“Love is the great miracle cure. Loving ourselves works miracles in our lives.” ~Louise L. Hay
When I first began painting twenty years ago, I had no idea what self-love was. A few years prior, I thought I knew, but when I lost my health to chronic illness and could no longer do the things I used to be able to do, I lost my ability to love myself. This and my illness caused a deep depression, so I chose creating art as a way to lift my spirits.
In order to create uplifting art, I first had to look at my life and see where it needed lifting. That meant that I had to look at my pain and identify its origins.
Sometimes it’s not the actual problems in life that cause us to suffer but the way we look at them. When we change our perspective, much of our suffering can diminish. So I would look at one problem in my life at a time, and then I would search my spiritual studies for advice, and paint it.
I continued with this process for about nine years, and then one day I made a discovery that would change my life forever.
I was drawing the image of a woman with words of encouragement all around her and then I suddenly realized that these words were messages of self-love. Then I realized that all of my paintings were messages of self-love.
I couldn’t see it before because I was focused on only one painting at a time. But now I could see that each painting was a reflection of my journey in search of self-love.
Even more amazing was that I could see that my creative process was teaching me how to love myself and it did this by giving me a setting and the reason to:
- Look inward
- Ask myself questions and listen for answers
- Seek new solutions
- Be kind and patient with myself
- Value my opinion
- Trust in my instincts
- Embrace my sensitivity
- Forgive my mistakes
- Give myself a voice and allow myself to speak
Now that I could understand what self-love was, at least within the boundaries of creating my art, I felt motivated to examine self-love further in order to incorporate it into all areas of my life.
So next, I looked at why I lost my self-love in the first place.
Before I lost my self-love, I had my health, I was going to the gym regularly, I had a wonderful husband and we did fun things together, I had a job, I was going to school, and I had friends. Everything was going well.
But when I lost everything (except my wonderful husband), my ego judged me as a failure and worthless, because its love was conditional. My life had to look a certain way before my ego allowed me to love myself. And then, when my ego became displeased, it activated the voice of my inner critic.
From the wreckage of my life, even my ego eventually gave up on me and in its silence, the gentle voice of my spirit could finally be heard. It guided me to paint art as a form of therapy. And within the quiet space of creating art, it became a spiritual experience that drew me closer to my spirit’s voice.
As I explored my thoughts about self-love and with the influence of Wayne Dyer's book entitled Sacred Self, I came to the conclusion that there are two kinds of self-love.
There is ego-based self-love and there is spirit-based self-love. The former cares about what the ego cares about—appearances, power, and survival. The latter cares about what the spirit cares about—healing, wholeness, and love.
Early on when I lost my ability to love myself, I saw how conditional ego-based self-love is. But now I was ready for unconditional self-love, which is a love that never abandons us.
Before I found true self-love (spirit-based self-love) I thought self-love was about pampering ourselves, for example: buying a new outfit, getting a manicure, or going on vacation in order to feel happy. Pampering is not a bad thing if we can afford it, but it does become self-sabotage if we can’t.
Pampering is more about distracting ourselves from our problems rather than dealing with our problems in order to solve or manage them.
Real self-love is not about anything you can buy; therefore, it is available to everyone. Real self-love is about healing, helping, supporting, and empowering ourselves. It’s about examining what we believe about life and ourselves, and then challenging those beliefs to see if they are truly beneficial to our health and happiness.
The goal of unconditional self-love is to live our best life with a sense of wholeness, health, peace, and empowerment. Empowerment enables us to change our lives for the better and to make the world a better place.
Before I found self-love, I use to be a lot more critical with myself. For example, I hated how sensitive I was, because my sensitivity caused me to experience depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. This sensitive nature made me feel stupid, worthless, and weak.
But when I began to love myself, I began to look at the positive side of my sensitivity—that it gave me the ability to understand things on a deeper level and to create meaningful art that touches the hearts of others.
Another area that self-love improved in my life was that it influenced me to make better relationship choices. My first marriage was emotionally abusive, and I stayed in it because I didn’t believe in myself. But as my self-worth grew, I was able to leave and find a wonderful love with my husband Jody.
For me, my biggest obstacle to self-love was just not knowing what it was. Now that I know what it is, I can realign myself with unconditional self-love just by catching myself and realizing that I have strayed away from its path.
Now I know that true self-love is about the relationship that we have with ourselves.
It’s about paying attention to what we need in all areas of our lives instead of ignoring, avoiding, or neglecting those needs.
And it’s about speaking to ourselves, treating ourselves, and seeing ourselves with kindness, forgiveness, fairness, encouragement, patience, and helpfulness.
True self-love is not about standing in front of ourselves as a judge that shames and condemns us. True self-love is about walking beside ourselves in harmony and as a true friend, supporting ourselves along life’s entire journey.
Artwork by the author, Rita Loyd