The Self-Love Myth
I used to confuse self-love with self-care. I thought it was about doing things for myself as little rewards, such as a massage, eating well, or buying myself something I wanted. But I’ve learned over the past few years that self-love isn’t about doing at all. It is about feeling. A few years ago when I was working with a one-to-one coaching client, I was again reminded of authentic self-love. She welcomed me to share her learning with you. My client is a very busy person with a wide circle of friends and family. She has had meaningful love relationships but most simply fizzle out, although she remains deeply connected in friendship. She just had a milestone birthday and came to me for coaching because she was feeling disappointed, fearful, anxious, and deeply alone. After a few coaching sessions, she showed up ready to come face-to-face with the knowledge that ultimately, our emotional life is a solo journey. And that it is actually quite perfect.
Do you remember the moment when Jerry Maguire professed to Dorothy, “I love you. You… you complete me”?
There is a reason why so many of us may have swooned when that line was said. It is because slowly, over time, we have bought into the myth that it is our destiny to find the one who completes us. And when we find that person, we will be freed from our feelings of sadness, grief, fear, shame, and anger. This is the myth that somewhere out there exists the right one who will be able to relieve us of discomfort and fill us with love.
Personal experience, and what I’ve observed with clients, has taught me that there comes a time when facing this myth becomes unavoidable. It either creeps in gently like a light Pacific coastal fog, nags us like a reoccurring backache, or charges in like a bull in a China shop. Most often the knowledge awakens us through a crisis or a milestone birthday. You’ve heard of midlife crisis? Or when we are considering taking the next big step in our career, we face what is known as imposter syndrome?
No matter what the cause of the crisis or awakening, when we are brave enough to acknowledge and feel it, the truth seeps into our consciousness and we realize self-love has always been there. It has never left us. It isn’t something to go get, nor is it something to do. If we use numbing strategies to resist feeling the fear, sadness, and loneliness that are triggered as the knowledge comes forth, the resistance manifests as anxiety and anger. Numbing comes in a multitude of forms: a shiny sports car, excessive working, overeating, alcohol, exercise, plastic surgery, serial relationships—you name it.
And we when we choose to stay small because we have the thought “What will others think if I do this?” or “Who am I to be ....” Or as one friend shared with me recently, “I passed up a big opportunity for a TV show that would have boosted my career, because I thought I was too fat.” Listening to all of those inner messages is seeking love externally instead of understanding that self-love is an endless resource that simply lives inside of us. External love is a limited resource with a really finicky life span.
We came into this life with the authentic knowledge that we are ultimately responsible for our emotional journey, but along the way we began to receive messages that convinced us otherwise. Our parents, siblings, friends, media, literature, and more hinted or sometimes yelled, “You will find your soul mate.” And the undertone was, and then you will no longer be responsible for loving yourself. We began seeking the perfect business partner, the perfect spouse, the perfect best friend, the perfect therapist, the perfect house, the perfect diet, and the perfect career to fulfill us and spare us our feelings. At first it does the trick but as time passes, our deepest emotional triggers become amplified as it again becomes clear that we alone can feel our feelings.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t benefit from wonderful partners, lovers, family, careers, exercise, possessions, and friends. People can be empathetic, concerned, laugh with us, calm us down, and even attempt to distract us from our feelings, but no one else can actually feel for us. Think back to a time when you were deep in anger or sadness and someone tried to cajole you out of it or make you feel better. Perhaps it deepened your emotion. This is because inside you know it is only a myth that they can take the challenging emotions away. And that makes you mad.
My client told me about all the daily affirmations she says about her worth, her value, her lovability. She shared all the things she does to give herself love like exercise, music, and yoga. And yet, even in a meaningful and deep relationship, she frequently feels hollow, empty, and fearful of her aloneness. Why? Because self-love isn’t something you get externally or even something you give. It is something you feel. And the more you try to generate it externally, the more deeply you become disappointed.
Our recent work centered on getting in touch with the true essence of connection and love, the spark of love that already exists within her heart space. As a little girl, it was a great flame of passion, love, confidence, playfulness, and peacefulness, however now, at this milestone birthday, it was a mere flicker dampened by years of expectations, manufactured goals, shoulds, disappointment, and fear of emotional aloneness. Through visualization, she grew the tiny flicker of self-love into the original roaring flame filling her with authentic feelings of love for herself. She allowed the tendrils of those flames to reach out and curl around those she loves like delicate, new sweet pea vines reaching for strongholds. She felt the connection, returning to the center of the flame and knowing that it originates inside her heart, not externally. My client experienced being fed from her center, the place created by God, or the Creator, or whatever your belief system calls source energy. That place of self-love is where we are never alone.
As we were ending our session she had a knock at her door. It was a neighbor who had borrowed an item from outside her garage. He had left a note, but it had blown away. When she had noticed the missing item earlier in the day, her reaction was that she had been violated and something had been taken away. As the neighbor stood there, returning the item, full of joy and appreciation, she said, “Oh my gosh! Something I thought was taken from me wasn’t. It was right here all along.” And we both laughed knowing that he showed up to neatly tie a bow around our learning about love and connectedness.
Self-love. It is never taken from us. It has always been here, all along.
To play with opening the door to your own self-love, simply lie quietly, fully relaxing your body and begin breathing in and out. Allowing your stomach to fully rise with the in breath and deeply exhale to fully empty your lungs.
Repeat slowly and rhythmically. Allow your muscles to really melt into whatever is holding you up: a couch, bed, floor, or chair.
When you feel total relaxation, look inside yourself for a flicker of light in your heart space. It could be any color or shape. Don’t question or judge what you see. Play with growing and expanding it on the in breath, much as you would add oxygen to a small spark to make it larger.
Feel the warmth and light reaching to fill your entire chest cavity. This is self-love.
As you feel it grow, imagine little flames rising and dancing. Think of someone you love (They can be alive, passed on, or maybe you don’t even know them yet. They can be in any geography, at any distance.) Reach out to them with one of the tiny flames and surround them with love. Connect the flame with the flame in their heart space. Feel that connection.
When you feel filled or are inspired to end, thank your self-love flame, and know it is always there and accessible with an in breath. Begin to feel your toes and your fingers. Become aware of the sounds around you. Gently open your eyes. And feel the resonance of self-love within you.