The notion of self-love is difficult to define because it is an internal process. It means different things for different people.
But as I am not the kind of person to shy away from the hard stuff, I’m giving it a shot.
Bear with me while I give you some context.
When we are born it takes some time to figure out that we are separate from our mother. We we realise we are an individual physical entity we also start to determine our sense of self from the reactions from people around us. We have a reflected sense of self derived from expertly reading the physical and emotional reactions from people around us. This is an essential part of development and for most, we get our sense of self from others for an entire life time. It is called borrowed functioning.
When our parents tell us we are a princess, when our teachers reward our school work with high marks, when we are admired for our leanness and muscle definition, when a man falls in love with us and tells us we are beautiful, we feel loved and find it easy to love ourselves. When all of this crumbles, we struggle because our only measure of worthiness is what is reflected in the eyes of someone else.
People with borrowed functioning need to exert control over other people. Those who need others to act in a certain way, to agree with their point of view, and demand trust and respect are controlling others in order for their own self-worth to be validated because how others act towards them gives them their sense of identity.
a strong and supple sense of self
The next stage of evolution, and the only way we can achieve self-love, is to develop our own internal sense of self that is not reliant on what others think, do or say. It happens when we stop scrutinising the actions of others to determine what it says about us and instead seeing how people’s behaviour reveals what it says about them. It is a letting go of judgement and control.
A strong and yet supple sense of who you are encourages self-reliance and autonomy. It means you are confident that the answers lie inside you instead of with someone else. It allows you to lay open your heart and fall into the heart of another without losing yourself. It lets you love your dark places without fear that they will drive people away.
When I started on the road to recovery from my eating disorder and then left my marriage my mantra was authenticity. I wanted to be who I was inside without worrying about disappointing people or losing their respect. I decided that I wasn’t going to try and control others any more. I was tired of working so hard to fit in.
I gave up the idea of needing validation from other people. When I went looking for romance I refused to pretend or play games. I located and inhabited my own identity and if a man didn’t like it, then he wasn’t the right man for me.
how could you leave me when I need you the most?
Last Friday night Duckfish wanted us to go over to his friend’s house for dinner. I was feeling shitty and didn’t want to go. I thought I would put on a brave face but in the end I decided to tell the truth that I wasn’t up for it and told him to go on his own. Now part of me, the borrowed functioning part of me, wanted him to say “If you’re upset then I’ll stay home and be with you because you are more important to me than anything else.” But that isn’t what happened. He wanted to go so instead of staying because he felt guilty or obligated he went without me.
On the surface, I could have taken this as rejection. How dare he leave me in my hour of need? But I realised that (a) his attention would have focussed on my misery so I was better off on my own watching mindless TV (b) that he is separate to me and we don’t have to want to do the same things (c) that whether he stayed or went he still loved me and (d) that I love who I am whether he stays or goes, loves me or not.
Duckfish operates the same way as I do. He didn’t take my desire to stay home as an indication that I didn’t want to be with him or his friend. Telling him to go didn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate his support or love. He didn’t feel the need to stay home to prove his love or to avoid me feeling resentful and hurt. His own identity is strong.
the definition of self love
This is what self love means. No matter how we think other people react to us, no matter how we compare ourselves to what we are told is ‘normal’, and no matter what events overtake our lives we believe that we are a perfectly flawed human. Our sense of self comes from inside, from that place that is unknowable, from our spirit and our soul.
I think this is why I resonate so much with the idea that I hold divinity inside me, that I am a fragment of Universal consciousness and intelligence. This empowers me to be honest and transparent because I know who I am without needing the approval of anyone else.
This is what it looks like on a day-to-day basis
- holding on to your self while your partner/friends/colleagues pressure you to adapt
- self soothing your own anxieties without relying on someone/something else to do it for you
- staying non-reactive and engaged when conflict arises
- tolerating the discomfort of exposing your vulnerability so that you can grow
If you want more I recommend you read the book that inspired this post. It is about intimacy and desire in a relationship, but the lessons apply to all parts of life and exploring them will transform your life.
→ Can you think of a time when you held on to yourself even though others wanted you to be different? Do you think it helped you love yourself more?