I’m going to dive right in and start with a question.
Do you feel and express love for others?
Ok, I’ll hazard a guess that your answer was an unequivocal yes. Why wouldn’t it be? So now we‘ve established this, I’d like to dig a bit deeper and ask another question.
Do you feel and express love for yourself?
Hmm I thought so, this is a lot harder isn’t it?
If it helps, until recently self-love was a real challenge for me, I believed I wasn’t ‘deserving’ of my own love and kindness so I didn’t take care of myself and always put others first.
When writing Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness all those words beginning with self, such as acceptance, kindness and love were a theme amongst story tellers which ‘encouraged’ (read forced) me to dig into what they meant, and to apply them to myself. And to be honest I did so reluctantly as none of it seemed British, and certainly not something I was brought up to think about.
What is love anyway?
I started by asking myself what does it mean to love? If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, you’ll know that I love Brené Brown’s work and one reason is because everything she writes is born out of research. She defines love in The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, as ‘A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all women, men and children. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved and to belong.‘ Okay, I agree. Then… ‘We can only love others as much as we love ourselves’. And if that wasn’t enough, ‘practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect, and to be kind and affectionate toward ourselves.
Yes, I can hear you objecting too. Loud and clear.
Now pause and take a couple of deep breaths. You read it correctly; she did say that ‘We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.’
My initial response when reading those words was to resist and then I asked myself, ‘what if she’s right?’ and then after I while I thought ‘what have I got to lose?’
I interviewed Tracey Cleantis for Finding Joy and she has a slightly different view. Her way into self-love is self-care.
‘I remember being asked – why did you want a child so much? It felt like the most ridiculous question, until I started to think about it more deeply. Why did I want it? The obvious reason (as well as a deeply personal one) was that I had not had the kind of childhood that I would wish for, for my own child. I wanted to give myself that experience. I realised I could do that. To answer the question probably the best place to start is with myself. If I’d had a child I would have been responding to my needs, to what I needed myself.
It made me aware that this was very much about trying to heal myself. That shifted me, and made me understand that I needed to start caring for myself. I need to be true to myself and not neglect myself in the way that I had been.
If you don’t love yourself, the best way to get self-love is to engage in self-care. With honest actions of self-care you start to get to observe better. You consider; why am I treating myself this way? Notice how you’re not being kind to yourself and even starting with, I’m going to do this nice thing for myself, I’m going to be responsive. Even if you’re in a place of not loving yourself, you can move into self-love.
Self-love and self-care, one is a verb and one is a noun I suppose. Self-care is a way into self-love and self-love is a way into self-care. The more you do them, the closer you get to loving who you are, and the better you get at doing them.
The best way to start is to ask the question, ‘if I were to treat myself like I would a close friend, how would I treat myself? How would I take care of myself in this relationship?’
Self-care has really allowed me to give myself what I so want; I am that responsive, loving mother to myself.’
The key for Tracey is to ask the question, ‘if I were to treat myself like a close friend, what would I do?’ I’d like to tweak that a bit so it becomes;
‘If I cared for myself in the same way as someone I love, what would I do?’
So what would you do?
I started small
One of the keys to bringing self-love to the forefront of my mind was to start small. On the wall behind my desk I have a list of what I call small pleasures: things I do that bring me joy and are ways of showing self-love. Most of them are free, such a pausing to look up at the sky, meditating, reading, looking at photos, singing along to a favourite song, or a long bath. Others cost a small amount, such as one square of chocolate, coffee in my favourite mug, an exercise class, or buying a bunch of flowers.
I’ve also started ‘self-love Saturdays’ when I only do things for me. Often Roger goes out so I spend the day reading, writing, sewing or cooking, whatever I feel like on the day, or nothing then I attend 2 yoga classes. I really enjoy this time and it’s made a huge difference to how I feel about myself.
Focusing on the small pleasures has brought self-love and self-care to my conscious mind and also made me realise that I was already doing some of those things, but they weren’t labelled as self-love. Bringing them to my consciousness and making a deliberate effort to include them in my day has played a huge part in my healing process.
I’ve also started to be more deliberate about what I need, asking myself questions like: What would be the right thing to do for me in this moment, what do I need? One of the effects of this is I put myself first and no longer go with the flow or try to fit in. It was a challenge at first and, like most things the more I’ve practiced, the easier it’s become.
I’ve also noticed that showing more love for myself has also opened me up to showing more for others.
And what if love was there all the time?
What if this was the same for you and you were practising self-love but can’t see it? Sometimes it’s only by looking back that we see the truth of what we’ve been doing. This time last year I submitted the manuscript for Finding Joy to the editor. Here’s an extract of what I wrote in my journal.
Those words were channelled unconsciously through my pen and as soon as I’d written them I realised, yes this is what I’ve been doing. Self-love was there all along I just didn’t notice it.
What is this was the same for you?
Now a question (or 4….)
Of course you’re expecting questions, so here goes:
When you look back, to what extent have you been practising self-love?
What else could you do to bring self-love to the forefront of your day?
How could you integrate small pleasures into your life?
What one step could you take today to show self-love?
Does what I’ve written resonate with you? I’d love to hear your experiences of self-love & how you can incorporate more of it int your life. Thank you.
Some of the above is extracted from Chapter 9 of Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness. Once you purchase it, you can read more about this and watch an interview with Tracey and many other women.