“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love & affection.” ~Buddha
Someone asked me a couple of years ago out of ten, how much did I love myself? I said four. I had to give my immediate, intuitive answer, as this was the honest truth.
Four! That came as a shock to me. It’s low. I thought I was pretty good with myself. I’m smart, multitalented, not bad looking, generally happy, I have lots of friends and enjoy life.
But now the truth began to shine. With introspection I could see why the answer was four. My thoughts, feelings, words, and actions showed how I really felt. What I thought was self-love was largely a superficial gloss on the surface of my life.
What’s more, this lack of self-love was playing out in my life and keeping me from experiencing real joy and freedom.
My strict Indian upbringing had me believe that my job was to conform to other people’s rules, from how I dressed and socialized down to whom I would marry. My true self had no place here; it was to be hidden away. But it never goes away; it’s always there waiting to be loved and accepted by us.
Below are some of the areas I was lacking in self-love, which perhaps you can relate to. Taking conscious action to increase our self-love in these areas can make life much more magical. And we deserve magic!
1. Set boundaries.
A good sign of how much you love yourself is how you let other people treat you.
Do they walk all over you?
Do you go to the ends of the earth to please them, at the detriment of yourself?
Do they speak or act unkindly to you, put you down, and trample on your dreams?
Do they put you at the bottom of their list?
Although I’ve experienced all of these things, people-pleasing was my big one. I always said yes to people for fear of upsetting them. As a result, I spent my precious time and energy in situations that I didn’t even want to be in.
Setting boundaries is often as simple as knowing when to say no. We worry that people will stop liking us if we do this. But I find that if you do it confidently and lovingly, those who care will respect you for it and even change their behavior with you. And those who do walk away, do you really want them there anyway?
2. Watch your self-talk.
I once read, “If you spoke to your friends the way you speak to yourself, would they still be your friends?” In my case they certainly wouldn’t, because I’d be saying things like:
You’re thirty-two and you still get pimples, your teeth are wonky, and you’re getting out of shape.
You’re not going to achieve your goals.
You don’t have a right to ask for what you want or speak your mind—keep quiet.
Other people are more important than you; their wishes should come first.
Imagine saying that to your friends! You’d never say it to them, so don’t say it to yourself.
With self-awareness and practice we can notice these thoughts in our minds and make a conscious decision to stop them or reverse them into positives.
3. Take time to “do you.”
There’s always someone who wants a piece of you—your boss, spouse, kids, friends, parents, siblings, the bank manager. Do you know who else wants and needs a piece of you? You!
When we truly love someone, we take time to nurture their well-being. How often do you do this for yourself?
I know life is busy, but I always make time to do things that make me feel looked after—exercise, time alone, a little pampering. Giving yourself permission to nurture yourself creates the beliefs that you are worthy and loved.
4. Be honest with yourself and others.
If someone’s dishonest with you, you don’t like it. Same goes for when you are dishonest with yourself—it hurts! Being honest in my eyes means that our words and actions reflect the truth of our heart and soul—in front of anyone and everyone.
For years I was dishonest with my family about who I really was.
I liked to party, drank alcohol, had relationships, and had no interest in getting an arranged marriage. This may seem normal to most, but these things were all frowned upon by my family. So although I did them, I also hid them.
This dishonesty seemed harmless until I realized that I was sending an unloving message to myself that who I really was, was wrong and shameful.
Being honest about my feelings is my biggest challenge, as it makes me feel vulnerable. But in vulnerability lies great power, so I try and speak my truth as often as possible.
The more you do it, the easier it becomes, and as long as you are not hurting anyone, expression from a place of honesty opens up so much space inside you. You feel free. You feel worthy. You feel loved.
5. Allow yourself to feel painful emotions, and nurture yourself through them.
For some reason we have learned to shun feelings of hurt, sadness, fear, depression, hopelessness, and so on, as if they are somehow wrong. When I was sad and hurt after a breakup, pride took the part of me that was sad and tried to shut it away.
I had little compassion or acceptance for my own feelings of rejection, hurt, and unworthiness. I tried to quickly move on from heartbreak, dealing with everything in my head rather than my heart. So this pain remained inside me, unloved and unhealed.
What if a small child were sad? We’d comfort them because we love them and want them to feel supported. They are fragile. But so are you. We are all fragile when in pain, so we must support ourselves, comfort ourselves, and love ourselves when we need it most.
6. Let yourself off the hook.
There’s no such thing as perfection, though you could say that you are perfect in your imperfection. Everyone makes mistakes or struggles at some things, it’s natural. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to get everything right.
So isn’t it funny that we berate ourselves—the opposite of love—for not meeting a standard that’s impossible to reach in the first place? There’s no winning there! The only way to win is to let yourself off the hook.
7. Watch who you spend time with.
They say you turn out like the five people you spend most time with.
Many years ago I remember being surrounded by people who had quite a negative outlook on life. We all go through dark times, but none of us want to get trapped in them.
I realized the most loving thing we can do to help ourselves out of a negative state is surround ourselves with positive energy. The goal isn’t to find people who are always positive—none of us are. It’s to spend time around people who are making a conscious effort to release negativity.
Your life is too precious. Love yourself enough to distance yourself from people who dim your light and find those who help you shine brighter.
8. Know who you really are.
Because when you find out who you really are, you won’t be able to help but love yourself.
Did you know that almost every element on Earth was formed at the heart of a star? So your body is made of stardust! Your soul is a pure and powerful energy. Your life, as you know it, is a unique expression in consciousness that will never exist again. You are a miracle. Who doesn’t love a miracle?
So if you were to ask me now, how much do I love myself? I’d say six or seven. I’ve still got work to do, and decades of conditioning to be dissolved. But life is a journey. Few things come to us instantly, especially this sort of transformation.
Learning to love ourselves may be our life’s work. And true joy comes from the realization that not only do you deserve love, you are love.