Loving Yourself Unconditionally— If Not Now, When?
Loving yourself? Many of us were taught some version of the Golden Rule such as “Love Your Neighbour as Yourself.” The question is… how well do we love ourselves?
As children, we all seek the love and approval of our parents. Unfortunately, all too often the love and approval we receive comes with strings attached. We are admonished not to be too loud and rambunctious, punished for not getting better grades, and compared to our siblings. Parents are often ill-trained in child-rearing and make the error of telling us “you’re a bad boy,” criticising who we are rather than the action itself.
Over time, we internalise the critical voices we heard while growing up, often becoming a much harsher critics of ourselves than of anyone else. Think about it… how often do you tell yourself something to the effect of: “That was so stupid of me!” or “You’re not good enough—who do you think you are?” Many of the things we say to ourselves we would never dare say to another person! And yet we dialog with ourselves day and night in these harmful ways.
When self-love is conditional, it is often attached to some kind of achievement. For instance: “When I’m successful in my business, then I’ll feel good about myself.” “When I’m thinner, then I’ll really love myself.” “If so-and-so loves me, then I must really be a worthwhile person.” We wait for these outer signs of success only to come up with new criteria once we’ve achieved one of those goals.
Webster’s Dictionary defines unconditional love as “affection with no limits or conditions; complete love.” What would it be like to love yourself right now, warts and all? What if loving yourself were not based on your having to achieve, perform or live up to any kind of expectation? What if it didn’t matter at all how you compared to anyone else? Wouldn’t that be a relief?
The truth is we are all unique beings, worthy of love just because. Just because we are here. Imagine looking at a group of babies and saying, “Yes, this one deserves love; but no, that one doesn’t.” It would be absurd to make that kind of assessment! And yet, we spend so much energy in comparing ourselves to others, wondering if we measure up enough to deserve love, success or the other “goodies” of life.
Instead of judging your achievements, your body, your face, or your life path…what if you could wholeheartedly accept all of yourself, including all the experiences you’ve had on your journey—the good, the bad and the in-between? You absolutely can…but it may take some practice.
If we haven’t had our great and unique value mirrored to us from early on in life, learning to love ourselves unconditionally needs to be practiced, just as anything else we want to learn. Here are some ideas for loving ourselves better.
Take time to listen deeply. On a daily or weekly basis, spend some time alone listening deeply to your true self—what does she or he really feel, think, want? Learn to distinguish all other internal voices from your own true voice. Try journaling about what you’ve discovered.
Learn to recognise the critical, unloving voices. We all have a whole array of “gremlins,” little voices inside us that mirror critical voices we’ve heard in our past. The more you can quickly spot them and dismiss their influence, the better. For instance, when you hear the voice that compares you to someone else, choose to recognise it as a gremlin and let it go. The more you can bring a sense of curiosity and lightness to this practice, the easier it will be.
Give yourself the loving care you’ve always wanted. Create practices that help you feel loved and cherished as you deserve to be. Perhaps a hot bath by candlelight with music and incense will feel wonderful to you. Or wearing your favourite clothes, or a hike to the top of the ridge with its clear, astounding view. Who knows? It’s only for you to decide what makes you feel good about you.
The mirror exercise
Every day look into your eyes in the mirror and tell yourself you love yourself unconditionally. Really connect with yourself through your eyes. It’s not a time to evaluate how you look or fix your hair. This is about really seeing into the depth of who you are and giving yourself the love and appreciation you deserve. Tell yourself what you appreciate about you. This can be a very deep and moving practice. You can also use the mirror to bring loving attention to other parts of your body. For example, if you are often critical about your belly or your thighs, choose to spend some time really looking at that part of you and bring some love and appreciation to it.
These practices can help you transform your relationship with yourself. What’s more, practicing self-love will teach you to be more compassionate and loving with all those around you. And until we truly love ourselves, loving our neighbour will be conditional at best.