Love thy­self

Prac­tis­ing self-love isn’t as easy as it sounds

Irish Independent - Health & Living - - WELLBEING -

LOUISE Hay, au­thor of the best-sell­ing You Can Heal Your Life, and founder of pub­lish­ing com­pany Hay House, died last month. She was 90 years old. As one of the most prom­i­nent figures in the self-devel­op­ment move­ment, Hay wrote dozens of books, and dis­pensed plenty of wis­dom, yet her phi­los­o­phy al­most al­ways came back to the trans­for­ma­tive power of self-love.

As she said her­self: “I found that there is only one thing that heals ev­ery prob­lem, and that is: to love your­self.”

Self-love is far from a rev­o­lu­tion­ary idea, es­pe­cially in the era of In­sta­gram mo­ti­va­tional max­ims and ‘be­cause you’re worth it’ ad­ver­tis­ing.

The pop­u­larised, com­mer­cialised ver­sion of self-love pro­motes long bub­ble baths and hot stone mas­sages, and sug­gests that lov­ing your­self is some­thing you can put on your to-do list, or an at­ti­tude you can em­brace while on hol­i­day.

Un­for­tu­nately it isn’t that easy. Rad­i­cal self­love isn’t just oc­ca­sional self-in­dul­gence. It’s a state-of-mind that can only be cul­ti­vated by deep, daily in­ner work.

We may tell our­selves that book­ing a monthly mas­sage is self-love, but it’s some­thing else en­tirely if it’s de­signed to coun­ter­act the ef­fects of push­ing the body too hard through over­work.

Like­wise, you can post the ‘if you can’t han­dle me at my worst...’ Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe quote to your Face­book page, but it be­comes more a state­ment than a state-of-mind if you con­tinue to hold on to self-doubt and self-judge­ment.

There is of­ten a vast gulf be­tween our in­ner lives and our outer ap­pear­ances when it comes to the prac­tice of self-love.

We may book spa breaks and treat our­selves to fancy things, but it’s worth ex­am­in­ing the in­ner con­flict that can arise when we in­dulge our­selves. Are you spoil­ing your­self be­cause it seems to be the right thing to do, or be­cause you truly be­lieve that you de­serve it?

Our in­ner speech, or self-talk, is one of the best in­di­ca­tors of our re­la­tion­ship with our­selves. Do you rep­ri­mand your­self when you make a mis­take, or when you’re be­hind sched­ule, or do you re­mind your­self that it’s only a slight set­back and you’ll get there in the end? Do you say ‘I need” and “I should” rather than “I can” and “I will”?

“Re­mem­ber, you have been crit­i­cis­ing your­self for years and it hasn’t worked,” wrote Hay in You Can Heal Your Life. “Try ap­prov­ing of your­self and see what hap­pens.”

It’s also worth ex­am­in­ing your core be­liefs about self-crit­i­cism. Do you be­lieve that you have to be your own tough taskmas­ter in or­der to get things done?

“I found in my re­search that the big­gest rea­son peo­ple aren’t more self-com­pas­sion­ate is that they are afraid they’ll be­come self-in­dul­gent,” says self-com­pas­sion re­searcher Dr. Kristin Neff.

“They be­lieve self-crit­i­cism is what keeps them in line. Most peo­ple have got­ten it wrong be­cause our cul­ture says be­ing hard on your­self is the way to be.”

Of course, we can be hard on our­selves in many more sub­tle, yet per­sis­tent, ways. When we truly prac­tise self-love, we have to ex­am­ine our ca­pac­ity for self-sab­o­tage.

Alan Watts be­lieved that the op­po­site of self-love is self-de­struc­tion. “Be­cause you won’t take the risk of lov­ing your­self prop­erly,” he wrote, “you will be com­pelled in­stead to de­stroy your­self ”.

The trou­ble is that, just like self-love, we don’t un­der­stand the com­plex­i­ties and nu­ances of self-sab­o­tage. Just as self-love isn’t as sim­ple as putting on a face mask and re­lax­ing in a bath­tub, self-sab­o­tage isn’t al­ways a foot-tothe-floor death in­stinct.

Self-sab­o­tage can man­i­fest as fear of fail­ure or fear of suc­cess, catas­trophis­ing, pro­cras­ti­nat­ing, quit­ting and re­fus­ing to for­give — both our­selves and oth­ers. It can also rear its head as a two-day hang­over or a week-long food binge.

You’ll no­tice that we are less likely to par­take in these be­hav­iours when we are pur­su­ing our pas­sions and liv­ing our most au­then­tic lives.

Hay ad­vised read­ers to “think thoughts that make you happy. Do things that make you feel good. Be with peo­ple who make you feel good. Eat things that make your body feel good. Go at a pace that makes you feel good.”

It’s not an ex­act def­i­ni­tion of self-love, but it comes close.

Re­mem­ber, rad­i­cal self-love isn’t a bumper sticker or a fridge mag­net say­ing. It’s a paradigm shift that is as chal­leng­ing as it is re­ward­ing.

We have to ex­am­ine the re­la­tion­ship we have both with our­selves and oth­ers, just as we have to look at the peo­ple, places and things that we sur­round our­selves with, and the choices, habits and vices that may be hold­ing us back.

When you “dare to love your­self as if you were a rain­bow with gold at both ends”, to quote the poet Aber­jhani, you also have to be will­ing to ask your­self some un­com­fort­able ques­tions.

Why do you feel like you don’t de­serve a healthy, lov­ing re­la­tion­ship? Why do you feel like you don’t de­serve suc­cess or hap­pi­ness? Why do you feel un­wor­thy?

“How do you be­gin to grow your self-es­teem?” asked Hay. “You start by recog­nis­ing that you de­serve to be loved. You de­serve to love your­self.”

Hay de­scribed self-love as a “seed that grows if you wa­ter it”. Yet it will only grow if it’s wa­tered ev­ery day.

Most peo­ple have got­ten it wrong be­cause our cul­ture says be­ing hard on your­self is the way

to be ...

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