How is does one know how to love themselves if one did not grow up in an especially loving environment?
Love is an innate force, an urge to connect and nurture another, but it also has an environmental element, and is a learned behavior and response.
Not all of us grew up in environments that were loving and nurturing. Many people come from families that have experienced trauma, poverty, the trauma of poverty, natural disaster, abuse, illness, racism, chronic instability etc. Many people have developed coping mechanisms that are healthy and normal in response to these threats and difficulties, but are not helpful when living in times of peace and stability.
These responses, such as numbing, escaping or turning to workaholism become self-defeating when one is attempting to grow and thrive.
(On the more extreme end, constant hyper vigilance, anxiety, perfectionism and irritability could also be signs of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).)
On top of that, we are constantly receiving messages from the culture around us about what is acceptable and ‘normal’. Not all of these messages are healthy and helpful. For example, the notion of needing to conform to certain beauty standards, or to speak and act a certain way in order to be considered intelligent – in other words, the hoops you must jump through in order to be likable, lovable and deserving are many and pervasive in popular culture.
These are powerful forces that shape our behaviors, and affect whether we even deem ourselves as being worthy of love, or even being worthy at all! This causes us to go through life thinking we’re not good enough, to constantly push ourselves to be more, to do more, without creating the habit of pausing and telling ourselves that we are okay.
It’s no wonder then, that truly learning to love yourself is a process. It requires getting used to the feeling of being able to relax, feeling safe in your body, and being okay with yourself no matter what.
It doesn’t mean having super positive feelings about yourself every single day, but it can be understood as just having a fundamental okay-ness about yourself, and a knowledge that you have your back even when unpredictable things, disappointments and difficult things happen.
And I really do mean, no matter what: whether or not you’ve reached your goals, whether you’ve made a mistake, or when things just haven’t gone as planned.
- Forgiving yourself for making mistakes
- Giving yourself room to experience all kinds of emotions, even negative ones
- Allowing yourself to pursue your interests, even though they aren’t deemed to be ‘practical’ or have any kind of economic value
- Allowing yourself to rest.
- Allowing yourself to play.
- Having relationships that are rewarding, supportive and trusting.
- Taking care of your physical health, mental health and emotional health.
- (Your own unique definition here.)
Self-love can also be thought of as a state of being, rather than any specific action. It happens in the way you talk to yourself in your mind, the way you think about yourself, the way you feel about yourself.
Imagine you let a stranger into your house, and they talked to you the way you do to yourself: would you consider them to be a nice person you’d want to be friends with? Or would you bolt the door and never let them in again?
The best part about self-love is that: the more robust your mental health is, the more you will be able to roll with whatever life throws at you. You become less dependent on others for validation, and you may even find that your goals become a lot more effortless to attain. You will be able to create, give and live from a full cup, rather than trying to squeeze everything you have out of yourself yet never really feel happy or contented in the process.
It can be a journey to consistently wake up and feel like you are just fundamentally okay with yourself, but knowing what self-love (a term often thrown about these days) is even really about – is the most important first step in exploring what it means to you personally.
Featured image by Stasia Burrington