“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Simone Weil
Love is an inside job. Learning how to learn to love yourself is where it all begins. Without this precious self- regard, we are constantly reliant on people and events outside of our control to fill us up and measure our worthiness. It is a losing game that frequently makes us turn away from the truckloads of love that is coming towards us. Looking from the outside, instead of feeling into how love lives in us, makes us believe that love should look or sound different than it does. We second guess, and doubt both the love and lovers around us- wondering constantly whether this love is a fit. No matter whether we perceive the love as too tight or too loose, it will bring to light our own shortcomings when we don’t love our selves.
And our digitally driven culture which constantly has us monitoring and comparing ourselves to everyone we know and lots of people we don’t is making things worse. Recent studies have proven what we have all known and felt deep down all along, that all of the attention that we pour into facebook and other like apps, isn’t really growing our capacity for love, but rather the more we engage with it the greater it correlates to feeling worse about your self and your life. Spending your time in virtual relationships diminishes your physical, mental and emotional well being and overall life satisfaction.
Don’t get me wrong, this urge to compare ourselves is built into our genetic code and is foundational to our human negative bias, which once protected us as cavemen. Knowing where we stood and whether we were accepted in our tribe, through continuous comparative vigilance was tantamount to survival. But now, that once protective habit and the profound need to belong has become a societal ill and personal compulsion which does more damage than good for the essential work of defining meaning and purpose in our lives.
When we are constantly focused outwards, more concerned about other people’s activities, look and judgments something crucial to our sense of self and esteem withers. Comparisons might have some value if we find ourselves adrift with no direction, but once on a course, they become less motivating and more deflating. Learning how to turn off the messages that surround us and get quiet enough to hear the small voice inside that truly informs us about who we are is a foundational practice of self-kindness and learning to love yourself. Fundamentally, it is about believing that we deserve our own attention.
Taking back our attention and focusing it inward is challenging and takes a lot of practice. But making the commitment of harnessing and turning our attention back towards ourselves is worth the work. The two practices that always keep me centered (and off of my facebook feed) are the basis of building any relationship- and certainly the starting point in befriending and loving ourselves.
- Practicing self-kindness
Of all of the attributes that draw us to other people, the most important is kindness. And yet, many of us never learned how to treat ourselves with the same tenderness that we reserve even for strangers. In fact, kindness (especially to ourselves) is less of an attribute and more the action verb of love. The best way that I have found to activate it in myself is to give myself the benefit of the doubt. This is one of the greatest gifts we can learn in relationship- that of unconditional love- the kind that holds up whether you succeed or fail, and even more importantly is still present when you are both good and bad. Especially when I fall way short of my own expectations for myself, I try to give myself a break. I tell myself that I can do better and that it is ok to make mistakes. I practice being compassionate with all that is imperfect in me. The beautiful thing about this kind of self kindness is that it makes you more generous to everyone else you know. Ultimately the truth that we are all doing the very best we can at any moment starts to feel true like gravity. Even the worst behavior can be seen through a different lens and it makes moving through the hard days a little bit gentler. Counting on myself to be my own friend in even the worst moments gives me room to accept love from others.
- Embrace boundaries
Boundaries are how we love ourselves. And although this has always been a weak link in most of my relationships, the more I have come to embrace this truth, the more capable I become at listening to myself. It is impossible to respect your own limits when you don’t know what you want. Our limits and boundaries are a direct reflection of how well we can trust what we know. And having spent way more time being an emotional barometer for too many people around me, I often never stopped to think about what I wanted until I had gone way far over the line of what I didn’t. This inability to listen inside is at the heart of the consent issue that plagues the sex lives of so many people, young and old. If we can’t know our own desires, we also don’t know where to draw the line for what we don’t want. Learning to embrace our boundaries is the practice of listening inside. Taking the time to tune out of what is around you and feel where yes ends and no begins. It is there, waiting to be heard. And I know that some of my most effective self loving moments have been the times when I have been clear and articulate about saying no.