This is the first blog post in the Skills for Self-Love series.
Love is an inside job. Learning to love ourselves is where it all begins. And yet, most of us are plagued with some nagging doubts of unworthiness. It’s almost as though there is some deep ancestral pattern that equates emotional pain to some inherent core deficiency, built into our genetic code. It is how we abandon ourselves.
These feelings are exacerbated right now as many of us have lost our daily rhythms and our contacts with the diversity of face-to-face relating that we so easily take for granted.
Recent studies have proven what we have all known and felt deep down all along: all of the attention we pour into Facebook and other social media apps isn’t really growing our capacity for self love. Rather, the more we engage with it, the greater it correlates to feeling worse about ourselves and our lives. Spending excessive time in virtual relationships diminishes our physical, mental and emotional well being and overall life satisfaction.
Giving ourselves the gift of our own attention and care is critically important when we have limited access to all of the normal life activities that anchor us. Hopefully, one of these tried-and-true practices will help build your skills for self-love in the coming weeks.
1. Become a Vessel for Love
The first thing that became crystal clear as I began to give myself my own best mothering attention was realizing just how uncomfortable and unskilled I was with accepting my own loving attention.
The kindness which I directed inward felt like it had no substance and, once registered, I often felt like a colander. I couldn’t contain the feeling; all my own loving intention would pass right through me. As I learned to witness the loving acts of self-care – a warm bath, a call from an old friend, or a quiet walk in the woods, pausing to reflect on the beauty around me – I couldn’t quite figure out how to integrate them.
Then I learned a technique that shifted my focus to the visceral sensations I experienced at moments of self care, and intentionally envisioned the sacred, internal geography that could hold them.
Two places that are easy to imagine and sense are (a) your pelvic bowl and (b) the space at the back of your heart. Sensing the light and warmth filling a pool in your back heart body, or collecting in a sacred urn at the base of your pelvis is an easy practice to contain and cultivate the goodness that happens when you offer yourself your own attention and kindness. This practice of becoming a vessel to hold love will not only teach you how to care for yourself, but the more proficient you become, the more you will be able to witness love coming towards you from all directions.
2. Offer Yourself the Benefit of the Doubt
Of all of the attributes that draw us to other people, the most magnetic is kindness. And yet, many of us have never learned how to treat ourselves with the same friendliness and respect that we freely offer to others.
The best litmus test and way that I have been able to practice this for myself is to check in and see if I am giving myself the benefit of the doubt when challenges come up.
Develop a habit of believing you are doing the best you can in any given situation. This is one way to describe what unconditional love feels like. Holding ourselves gently, whether we succeed or fail, and getting beyond the judgments of good and bad is all about our self-talk.
Instead of making it worse, elevate your internal dialogue by allowing for mistakes and encouraging another try. And the beautiful thing about practicing self-kindness is that it allows you to be more kind with 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.
Counting on yourself to be your own friend in even the most challenging moments creates the space to accept love from others, too.
3. Embrace Boundaries
Boundaries are how we show up for and demonstrate love for ourselves. It is impossible to respect your own limits when you don’t listen to your feelings and can’t say what you want. Naming our boundaries are a direct reflection of how well we trust our own inner voice.
When you spend too long acting as an emotional barometer for other people, it’s easy to lose track of your own needs and desires.
Learning to stop and listen for the “no” to arise is the early practice of knowing your own true limits. Often, we see this inability to listen to ourselves come up in sexual consent conflicts. If we can’t say what we want or know our own desires, we also often don’t have language for what we don’t want.
Embracing your boundaries is the practice of listening inside. Feel where “yes” ends and “no” begins. It is there, waiting to be heard. Some of the most effective self-loving moments happen when you can clearly say “no”.