“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection” – Buddha.
I once believed that the act of self-love was just the same as narcissism. I have come to understand the difference. And I can clearly see now that they are nowhere near the same. I think most of us know that narcissism manifests from arrogance. It usually stems from envy and then in turn encourages others to feel envious. Narcissists have grabby hands and want to pull others down in an effort to feel superior. Self-love, on the other hand, is way more personal. It does not involve others. Pure self-love encourages positive self-esteem but still this is very different from a narcissistic attitude. Self-esteem illuminates humility and accepts equality. It leads to the perception that all humans are of equal value. That nobody is superior or inferior (Firestone, 2012).
I once believed that proving your worth was more important than loving one’s self. That somehow quantifying my perceived value and using that as motivation to better myself was acceptable. But what standards was I striving for? Honestly. Every. Single. Day. I catch myself in this trap. Who makes these standards? I suppose our society as a collective does. It’s a communal effort we have all been a part of. As children we grow up learning the values, morals, and standards within our social circles. So nobody is really to blame. And we grow up either feeling good about meeting these standards (For example: big house, fancy car, important job, body thinner and firmer than a two-by-four) or they can be so unrealistically attainable for the average person that our self-esteems are crushed making us feel small and unworthy (Firestone, 2012).
“Feeling good about yourself as a person and acceptable for who you are allows you to move through your life with a sense of purpose [and meaning]. The acknowledgment that our physical selves all share the same fate (one day merely a container of organic matter), that our time on earth is fleeting; we accept that reality which gives each action more weight, each moment more poignancy”(Firestone, 2012). Radical acceptance of ourselves and our fellow human beings just as we are – that is self love in its purest form.
My struggle with self-love is real. It happens every day. Some days are worse than others. But this is not new to me. Growing up I was continually guided by my inner critic; callously harassed, judged, and bantered. I just assumed I was flawed. Never really measuring up to society’s or my inner critic’s standards. And of course my mind would continuously scan for proof of this. A walk through the playground as a young girl had all kinds of proof. ‘See she said your hair is frizzy, you must be flawed,’ my critic would say. So then I would try everything I could to smooth down my frizzy curls before school the next day. But it never stopped, something else would come up as substandard in comparison to ‘the rest of society’ which lead to a driving force of fervently trying to do better, trying to fit in, to be accepted by others. Always seeking approval from the strong inner critic. I tried desperately to avoid the pain from lack of self-love but in reality kept creating more of it; the wounds only grew deeper. Becoming addicted to the need to feel accepted. The constant seeking of approval continued to grow even throughout my adult years.
What I didn’t really figure out until recently is that we have a choice to stop comparing, to stop listening to the inner critic, to stop the shaming of ourselves. A choice to accept ourselves and life just as it is. When we take responsibility and ownership; “when we practice radical acceptance, we begin with the fears and wounds of our own life and discover that our heart of compassion widens endlessly. In holding ourselves with compassion, we become free to love this living world” (p. 24,Tara Brach, 2004). And what a sweet breath of fresh air that freedom brings. We don’t ever need anyone’s permission to love who we are, just the way we are. We don’t need permission to accept where we are in life. We don’t need anyone else’s acceptance except our own. It’s not to say we don’t keep striving for our dreams if they will truly serve our dharma. But to prevent suffering it is important to let go of the attachments to the outcomes.
As the Dalai Lama once said, “The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as anger, attachment, fear and suspicion, while love and compassion and a sense of universal responsibility are the sources of peace and happiness.” And I often wonder if attachments cause fear, anger, suspicion, etc. Our grabby hands clinging on to something with white knuckles – perhaps our attachment to looking a certain way, or being with a certain person, our attachment to our jobs or the white picket fences – the minute these ‘things’ are pulled from our little finger tips we experience anger, fear, hatred, resentment, etc. and this is what truly causes suffering, not the physical act of letting go itself. “ Letting go of the various forms around us. Letting go of our obsession with ‘stuff’, with ‘looks’, with the ‘acheivements’ – we can get a glimpse of ‘the most important dimension of human existence: the sacred, the stillness, the formless, the devine”( Eckhart Tolle, 2006).
Last year at a retreat, we spent basically the entire weekend working on an intention, also known as a mantra, vow, or in yoga – a sankalpa. It took countless hours unfolding the layers to discover what our own personal intention would eventually look like, constantly questioning and searching deeper. On day one I thought I wanted to find more spark in my life, to stop living and feeling like a zombie. But that was just a superficial layer of wanting to feel more appreciated. Which was just a superficial layer of wanting to feel loved. And by day three as we worked all the way back to our childhood, past the ego, the senses, the conditioning, when those feelings of lack first started, what I discovered is that all I really needed was my own unconditional love. That the suffering I feel now was really from a lack of loving ME even as a child.
So my intention became to love myself unconditionally. And later my sankalpa became “I am loved unconditionally.” This took a long time of self-reflection, of turning inward, of listening to my hearts deepest yearning. And even a year later, I find my inner critic looking for ways to prove my higher self wrong. But with daily practices I am able to slowly break down the brick wall of defense. And as I am able to love myself easier, peace and equanimity are slowly beginning to settle in to my core. As my compassion grows for myself from an authentic place I have this deep sense of wanting to share. Because maybe the whole world could use just the same. More love, compassion, acceptance. I truly hope I can give back in this regard. To promote radical acceptance of self. To encourage seeing the beauty of our authentic being, just as it is. Even just in some small way, whether through teaching yoga, writing these blogs, or just saying outloud – “Me too!
So to you my dear friend’s – choose love. Even when it feels impossible. Don’t hold yourself hostage; give yourself permission to live whole-heartedly in love with yourself. This you deserve. “Know that you do not need to effort to be loved or accepted for anything other than what you are. You are allowed to feel; you are allowed to BE as you so simply, perfectly are” (Sarah Blondin).
Thanks for reading, much love!