“Your problem is you’re … too busy holding onto your unworthiness.” ~ Ram Dass
“Your task is not to seek for Love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” ~ Rumi
Most of us believe that to be truly loved by another, their love for us will be unconditional.
Unconditional love is a compassionate love that embraces and holds you in a person’s heart, regardless of your circumstances, appearance, conduct or beliefs. It is a love that is accepting and forgiving. It is kind. And often self-sacrificing.
A great example of this love is a client of mine, whose young son suffered a severe brain injury after a drink-driving incident (he was the driver) in which his best friend died. She cannot condone her son’s behaviour, and she is deeply saddened for him and the family of the person her son killed, but she still loves her son – not for who he was, but for all he’s ever been, including who he is now. She’s his carer, his therapist, his mum, his friend.
We all understand love like that. It’s a deep, true and abiding love. It’s the love most desired in our lives, whether from our family, friends or partners.
The one place we usually overlook when we go chasing love is the person looking back at us from the mirror each morning. And that’s because, for most of us, our love for ourselves is conditional:
“I’ll feel so much better about myself when I lose a bit more weight.”
“I hate my thighs. I can’t go on a beach holiday.”
“I can’t forgive myself for investing in that scheme. I’ve ruined our lives.”
“I’d like myself more if I could stop binge eating.”
“I’d be happier if I could just get a better job.”
“I don’t deserve that.”
“I’m so unfit. It’s disgusting.”
“I don’t have time for my own interests. There’s too much else to do.” (Said with sighs of resentment!)
Yep, that’s right. We’re often the worst offenders when it comes to loving and accepting ourselves.
Truth is, we are imperfect. And if we’re blessed to have a shining moment where EVERYTHING in our lives is magically wonderfully amazing to us and others, where we totally accept and adore ourselves, well, chances are that star will fade.
So, what are we to do?
No, I’m not going to have you recite positive affirmations while gazing lovingly at yourself! I’ve never found that particularly helpful, especially if you are suffering from low self-worth, anxiety or depression. Your mind will close down because you won’t believe yourself. Few of those positive words will get in and create the change you seek. You may end up feeling worse!
One of the most useful things you might start with is observing others. Go somewhere where there are lots of people; a food court at a shopping mall, a busy street, a hospital or school. Sit down somewhere comfortable and watch the world go by.
Here they are. Everyday people, just like you. Notice how few ‘perfect’ people go by. And what makes a person better or more perfect anyway? It’s almost impossible to judge a person’s life or state of mind just by their appearance.
We are what we are. And what we are is flawed.
Let’s look at some of those ‘perfect’ people…
That pretty girl is worried that her boyfriend is cheating on her, but she is doing well in school and has a terrific best friend..
The happy family who walked past are deep in debt, and the mother no longer talks to her sister, which causes her much pain, but they have a solid marriage and love their kids.
That well dressed wealthy-looking guy at the cafe has bleeding from his bowel, but he’s too afraid to go to the doctor. He has an incredibly successful career, and he’s looking forward to an overseas holiday. He drinks too much. He’s lonely and worries he may never find a partner to share his life.
See what I mean?
Look for the rhythms and stages of life. Babies, toddlers, school kids, teens, twenty-somethings, adults, families, middle-aged people, the elderly. Notice the activities and emotions you can relate to. Notice the love, and the friendship. Notice the laughing. Notice the busy-ness. Notice the loneliness. Notice the illness and the disability. Notice the stress and the sorrow.
Can you muster any compassion in your heart for these people? Can you see that, just like them, you too are connected to this flow of life?
If we’re lucky we’ll get to experience all of those stages of life in its glorious messy imperfection.
The more you watch the world, and see yourself as one tiny part of this wider global family, the easier it will become to be kind to yourself, realistic with yourself, and accepting of yourself.
Self love is an act of unconditional love. It arises from the awareness that we may all be individuals, but we are also all essentially the same, no matter what our gender, race or social status.
Life is one big humbling adventure. That adventure is made better, easier and kinder when we extend compassion and unconditional love to ourselves. You don’t need to be perfect to deserve your own love. Perfection is a myth. By practicing acceptance of ourselves, we find the love and compassion for ourselves will follow.
Desiderata, a prose poem of gentle wisdom, written by Max Erhmann in 1927, says it far better than I ever could: