, but also as self-love. Maybe you smiled at someone even though you were having a bad day. Someone once said to me, “Giving to another is a validation of self.” I wasn’t sure what he meant at the time, but my interpretation is that giving to another person is a show of love for you, as well.
I think that people feel amazing when they give to another person, but they tend to stop there. Go further—take this in as a reason to love you, too.
But finding reasons to love yourself doesn’t always need to be something that you’ve done for others or even something that took a good amount of time. You can simply acknowledge how hard you work, a kind thought you had about someone, or when you wanted to be judgmental and held back. Or perhaps you gave someone the benefit of the doubt or were patient in traffic when someone was driving slowly in front of you. Maybe you initially felt jealous about something but then took a step back and chose instead to be happy for that person. Maybe you forgave someone.
Recognize not only the things that you do, BUT also what you don’t do, and then give yourself credit. I watched a video the other day of a woman who bought coffee for someone who was fat-shaming her at a doughnut shop. She said she wanted to rise above it. I wondered if she took the next step and recognized this act as an act of self-love.
I think we live in a culture that discourages expression of self-love. I’m not referring to people who are clearly “full of themselves.” I’m referring to those of us who feel it’s an expression of bragging or conceit to share something that simply made us feel good about ourselves. We tend to shame people if they express something that made them feel good about themselves. I do understand how challenging it can be to share something that inspired feelings of self-love. I struggle, too. But I encourage you to share something that you felt proud of, whatever that might be. Express it to those whom you love and trust, those you want to celebrate you, and you can encourage them to do the same.
Role-model loving yourself so that others will follow your lead in loving you and loving themselves. Spread the love.
Share with me your reasons for self-love, and we can celebrate it together!
OK, I’ll go first (yikes, not easy to do!): The other day I was behind a woman with two children at the checkout at the grocery store. Her youngest child (maybe 2 years old) was touching everything within his reach, as children tend to do. In a desperate tone, she told him (repeatedly) to stop touching everything. My heart went out to her. I had the same experience many times when my children were young! So I said to her, “I think it’s awful that the grocery store puts all of these tempting items here at the checkout to entice children!” She said, “Well, I guess they have to make a living, too.” I said to her, “That’s true, but it doesn’t make it easy for you!” She acknowledged this to be true and said that she felt embarrassed. I told her that all of us who have children completely understood what she’s going through. The conversation continued for a bit; we laughed as we shared familiar feelings (as moms) in this type of situation.
As she paid for her items, she turned around, smiled warmly at me, and waved good-bye. I knew that I had lifted a burden for her and, yes, I’ll say it (it really is hard to say!), I felt good about myself in knowing that I’d eased her embarrassment—self-love! Your turn. 🙂
Pam Fullerton has been in private practice as a psychotherapist for the past 19 years. Although she works with a variety of life issues that are presented to her in therapy, her passion is to understand the vast complexities of all relationships. She believes that healthy connections with others are what promote personal growth. Keep up with her writings on relationships, mindfulness, and more by subscribing here.