“When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits – anything that kept me small. My judgement called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving.”
– Kim McMillen
I always had trouble with the word LOVE, especially with loving myself. My husband would say I had an icebox as a heart because I didn't let anyone in. Why did I have trouble? Well, my parents didn't seem to know what it was either so I never learned what is was or what it felt like. What is love and how do I get it? I often asked. This is not a stab at my parents, although for many years I held onto this bitter anger towards them. I blamed them while feeling as though I was not good enough and didn't deserve love. I realize now they did what they could with what they knew. However, it took me over 30 years to come to this realization.
You see, I was the type of kid whom would bring home A's all the time and it didn't seem to be good enough. Now when I say "enough" I mean enough for me. I felt like I had to do more to gain what I hoped would be love. Even though I didn't know what the hell it was! What I was looking for was not only love, but acceptance. I can say this easily now because of all the work that I have done on myself and continue to do so.
So, what happens when you search for love and acceptance? Well, you find it in all the wrong places and all the wrong people. You try to please everyone so that you are liked by everyone while drowning yourself in unhealthy activities so you don't think about it. I'm sure many can relate.
As I set out to find self-love I learned more and more about myself. So how did I do it? Below are a few steps that I took as I began my journey of self-love. Maybe it'll help you.
- Acceptance: I first had to accept that I needed to change. I had to accept that I often felt guilt when doing something for someone else and not because I wanted to. I had to accept that I needed to be needed. I began to make connections as to why I behaved the way I did and how my past affected me. Most of all, I had to accept myself for who I was, not for who I thought I needed to be.
- Allowing feelings to rise without judging them: I let myself feel my pain without judging it. This was hard! Immediately my "you're weak if you cry" thoughts set in. I just didn't. I never showed my emotions - unless you were one of the few privileged who saw it. I allowed myself to feel and just understand my feelings. I didn't stay there. That's not good either, but, until I allowed myself to feel the pain, hurt, or anger, there was no moving forward.
- Exploding through the victim mentality/Forgiving creators and those that trigger anger or resentment: This was probably one of the hardest. Not only did I need to forgive those that helped in the creation of my difficulty with loving myself, but I also had to forgive those that triggered it. Boy, was that quite a few people! For me, it was a matter of releasing the victim role and blaming everyone else and also giving myself the power to change. I didn't necessarily go to each person and forgive them but I did release the emotional attachment held between me and this person. "I forgive you, and as a result, I set myself free". How empowering. How did I know this worked? Well, if I thought of the person and anger set in, I knew I still had work to do. If I thought of the person and I didn't feel anything, I knew I was on the right track.
- Unlearning current beliefs/challenging thoughts: I began to write a list of how I looked at myself and focused my attention on how I spoke about myself to others and how I spoke to myself. I made quite a few discoveries here. I realized that I talked about myself so negatively. How could I begin to love myself if I continued to repeat negative comments about myself? These thoughts were deep-rooted within my subconscious. As I listened closely, I caught myself and was able to challenge those negative beliefs. "I'm not good enough, I'm not worth it", "I need to be thinner or look a certain way", or "I have to make a certain amount of money". My overused belief was "once I finish this, then I can take care of myself". All of it needed to go! This takes time however. It's not something that changes from one day to the next, but it can be changed. I looked at it as a trait and not a state, therefore it could be changed. I wrote down my core beliefs and changed them to reflect positive ones to change the junk I was telling myself.
- Taking care of all parts of myself: For me, this meant not only looking at my physical body but my emotional, mental and spiritual sides of me. It's all interconnected after all. I was always a very physically fit person. I remember being called "diesel" in middle school and throughout high school because I was very active. I hated that name, but taking care of myself physically was important. It wasn't until last year, after a car accident, that I was forced to look at other parts of myself. I had practiced yoga for a few years and loved it, but for me it was just another physical activity. Another thing I needed to master. After my accident I couldn't run anymore which was my passion - and lifting weights - forget about it! It was too painful. I played "victim" for a while but as my friends and clients will confirm, I believe that things happen for a reason. We have free will of course but when there is something we need to look at, within ourselves, the signs get stronger. I still struggle with pain today but I keep moving. So pay attention to repetitive thoughts or things various people tell you. Maybe you have been recommended a certain book from several people or have an annoying little voice telling you to go work out or eat healthier. If so, there's something there for you. Something you need to listen to.
