The following piece is an excerpt from my book, “Word, From Your Mother,” a daily guidance journal written for my children, Liv and Pierce-Gabriel.
If you can’t love yourself, then you cannot love others. I’m sure you’ve heard this many times. What is self-love? How do we do love ourselves? I’m sure that most of us can articulate what it is not. For example, if you’re constantly beating up on yourself, putting yourself down, being hard on yourself, etc., that would be the opposite of respecting and loving yourself.
I believe we’re all guilty of doing this to some degree. How can you build up self-love? It starts with self-compassion. I never really thought about this concept until reading, The Power of Self-Compassion by Laurie Cameron. She references three ideas regarding self-compassion: Being mindful, recognizing common humanity, and being kind to oneself. She explains that being mindful is all about being present or being in the “now,” as I’ve commonly mentioned throughout this book. She goes further on to say that being mindful is about paying attention to yourself and your feelings, being non-judgmental, and living moment-to-moment. In other words, to avoid trying to “fix” things as they occur, especially if they’re not to your preferences.
She brought to mind one of my favorite poets Thich Nhat Hanh, who set the stage on mindfulness-awareness. You can look at mindfulness in several different ways. My philosophy is that I don’t want my “mind” to be “full”—of stuff. Quite frankly, I’d rather be “mind-less.” However, I don’t want to get mixed up in the literal or semantic sense of the words. In this excerpt, I’d like to think of mindfulness as being aware of or paying attention to something with a fair amount of concentration.
When things are not going your way, if you feel down, if you are anxious, the first thing to turn your attention to is what is. Recognize it. Be aware of your feelings at that moment. In other words, embrace it. Next, turn your attention to “common humanity.” This entails recognizing that you are not alone in what you are feeling or experiencing. Voice: “I’m not the only person to suffer in this way; I am not alone in this; we are all interconnected, this is not a separate experience.”
Finally, practice self-kindness. For example, how would you treat a friend if they were experiencing the same thing as you? Would you yell at them and tell them you’re sorry that their life stinks? No, you would try to soothe or validate their feelings. I like to think of how I’d respond to a child. If it were a little child or a baby under duress, we certainly wouldn’t act harshly. We’d respond with compassion and empathy.
Sometimes, when I’m super stressed and aim to be more compassionate to myself, I think of “little girl” me. I close my eyes and imagine that I’m holding her and hugging her. I usually picture this when something tragic has happened, like losing a pet or a relative. Often, traumatic experiences like these bring us back childhood memories of feeling abandoned or lonely due to loss.
Suppose I encounter an upsetting situation at work. In that case, I try to direct the kindness inward by asking the question, “What do I need right now to take good care of myself?” In Cameron’s words: How do you protect, provide, motivate yourself as a form of compassion? How do you meet your own needs with kindness towards yourself?
Isn’t it so much easier to express empathy towards others? I find that it is. It wasn’t until recently that I recognized how much I’d neglected myself. I think we all tend to be a bit hard on ourselves. That’s why it is essential to look upon ourselves with compassion. It’s not easy to face difficult situations. Still, it’s much easier to become aware of them, embrace them, forgive them, and love and support yourself in the process with gentleness. This is what self-love engenders.