“Self-love doesn’t come from fixing yourself. It comes from falling in love with the parts of yourself you’ve been trying to fix.” ~ Hannah Blum
WHAT IS SELF-LOVE?
For many years into my recovery I struggled immensely with self-love. I could maybe love the bright and shiny parts of myself, but my dark parts – my tortuous thoughts, my self-judgement and judgement of others, my temper and my rage, my despondency and my depressive tendencies – were impossible to love.
My shadow was associated with so much shame and I’d frequently fall into spirals of self-hatred instead of self-love, focusing only on what was ‘wrong’ with me.
We can spend so much time focusing on what’s wrong, what hasn’t changed, what hasn’t healed, what we haven’t achieved, that we forget how to love ourselves right now. We lose sight of who we are, and focus on who we want to become or who we think we should be. I’d work hard to ‘fix’ the parts of me I’d labelled as defective, or broken, and as a result, often felt like half a person.
In my mind, I wanted to exist only in light – I wanted my recovery to be from darkness to light and dance around forever in a bubble of euphoria. I didn’t understand that my journey was to be from darkness to wholeness. From hole to whole.
The more we love ourselves and consciously cultivate self-love, the more we are able to connect with ourselves and connect with others. And when we exist in a state of interconnectedness and reciprocity, we experience more flow, more ease, more peace.
Without this connection to self-love we can often feel lost, continually looking outside ourselves for love to fix us. But when we seek love from external sources, that hole inside us never gets filled. We create an endless game of cat and mouse, always chasing, seeking, always needy, relying on someone else or something else to make us feel good, make us feel loved, appreciated, valued.
So the more we work on loving ourselves, rather than working on ourselves, the more our hearts open and the more we’re able to release our neediness and expectation of others to make us happy. We can learn to do that for ourselves.
LOVING YOUR SHADOW
How and why do we have these dark parts? These pieces of ourselves we deem unlovable, undesirable and unworthy. And how can we start to love them?
Gabor Mate talks about the choice we have as children between attachment and authenticity.
Attachment is the emotional and physical dependence we have on our caregivers required for the regulation of our brain and nurturance of our emotional and physical needs. As humans we need to connect, belong, love and be loved so attachment is a non-negotiable necessity.
Authenticity is the capacity to know what we feel, be in touch with our bodies and deeply know our own truth. It’s the ability to express who we are and manifest who we are in all of our activities and relationships. Without this crucial connection to our bodies and our gut feelings we are not able to discern between what is dangerous and what nurtures us. So authenticity is another universal basic human need.
But as children we are often presented with a choice between the two – attachment vs. authenticity. If there’s an incompatibility between the two needs, ie if I’m authentic then my parents will reject me, then attachment will win over authenticity every time, as we need our parents’ or caregivers’ love and attention for our survival. So for a child, it’s not really a choice.
Through a child’s eyes and bodily experience, love and approval is the only goal, so in order to receive that love and approval, authenticity is often unconsciously sacrificed.
Self-love is therefore about embracing the shadow and bringing these dissociated parts back into our arms, healing ourselves into wholeness. Instead of ostracising these parts, we need to integrate them into our being with love.
If you’re feeling stuck, overwhelmed, confused at this prospect, it may be supportive to ask yourself: What if the parts I judge about myself actually helped me to survive?
WAYS TO CULTIVATE SELF-LOVE
Develop and intimate relationship with your needs & feelings
Treat your feelings and emotions as messengers
Pay attention to your inner dialogue
Appreciate and celebrate yourself often
Self-love is not something that happens quickly. It requires persistence, commitment, and the deep knowledge and acceptance that setbacks are inevitable. We will oscillate between love and despair, between acceptance and resistance, but know that this being human. Release the expectation of perfection, of a perfect, unwavering self-love, and see it more as a lighthouse, guiding you home again and again and again.
Hold space for your mistakes
Holding space for ourselves is to be fully present in our unfolding, without judgment or criticism. To know that big emotions and being triggered are all part of the human experience. To know that ‘mistakes’ are unavoidable, and making a mistake doesn’t equate to being a mistake.
Stay centred in the face of disapproval
CREATING SUPPORT FOR SELF-LOVE
Every human being is a uniquely intricate symphony, comprised of a unique and complex blend of notes. We all find what works for us, what nourishes us, what creates the spaciousness for self-love. My top 3 are:
This exquisite practise weaves its metamorphic magic in unimaginable, inconceivable ways. I’ve experienced energetic sensations and emotional revelations where there was pain and indecision, profound inspiration & direction where there was emptiness and stagnancy, and awe-inspiring expansion with floods of self-love where there was constriction and despair.
Olivia is passionate about all things healing. Having spent the last 12 years on a personal recovery journey from substance abuse and self-harming, she has a uniquely gentle and compassionate insight into this world.
She believes that connection with others and connection with ourselves is at the root of all healing and uses different modalities to explore this essential truth – 1:1 and group Breathwork, women’s healing circles, creative arts.