Love Yourself: 5 Simple Ways to Start
Self-love is the absolute foundation for personal growth. You can attend all the classes, workshops, and retreats you can cram into your schedule and have a personal practice that would make a monk proud. However, if you don’t approach all that from a place of deep compassion for yourself and everything you experience, you’re not going to really change.
This concept is often dismissed, either overtly by society at large or covertly by a piece of internal conditioning, as incredibly narcissistic and selfish. But, the reality is that the more compassion you have for yourself the more you have to give to others. You can’t give what you don’t have.
It’s more than possible to be a generous and empathetic person who deeply loves themselves. Tibetan culture, for example, doesn’t have a concept of self-hate. When asked about his thoughts on self-hate, the Dalai Lama replied, “what’s that?” The concept had to be explained to him before he could comment further.
Internal dialogue like “I suck…” “I’m such a failure…” “If I wasn’t so lazy I’d…” is not a natural occurrence. It’s there because of Western cultural conditioning. It’s not inherent to our nature and it can be unlearned.
Most of us grew up with phrases like, “Shame on you,” or, “What’s wrong with you?” or “You should know better,” or, “If only you’d…” These phrases stung, but we were only children and we relied on our caregivers to survive. This was probably all we knew so we assumed it was normal.
As we grow up these painful patterns of speech became internalized. We relied on self-hating internal talk to get ourselves up in the morning, perform well in our societal tasks, fulfill our obligations, and “be better.”
When this conditioning is combined with the cultural emphasis on virtues like humility, willpower, productivity, and hard work, this abusive voice in our heads is suddenly turned into a virtue. Instead of the tendency naturally fading with time and experience, it becomes cultivated and magnified.
After enough time you can become convinced that if you don’t keep verbally abusing yourself, your life will fall apart. You might think that if you love yourself, you’ll eat nothing but twinkies, tell your boss what you really think of them, and will soon end up in a cardboard box on the street.
The reality is quite different. When you truly love yourself, you will do whatever you need to do to thrive. You’ll eat well and exercise because you love your body and want it to be healthy. You’ll respect your boss because you love yourself enough to provide for your material needs.
Any decision can be made out of fear or out of love. You can go to a job that you hate because you are afraid of living in a van down by the river. Or you can love yourself enough to go to a job that you hate in order to provide for yourself, who you love. It’s the same behavior, but with different motivations.
It can be difficult to cultivate self-love, especially since most of us have had self-hating conditioning since childhood. But here are 5 small but powerful tricks to get you started.
1- If you find yourself in negative self-talk, notice how much it hurts. Mentally say “ouch.” This will help sensitize you to the pain of self-hate that most of us have just gotten used to.
2- Refer to yourself internally with a term of endearment, ideally with a gentle tone. Just changing the thought from, “Go to the gym!” to, “Sweetheart, it’s time to go to the gym,” can make a big difference in how you relate to yourself.
3- Try loving yourself in thought and deed for just 1 week. If your life falls apart you can go back to hating yourself.
4- Find a love song for yourself and listen to it often. The sappier the better.
5- If in doubt, ask yourself “What is the most loving thing I can do for myself right now?”
It takes a lot to stop the cycle of self-hate and start developing self-love. Hurtful conditioning has been with us for a long time and has been reinforced every day of our lives. Be patient and recognize it may take a long time to master.
Love is the universal healing balm. Anger, trauma, sadness, fear, despair... all can be healed with enough love. It can seem like it’s easier to love others than to love ourselves, to give than to receive. However, the deep, authentic, compassionate love that can change the world must have roots within ourselves. Take a revolutionary step and love yourself. Everything starts at home.
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