Self-love is one of the most important and fundamental requirements to having a fulfilling and gratifying life, and yet it’s the one that people seem to struggle with more than any other. There are a number of reasons that may be behind this, and each person develops their sense of self in a unique way, that is mostly out of their control.
From society and those around us, we often get a conflicted message. While it’s generally seen as a virtue (being “selfless”) to do for others, love others and nurture them, it’s often seen as a negative (“selfish”, “self-involved”, “narcissistic”, “arrogant”, “egotistical”, “egomaniac”, etc) to focus on yourself.
Many of us grow up in settings in which it’s clear we have a role in taking care of others, but do not feel truly seen for who we are. This may come in the form of taking care of younger or less-able siblings, or being a companion or confidante to a parent / caregiver. Taking care of, and doing for others can be very rewarding and gratifying. It’s also generally much easier to identify the needs and wants of others because we have perspective / distance, whereas it’s often hard for us to know our own needs and wants.
I work with so many incredible intelligent, talented, funny, and often charming individuals, who have never learned to value themselves. In some cases, it’s due to direct emotional abuse and denigration, but in many others the causes are much more nuanced.
One example of this is one in which the child is idealized and expected to perform at an exceptional level. Because it’s expected, there isn’t necessarily so much praise when they perform well, but when they do less than exceptionally, there is significant disappointment. This can lead to perfectionism, and adults who feel they never do well enough, even when they are at the top of their profession, earning a high income, and hitting all the concrete marks that people often see as signs of success.
Self-love is also essential to having a healthy and rewarding relationship. Many people who do not have a good sense of self-worth will look for relationships in the hope that their partners love and approval will make them feel good about themselves. Unfortunately, trying to get self-worth from another person, is like trying to fill a well with an eye dropper. We may feel good in the moment, but at the end of the day we are the same person we woke up with. What’s worse is the constant need for validation takes a terrible toll on the relationship. Instead of taking pleasure in one another, the relationship becomes subsumed with the need for validation. Co-dependent relationships often develop because both parties are looking for validation from the other, so instead of growing together, they spend all their time throwing the validation ball back and forth, often becoming angry and blaming the other when this impossible expectation isn’t fulfilled.
So how do we develop self-love?
Take care of yourself. This means eating healthy, exercising, sleeping enough, seeing medical providers as necessary, spending time with friends and family who are a positive influence on your life, relaxing enough and getting enough playtime. Relaxation and playtime may mean different things for different people. It might be reading a book, watching a movie, taking a walk, making art, going to a museum, redecorating, or taking your car engine apart, for example.
These things might not come naturally to you because you were never taught they were important. Do them anyway! If you can’t do everything perfectly, don’t beat yourself up about it. Part of self-love is to stop being so self-critical. The more you do these things, the more naturally you will integrate them into your life, and the better you will feel about yourself.
You might not know it yet, but you deserve to be taken care of.
To find out more about my services click here: Therapy for Feelings of Inadequacy