“When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits—anything that kept me small. My judgment called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving,” ~Kim McMillen
I started learning about self-love a long time ago.
In fact, I started learning about self-love so long ago that when, fifteen years later, a shaman in Peru I told me that self-love was the answer to all my questions, I got really pissed off!
I had struggled with depression as a teenager. For about two years, I lived a very sad life. I don't even remember much to be honest. I felt the pain of existence. I avoided people. Every day felt like yet another obstacle to overcome. I existed rather than lived. Eventually, I overcame it and discovered some tools that I still use to help me with any low moments l might have today. One of them was the practice of self-love.
I found a few helpful books on meditation, the Silva Method, visualization, and the famous book You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise Hay.
I wrote affirmations daily. I kept doing my mirror work. I started to be more appreciative and kinder to myself. I meditated regularly and gradually rebuilt myself. I thought I had nailed self-love. I thought I had really understood what self-love was.
I was wrong.
I was in my early thirties—single and not entirely thrilled about it. Not fulfilled in my corporate career. Living in a converted garage in London and wondering what to change in my life to feel happier.
When my friend asked me whether I would be up for travelling to Peru, I didn't think twice.
It felt like the right adventure at the right time.
We had a magical time for three weeks. We visited many ancient places, took part in spiritual ceremonies, met and worked with shamans, and visited some old communities living a modest life in the middle of the Andes. We experienced everything that Peru had to offer.
One day, my friend and I decided to go for a coca leaf reading. It was mainly out of curiosity but as with previous past readings, I wanted to be reassured that my life was going to change and that I would soon be in a better place.
Now I know better than to turn to a psychic to ease my anxiety. Once during a reading a psychic told me that there are a few future possibilities for us, based on our choices. So, I started to trust my choices more and become comfortable with uncertainty, as there is always a solution to our problems. I also trust that whatever I experience I’m having is for my highest good and the exact lesson I now need.
Back to my story: So, we went to a back room of a very run down massage place that we’d come across a few days earlier.
The shaman came and set himself up. He couldn't speak English and had a Dutch translator.
My friend went first and asked her questions and got guidance.
When it was my turn, I started to ask the usual questions: When will I meet the love of my life? When will I find a better job? What job would it be? When will I find a better flat? When will I start earning more money?
After I asked the first question, the shaman stirred the leaves in his palms and threw them up. When they fell, he looked at them and said to me, “When you start loving yourself.”
Fair enough, I thought to myself, and asked another question.
The shaman threw the leaves again, contemplated a little, and gave me the same answer, “When you start loving yourself more.”
I thought “okay” and agreed silently with him. I still felt I could love myself more.
I asked another question and got the same answer. And another question and got the same answer.
Doubts began to appear and I started to feel a bit uneasy.
I felt like we were a bit naive going to a shaman we didn't know and that nobody had recommended him to us.
When I heard the same answer for the fifth time, I lost it.
I snapped at the translator, accusing the shaman of being fake and not knowing what he was doing.
The translator started to calm me down and tried to convince me that the shaman was very popular and he knew his stuff. Apparently, many people kept coming back to him because of his accurate readings.
Somehow it was hard to believe.
We completed the reading and left.
My friend tried to help me make sense of this experience but I completely dismissed it.
I was furious. Not even about the reading but the realization that I thought I had done so much work around self-love and was convinced I knew how to love and respect myself. But here a stranger was pointing out to me that there was yet more work to be done.
I remember asking my friend angrily, “How much work on self-love do I need to do to actually start loving myself? Is fifteen years not enough?”
I felt helpless and discouraged.
It felt like all the work I had done on myself up until that moment in Peru had meant nothing.
I was frustrated because I assumed that after all the inner work I had done, I should have known better. I should have attracted higher quality men. I should have had a better job. I should have earned more money. I should have been happier.
My life had a few more lessons for me before I actually got what self-love really meant.
A few years later, I was even more frustrated in the new job—and still single after dozens of failed dates with men who didn’t even remotely fit the description of my dream man. Not much happier, I had a moment of realization when I was drying my hair.
It just hit me out of nowhere. I felt in my whole body what it was to love myself. I felt flooded with self-appreciation for no reason. I was overcome by kindness and compassion for myself.
In that moment, I saw how unloving I was toward myself. I realized that through my entire life I had been betraying and abandoning myself.
I completely understood what the shaman in Peru really meant!
Until I truly loved and honored myself, I wouldn't get a better job, find a loving man, or feel happier.
I wouldn't because I didn’t love myself enough to feel worthy of it all.
It took me a while to integrate my insights and realize how the love I had (or lack of it!) for myself was directly responsible for my unfulfilling love life, draining career, and overall unhappiness with life.
