How to find true (self) love
Today a client and I discussed the fact that she has a nearly life-long habit of dismissing her own feelings. The tendency to do this is quite common since as children we are constantly told when to smile, when to be polite, not to be upset about things that upset us, and for-heaven’s-sake to stop that crying! This conditioning causes many of us to lose touch with our true feelings and needs, as we spend our lives waiting for others to give us permission to feel a certain way.
Unfortunately, the act of dismissing our own feelings causes us to disrespect ourselves, ignore our inner truth, and abandon ourselves in times of emotional need. What’s worse is that other people can only treat us as well as we treat ourselves, so it sets us up for a double-whammy of emotional neglect.
Because of this, my new golden rule of personal growth and healing is:
Treat yourself as you would like
others to treat you!
It may sound strange at first, but doing this is actually a lot easier than you might imagine. The first step is to set aside all of the should’s and shouldn’ts that have been dictating your ideas of which feelings are acceptable and get in touch with how you really feel.
But what if you’ve been dismissing your feelings for so long that you’re no longer sure how you really feel?
In order to get back in touch with your feelings, start by listening to your body. Get still for a moment and focus on your bodily sensations. Where are you tight? Do you feel hot or cold? Are there any aches and pains? Is there more energy in one area of your body than in others? Just observe the physical sensations.
Then as you observe your bodily sensations, pay attention to any emotions that come up. You may not know exactly what they are at first, and that’s ok. Just try on a label and see how it feels. “I feel… excited.” “I feel… angry.” “I feel… sad.” Keep trying different labels until you find one that really resonates and feels like a fit.
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Your body will tell you when you are right
Another way to identify your feelings is to pay close attention to any thoughts, images, or fantasies that are running through your mind. Keep replaying a conversation or argument over and over, perhaps one that hasn’t even happened? Fantasizing about what you might say or do to put someone in their place?
I like to think that these fantasies and images are serving an important purpose – and that purpose is not necessarily to guide our actions, but rather, to give us important clues about how we’re feeling. Tune in and see what your thoughts and fantasies are trying to tell you about your emotions.
Once you’ve identified your feelings, you can explore them further by asking yourself “why?”
As you explore your emotional state, imagine splitting yourself into two halves – the vulnerable inner-child part, and the strong nurturing-parent part. Take some time to listen to your vulnerable self as if he or she is a person you care about deeply. And you should care about your inner self deeply –
after all he or she is you!
It’s important to reserve any judgment you might have about the feelings your vulnerable part is expressing. Instead of criticizing or telling yourself to “buck up”, let the strong nurturing part of yourself console and comfort the vulnerable part.
If you have trouble figuring out how to nurture your inner vulnerable part at first, simply ask yourself what you would want your mom, dad, romantic partner, or best friend to say to comfort you at this moment – and say THAT!
Many authors have talked about self-love and how it can change and heal your life. I agree wholeheartedly, but recognize that there isn’t much guidance out there on exactly how you are supposed to do it. In my experience, self-love isn’t about looking at yourself in the mirror and repeating the empty words “I love you” while trying to convince yourself that it’s true.
Just as in our relationships with other people, love isn’t something you say it’s something you do. The best way to love yourself is in the same ways you would want others to show their love to you. Be there for yourself when you are happy, or angry, or sad. Listen and comfort yourself when something is troubling you. Tell yourself all the magic words you long to hear…
“I’m sorry that you’re hurting right now.”
“That really stinks.”
“I will always love you no matter what.”
“I will never leave your side.”
“I care about you more than anything.”
“I believe in you.”
“I’ll never give up on you.”
[Insert your personal words of comfort here…]
Do this exercise often, and you will see radical changes in your life. The rest of the world can only treat you as well as you treat yourself. So, make it a point to treat yourself with the kindness, compassion, and love that you truly deserve.