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It's OK to Love Yourself, in Fact it's Essential

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I was reading an umpteen page article about the “metaphysics of specific disease conditions” where emotional patterns of thoughts are linked to various health issues. I was struck by just how many conditions are connected to being unable to appreciate oneself. Phrases such as “unable to give to self, self-criticism, invalidating the self, low self-esteem, losing a sense of self, longing to give to self, not loving oneself, feeling not good enough, not worthy of loving” were repeated endlessly in varied forms.

Being able to love and appreciate ourselves is probably one of the hardest lessons. Yet most of us spend very little time on it. It usually takes a wake up call such as a major health scare before we look at ourselves at all. Developing an appreciation for who we are takes an investment in our time and energy. What stops us from doing that?

Some of the resistance to loving ourselves is due to deep hurt from childhood causing such low self-esteem that it feels impossible to believe that we deserve to feel good about ourselves. Others accept that it’s a good idea in principle but cultural/parental beliefs make it feel awkward to appreciate themselves. These include “it’s wrong, selfish or arrogant to think well of myself”, “I mustn’t get too big for my boots” and “If I love myself, people won’t like me” etc

However, there may be a large section of people who just don’t get why it’s important at all. They take their well-being for granted and haven’t made the connection between validating themselves and happiness or self-appreciation and health. The problem is that there is a time lag between habitual self-neglect and when health issues emerge. It takes many years to develop. If a brick landed on our heads every time we put ourselves down we wouldn’t do it.

However, it’s never too late to stop the rot but we have to want to do it and make the effort. We all accept that it takes an investment of our time and energy to develop our children into happy and emotionally healthy adults. We invested our time and energy in anything we wanted to learn such as driving a car. The same again with any sports we wanted to improve at.

Many find gardening a joy but it takes constant commitment. Self-esteem isn’t an accident and, like a garden, needs attention to keep it healthy. In our garden of self-esteem we may need to do structural landscaping work first or fertilise the soil (clearing childhood issues) before what we plant can flourish. But for most we need to pull out weeds (negative thoughts) and plant things that make it look beautiful (positive thoughts). The plants need to be appropriate for that particular garden (thoughts that are right for us, not others). It needs watering and feeding regularly (love from us).

If we do a good job, happiness comes automatically. Other people’s comments about our garden are nice but their occasional love isn’t enough to sustain the garden for very long. We need to do it to bring us pleasure not them. If we tend our garden for someone else’s desires then we will get much less pleasure from it and maybe even resent it in time.

The constant attention we need to pay our garden of self-esteem comes in many forms. It pays to notice what signals we are sending to our mind and body about how much we value ourselves. If we invest our time on other people with little or no time for us, we send the signal to ourselves that we are low down or last in the list of important people.

If we are happy to cut others some slack but beat ourselves up when we are in similar situations then, once again, we have told ourselves that others are more deserving of compassion or love than we are.

If we constantly give in to the wishes of others and go against what we want, then we are saying that our own feelings don’t count and that, again, we’re not important.

In all of these examples our garden of self-esteem starts to look weedy, brown and shrivelled.

If you were asked to spend 30 minutes every day on you and what you want or to sit quietly and think loving thoughts about yourself, what excuses come straight into your mind for not doing it? “I haven’t got the time” or “I’m far too busy”?

Too busy doing what? List all those things that you feel need to be done and then understand that all of these things are now more important than you and your well-being. You, this incredible, precious human being capable of so much love and full of unique abilities are now less important than the things on your list. We just wouldn’t do that to a child, yet we are quite happy to do that to ourselves most of the time. It’s as if we have one rule for others and another rule for ourselves. I know of no one who, on their death bed, said that they wished they had spent more time doing housework.

We are all so concerned about what messages our actions send out to other people (I’m lazy, selfish etc) yet pay no attention to how our mind/body/spirit may interpret these same messages. I would argue that looking to the outside world, for approval, validation, acceptance and love is a recipe for disaster long-term. We have everything we need inside us but we are so afraid of contacting it for our own needs. Marianne Williamson had it right when she said “It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us”

We have an infinite capacity for love inside each and every one of us and while most of us are able to give at least some of it to our children, partners, dear friends and our animal companions, we seem unable to direct it at ourselves. Many of us view love as something that we get from others to fill a void in ourselves (I can’t feel loved until so-and-so does such-and-such). Is that fair on the other person? How can they be expected to it right anyway? We all instinctively know that happiness and contentment is crucial to making life feel worthwhile so why should we be looking to offload this responsibility onto other people for them to do it for us?

So, have a think about what your garden would look like if it reflected how much time and appreciation you have for yourself. Perhaps, while you are watering your parched flower bed with a hose or watering can, find just one of your qualities that you feel proud of and allow that appreciation to sprinkle down over you and into you. Why leave it to the world to appreciate how magnificent and incredible you are?


© Phil Grant unless otherwise attributed