I now practice yoga for balance as opposed to it being a contest (with myself), I eat healthier to clear my body of toxins, and I cry when I need to. I allow myself to feel what hurts and then move on as opposed to moving on and acting like I never hurt in the first place. I write - which let me tell you is not the norm for me. Even as I write this I am feeling vulnerable and that is not who I have been. Ever. However, I am working through it as it is a part of my journey. I learned about energy healing work to help myself with balancing my energy centers and working through deeper issues. Oh how I've fallen in love with energy healing work. I also allow myself to recharge - alone. I've found that as an empath, and due to the nature of my job, I need to be alone to release and reconnect. I now give myself "recharge" days and don't feel guilty for it any longer.
- Cutting my friends list: This was a big one for me and super difficult! I was always someone who had plenty of friends and not enough time to spend with them all. Why? Well, I always said yes. I'd also like to think I was pretty fun to be around, as was confirmed on several occasions, but I realized most of my yes' on invitations were out of guilt. I didn't really want to go but I felt that had I said no, I would not be loved anymore. Over the past two years I've done a lot of work as to figuring out who I want in my life and how. I began to set boundaries. I reduced time spent with those that were too negative, in my eyes, and just brought me down as well as those that only wanted to stop by my office, text me, or spend time with me when they needed to solve a personal issue. I began to surround myself with those that truly loved me for who I was. Those that I could truly be myself around and not feel judged. I released those from my life that I constantly sought out but it always seemed to be one-sided. If it wasn't reciprocated, then they were released. Now don't get me wrong, life is crazy busy - especially for me - so I know that spending time with a friend may happen monthly at best. Probably bimonthly or longer for me (I did tell you I was trying to change the world earlier right?), but if I'm the only one initiating then you've got to go. It's clear where I stand and that's not acceptable for me any longer.
- Doing what I love, not what's expected: This is huge! There are so many expectations set for us from birth. "Oh she's going to be the doctor in the family", or "he's going to become a lawyer". It's also set by society. "Women don't go into construction or become officers of the law". If you are someone who yearns to be accepted, you tend to follow social norms to please others, not realizing how much damage you cause to yourself. That's how I wasted my time getting my bachelor’s degree in business only to realize that I hated it and had to go back for my masters in counseling. Be true to yourself and do what you love. Ask yourself "what am I passionate about, what do I spend hours doing without realizing that hours flew by?" Then do it! Don't think about it, just do it. The universe has your back.
- Practice, Practice, Practice: Allow love in! Practice this by giving more to yourself. More love, more compassion, and more forgiveness. Speak to yourself the way you want to be spoken to. Love yourself the way you want to be loved and take care of yourself the way you want to be taken care of. Put yourself first. I had a hard time with this as I'm the "mama bear" when it comes to my siblings, close friends, or family. I realized though, that unless I put myself first I would not be able to take care of others. It is not selfish. It is self-full. There's a reason why they tell you to put the mask on yourself first before you apply the mask on someone else in an airplane. Not only do you want to practice loving yourself, don't forget to let others love you. Open the door and let those that deserve to love you to love you. You deserve it.
- Balance! This is key. Each day I try to make sure that I balance my life. By that I mean, not overextending at work, home or with a certain person. You don't want to tip the scale. Any extreme is not healthy.
Of course this takes time and consistent work, but as I have worked on myself I see myself, and the world, a bit brighter - sparkling. Did I mention I like sparkly things? :)
What about you? What changes have you made towards working on yourself? I'd love to hear it!