According to the Troggs, ‘love is all around’. So how come we’re not very good at loving ourselves, never mind loving ourselves more? As someone who’s experienced some of those ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ that Hamlet harped on about, I may now have a partial answer. Without getting too far into a forensic analysis that can only lead us up our own backside, I think there are probably at least two main reasons:
1 We think to love ourselves is to be selfish, but this is to misunderstand Jesus’ second great commandment:
“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
It’s taken me decades to understand those words. Unless we love and take care of ourselves first, we have no hope of loving and caring for others, at least not without feeling a great deal of resentment which will leak out of every pore.
2 We don’t understand how vital an activity it is. And I’m using vital in its original sense of being necessary for continued existence, rather than in its diluted sense of being merely important.
Lack of self-love leaks
All of this comes to the fore when I visit a friend the other weekend. We’re not Buddy-Buddy-Close, but she’s someone I care about and value. My life is richer for having her in it. We met and bonded on a training course five years ago, but this is the first time I’ve spent time with her on her own territory. We have a great time together as she shows me the local sights and introduces me to her circle of friends. But I notice something disturbing. She keeps saying how useless she is.
Very little could be further from the truth. Aged 50, she’s recreated her life, shedding five stone, an unfulfilling career, and an unhappy, unattached domestic environment. She now has a mornings-only job that pays so well that she can indulge her new twin passions of running and travelling. She’s also moved to an idyllic part of the country where she’s surrounded herself with like-minded friends. I suspect many of us would quite like to be that useless.
I’m drawn to curiosity like children to chocolate, so I feel compelled to ask her why she thinks she’s useless. She lists a litany of familiar failings, mainly to do with a lack of coordination, memory, and navigational awareness. They’re some of the classic symptoms of dyspraxia; that’s why they’re so familiar to me. I gently suggest to my friend that dyspraxia could be at the root of her ‘uselessness’. It’s not that I want her to adopt the label and use it as an excuse. Far from it: I believe that labels confine us, directing or attention to what we can’t do rather than what we can. I write about this more here.
Acceptance precedes love
My friend isn’t having any of it. She’d rather continue to berate herself for her perceived failings, to treat herself with a lack of self-compassion, self-understanding and self-love. I feel sad. This is a path I’ve trodden. I know what a relief it is to acknowledge and accept our genetic inheritance. But I also know that if people aren’t ready to change, there’s bugger all the rest of us can do. Self-acceptance comes before self-love. As psychologist Carl Rogers once observed:
‘The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change’.
So like the Walrus and the Carpenter, my friend and I ‘talk of other things’.
The episode stays with me though. It’s probably why I’m writing this blog post. It takes me back to one of the most memorable days when I’m training to be a coach. The course leader says:
‘The most important relationship we can ever have is the one we have with ourselves. And some of us don’t even realise that such a relationship exists’.
He goes on to describe a scene in which an overweight woman is standing in front of a mirror. The torrent of abuse is dreadful.
‘Just look at yourself. You disgust me. You repel me. Call yourself a human being? You don’t deserve the name. You can’t even regulate what goes in your mouth. And that’s the result staring you in the face.’
Self-dialogue is a measure of self-love
All of us on the course assume the woman is being abused by her partner; she isn’t. She’s talking to herself. This woman loves herself so little that this is how she talks to herself. Our course leader explains that the tone of voice in which we address ourselves is one of the clearest possible indicators of the quality of our relationship with ourselves.
Prompted by this example. I review my self-dialogue, I realise that my habitual tone to myself is harsh, hectoring and judgemental. Very similar to my friend’s that weekend in fact. It’s this experience that nudges me onto the path of self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-love. I can still stray off that path from time to time, but monitoring the tone in which I’m addressing myself is a sure-fire way of bringing myself back on track. As is the NLP presupposition that:
‘We’re all doing the best we can, given the choices we believe are available to us’.
Not forgetting its coda that:
‘There are usually lots of other choices of which we’re not aware’.
Remembering these small, simple things is key in our vital quest to love ourselves more. And loving ourselves more is key to blossoming into our potential.