As human beings, one of our fundamentals needs is to be loved. Often though, we think that we must act a certain way in order to be worthy of love. I recently met a man who was afraid to show his “true self” because he did not think anyone would like him the way he was. So instead, he always acted from a fake personality; one in which he was always smiling and trying to act like he was always happy and having fun.
But when talking to man, who I shall refer to as “Mike”, he admitted that this was the way he felt he needed to act in order to be accepted. And many people live with this same issue: the belief that in order to be loved and accepted, they must “put on an act”. It may be an act of being “the perfect spouse”, “the best parent”, “the happiest friend”, or “the most spiritual member at church”. In all cases however, this act becomes exhausting and can lead to resentment, frustration, and anger.
Another thing that came out of our conversation with Mike was that he was estranged from his father, due to resentment that his father had left him early in life. He thought his father at the very least owed him some sort of an apology before having a chance of being let back into Mike’s life.
As the conversation progressed, I mentioned the fact that Mike’s father was not perfect, and it was OK that he was not perfect, because not being perfect is a part of being human. I also noted that Mike’s inability to accept his imperfect father mirrored his inability to accept his imperfect self. In more general terms: the extent to which a person cannot accept himself as being imperfect is the extent that he or she can accept another as being imperfect, and vice versa.
This also leads us into a greater generalization: the way that we treat others is the way that we treat ourselves. So if we are unable to fully and unconditionally love ourselves, we will not be able to unconditionally love others, including members of our own family. Therefore, it is vital to be able to learn to love ourselves to the greatest extent possible.
Exercises for cultivating self-love
- Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and take a few deep, relaxing breaths. Starting with your heart, energetically send it love and internally tell it that you love it and express gratitude for it being with you. Do this for your other organs (lungs, stomach/digestive system, kidneys) and for different parts of your body (head, arms, legs, etc.) Be sure to include any parts of your body that you wish were different or that you wish you could change to be healthier, more attractive, etc.
- Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and take a few deep, relaxing breaths. When you feel relaxed, go back in your memory and think about an experienced where you acted in a certain way that made you feel ashamed of yourself. When reliving the experience, note the negative emotions that you felt and energetically give yourself a deep loving hug while noting that you of course acted this way because you are only human. Try as best you can to fully accept yourself at that moment even though you acted the way you did. If necessary, internally tell yourself “I love you anyway”, “I will always love you no matter what”. Feel free to repeat this exercise anytime you experience a situation where you are hard on yourself and want to more fully accept yourself as you are.
Photo credit: Jess Foami