We hear over and over from self-help books and therapists, "Love yourself." Even on Twitter, there are thousands of tweets, such as:
- U Gotta Love Yourself
- Love yourself or nobody will
- Love yourself. Love your day. Love your life.
- Don't forget to fall in love with yourself first.
- Fearlessly love yourself.
- Loving yourself is the only way to love others.
- Love yourself b4 you love another.
- And remember nobody's feelings are more important than your own, so take time to love yourself.
All great advice! And all true. But do you know what it means to love yourself? Do you know HOW to love yourself?
It's one thing to be told to love yourself and that you can't love others until you love yourself, but it's quite another thing to do it.
If you were not well-loved as a child, or you didn't have parents or other caregivers who role-modeled loving themselves, it may be hard to know what it means to love yourself and difficult to know how to do it.
What It Means to Love Yourself
Love is not only a feeling. It is a verb -- an action. Take a moment to think about what it means to love a baby.
- You listen for the baby's feelings and attend to distress immediately. You keep the baby monitor on when the baby is sleeping, so you know when the baby needs you.
- You hold and comfort the baby when he/she needs comforting, keeping your heart open to the baby so the baby feels your love and presence.
- You do all you can to create physical health for the baby.
- You mirror what is wonderful about the baby.
- You let the baby know, in many different ways, that he or she is vitally important to you.
Not only do you feel love for a baby -- you act on it. Now imagine that you have a baby inside you who needs all these same things. Loving yourself means:
- Embracing all your feelings with caring, compassion, gentleness, tenderness, and a desire to learn what your feelings are telling you. Just as a baby's feelings are informational, letting you know that the baby is hungry, lonely, physically hurting or uncomfortable, your feelings are also always informational. Your feelings are letting you know whether you are caring about yourself or abandoning yourself, whether others are being loving or unloving, whether a situation is safe or dangerous, whether you need to be kind and compassionate with the deeper feelings of heartbreak and grief.
- Learning to take responsibility for lovingly managing and regulating your feelings, rather than making others responsible for them.
- Staying open to learning with all your feelings, rather than avoiding the painful ones by numbing out with substances or activities.
- Learning to take loving action for yourself regarding your emotional and physical health, your financial health, your time and space and your interactions with others.
- Learning to value your true essence -- your core self, rather than defining yourself through your looks or performance.
- Giving yourself the approval that you might be seeking from others, rather than judging yourself. Valuing your effort way more than outcomes, and separating your worth from outcomes.
- Making your needs just as important to you as others' needs. Not meeting others' needs while ignoring your own. Not giving yourself up to get others' approval.
Imagine treating yourself in the above ways. If you did, would you feel loved and lovable?
Your Inner Role Model
We all have an inner source of guidance about love. Since so few of us had adequate role models regarding loving ourselves, it's very important to turn to your inner role model.
Imagine an older wiser version of yourself. Imagine that you can ask this older wiser self, "What would be loving to me?" in any given situation. Imagine the conversation you would have with your older wiser you. If you try this, you might be surprised at the wisdom you are able to tap into!
When you love yourself rather than trying to get love from others, you heal emptiness, aloneness and neediness. When you love yourself in the above ways, you become so filled up with love that you have love to share with others. Sharing love is the most wonderful experience in life, way more fulfilling than getting love!
If you have never taken the time to learn to love yourself, why not start now? There is no time like right now to learn to stop abandoning yourself, and learn to love yourself -- and then be able to share your love with others.
For more from Margaret Paul, Ph.D., click here.
For more on love and relationships, click here.