A few years later, I now have my own definition of self-love.
I believed for a long time that self-love was merely a feeling toward myself.
Now I know better. It is way more than just a feeling.
For me, self-love is a practice. It is a practice of choosing myself, putting myself first when I can, making myself important, and being kind and compassionate with myself. Also, self-love is about choosing things, people, and situations that are good for me, feel right, and serve me.
Self-love is an on-going conscious choice!
When I started to practice consciously choosing myself over others, over damaging situations, over unfulfilling friendships and relationships, things changed dramatically.
To illustrate why you need to practice self-love, here are a few examples from my own life.
1. You will start to feel more in charge of your life.
I realized that I had always a choice. I could make poor choices out of fear, guilt, and shame or empowered choices that were aligned with who I was and what felt authentic to me. So, I stopped trying to please people, accommodating men unworthy of my attention, and doing things that didn’t bring me pleasure or satisfaction.
When you start loving yourself more, you too will realize your wants and needs are important, and you have the choice to honor them.
2. You will set stronger boundaries around dating and love.
As a result of honoring my needs, I started to feel more confident and assertive. I became more purposeful with dating. I stopped wasting time on the wrong guys and started making more empowered romantic choices. The final outcome: I found the love of my life after struggling in the love department for years.
When you strengthen your boundaries from a place of self-love, you too will feel more empowered and you’ll stop repeatedly choosing partners who aren’t good for you.
3. You will stop seeking approval.
This was the most liberating thing. As I loved and respected myself more, I stopped worrying about how much others liked or approved of me. I stopped doing things to be liked. This created space for me to be more authentic, less defensive, and more my genuine self.
When you have your own approval and acceptance, you start caring less about other people’s opinion of you and living a life that's aligned with your own values.
4. You will start to make more courageous and conscious decisions.
I gave up my draining corporate job out of respect to myself.
I moved out of London after fifteen years to have a slower and more peaceful lifestyle.
I fell in love again. (This takes lots of courage if you have been hurt over and over again!)
I got pregnant and had a natural birth. I had no clue how this happened, as I formerly had broadcasted everywhere that if I ever got pregnant, I would be the first to ask for an epidural. But I listened to my body and having an epidural didn’t feel right.
I became a mama to my son. This is probably the bravest thing I have ever done in my life, since I love my freedom so much. But the love for my son helps me forget how important my freedom was to me before.
Self-love will give you the courage to get rid of things that don’t serve you and make space for things that will help you grow. When you truly value yourself, you make decisions that honor you rather than harm you.
5. You will start to enjoy being with yourself.
I stopped filling my days with meetings, dates, and outings, as I did in the past just so I wouldn’t feel alone. I stopped running away from myself into the arms of unsuitable men. I stopped meeting friends just to have some company.
Instead, I started to do more things I loved doing: swimming, yoga, writing, watching movies, meditating. When I reconnected with myself deeply, spending time in my own company didn’t feel scary anymore. I stopped being afraid of being alone.
You too will find that when you become more loving toward yourself, you will start being more comfortable being in your own lovely company.
6. You will develop a stronger relationship with yourself.
As I spent more time with myself I deepened the connection I had with myself. I stopped being desperate for a romantic relationship because I started to have more fun on my own. I became my own friend. I started to feel more secure as a person as I tapped into my true inner being. I started to believe in myself more. I started to trust myself more.
When you deepen your connection with yourself through self-love, you’ll connect on a deeper level with others too. As your relationship with yourself improves, your others get stronger as well.
7. You will stop seeking happiness in relationships.
Loving myself helped me realize that I didn’t need a man to be happy. All the love I needed to be happy was within me already. I took more responsibility for my personal happiness and stopped giving my power away to men.
I understood that happiness was constantly present in my life. It wasn’t somewhere in the future. I just needed to change my focus and learn to appreciate what I had rather than dwelling on what I didn’t have.
When you start to love yourself more and feel happier, you too will likely feel less desperate for a romantic relationship. You’ll realize you don’t need a partner to be happy. You just need to be happy and the right person will show up in time.
So how do you start loving yourself more? Start choosing yourself daily and doing what feels right for you.
Introduce a daily practice of checking in with yourself every time you need to make a decision or a choice.
First you ask yourself: What would feel loving in this situation?
Once you have the answer, ask yourself these thee powerful questions:
Does it feel good/right for me?
Will it serve me?
Will it make me feel energized?
These questions will help you honor yourself and your needs and stay true and loving to yourself.
There is much more I want to say on this subject, but I will leave it for another article.
Let me just say this: Self-love will transform your life—so start practicing!