One of my greatest challenges in helping my clients love themselves is helping them to distinguish the difference between selfishness and self-love. In discussing self-love with clients they are deeply afraid of setting boundaries or simply saying ‘no’ (ways of honoring the self) for fear they will be seen as being selfish. I know that as a girl I was taught not to be selfish. Selfish was the worst thing I could possibly be. At an unconscious level, I believe that the deeper message was, “be willing to give freely or risk being unloved”. “Be NICE or you won’t be loved” Being “self-less” or serving at the detriment of herself is supposedly a woman’s only path to being loved and approved of. …And who doesn’t want love and approval?
In our culture of duality we learn that there is a winner and a loser. We either give or we receive. It’s black and white with no grey. Due to our early programming about selfishness it turns into a lose/lose scenario riddled with beliefs of “I must say yes and if I dare say ‘no’ I must have a very, very good reason.” And if for any reason we do say ‘no’ then that leads to overwhelming guilt. And guilt feels awful! Enough of this, then we find that we say ‘yes’ to others just to avoid the guilt of saying ‘no’.
Finally our choice becomes I either say ‘yes’ when I really want to say ‘no’ and feel resentful and angry or say ‘no’ and feel guilty. There is no happiness or self-respect or self-love in this equation.
It comes down to our deep-seated need to be liked, loved and approved of that we feel that we must be available, ready and willing to say ‘yes’ to whatever demands come to us at any given moment. We have learned that the happiness of others’ depends primarily on us. This leads to putting ourselves on the bottom of our priority list. Everything else must be done then I will focus on me. We make sure the kids are happy then the spouse must be happy, the house must be clean and all of the laundry must be done or what will people think? And just like any other to-do list we never make it the bottom. We are the one that is neglected.
Let’s look at the definition of selfish:
Merriam Webster defines selfish as: 1 : concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others. 2 : arising from concern with one's own welfare or advantage in disregard of others <a selfish act>.
Note that both definitions include the words: ‘without regard for others’ and ‘in disregard of others’. These are key words.
Just as the safety rules on an airplane explain that we must put the oxygen mask on ourselves before we put it on the child next to us, because without our oxygen we are completely useless to the child. Not only will we die but likely the child will too. By regarding yourself first you are not disregarding the child, quite the opposite actually. If you survive so can the child
What is self-love? Self-love is self-acceptance. Self-love is knowing that you are worthy of all that is good. Self-love is liking who you are. Self-love is not comparing yourself to others. Self-love is knowing that you are Divine, created from unconditional love. Self-love is being compassionate to yourself. Self-love is being your own best friend and your greatest cheerleader. Self-love is giving to yourself what you would like to receive from others. Self-love is making your happiness your top priority.
When you do things that you don’t want to do such as staying in relationship that you don’t want to be in, not speaking your truth, helping a friend move when you had other plans, letting someone take advantage of you then you are sacrificing yourself. You are denying yourself your needs and wants.
Ask yourself, “What if I can love myself without disregarding others?” What would that look like?
“What if I can love others without disregarding myself?” What would that look like?
“What if I can love myself AND be loved by others?” What would that look like?
Just by asking these powerful questions your mind begins looking for the answers. This leads to your awareness of other possibilities.
Your self-love never has to come at the cost of others, in fact loving yourself contributes to the happiness and wellbeing of all of those around you.
Love begets love. Doing anything out of fear of not being loved or liked only begets fear. Doing anything out of obligation is not loving to you or the other individual.
Please feel free to share in the comments below how you love yourself or what is your greatest challenge in loving yourself?