Does the idea of loving yourself feel confusing, challenging, dangerous – or even impossible?
Today I want to share what to do if self-love is hard, and give you some practical steps you can take to start to reconnect to yourself.
For many of us, accessing our inner Lover PowerType can feel like a real challenge.
Maybe your parents were filled with their own self-loathing and couldn’t model what self-care or self-love looked like.
Maybe you were bullied by others as a child and internalised the idea that you were the failure they said you were.
Maybe it was something worse, that left deep scars.
Or maybe you’re stuck in Martyr, and loving yourself, or taking care of yourself, feels indulgent when there is so much to do, and other people to take care of.
Whatever the reason, we can feel so much resistance to letting go of the learned self-loathing – and we don’t feel we deserve to feel better anyway.
The secret is, the self-loathing patterns that we are holding onto so tightly were built for a reason: protection.
And so to start the journey of letting go, and letting in love, we have to learn to trust that we are no longer in need of that protection. The good news is that there are some steps we can take that will help to build that trust and open up to letting in self-love.
Step One: Prioritise Yourself
The first step is to acknowledge that you are resistant to prioritising yourself and your needs, and that you would like to change this. This might seem obvious, and yet it is one of the hardest things to do. For someone who has a lifetime, decades often, of an armour that has built tight around themselves, an armour that was built for survival, the concept of unlocking that armour is terrifying.
You will probably have hidden the existence of this armour of self-hatred in a cloak of self-deprecating humour; or in being brash and curt, perhaps angry, attacking first; or being the quiet one in the corner, always smiling, always agreeable. It might be so much a part of you that you don’t notice it anymore; except the idea of prioritising yourself feels wrong.
Say out loud: I want to be able to prioritise my needs (whisper it, you’ll be starting to put yourself first already).
Step Two: Build Your Self-Care Rituals
By explicitly acknowledging to yourself that you want to change, you will have put your amygdala on high alert. Change is uncomfortable, and change that requires letting go of that which we believe has protected us from further harm feels dangerous. Therefore, step two is about calming the parasympathetic nervous system, and reducing the alarm bells that are ringing loud.
There are many, many ways to do this, and you will find what works best for you by experimenting with different methods.
You may already have developed your go-to soothers for those times you’ve felt under attack in the past; this step avoids those which indulge your self-loathing (eg. eating or drinking to excess, cutting, over-working or exercising) and instead emphasises those that start to build self-care.
Here are some ideas:
• Long, soapy baths – maybe add some Epsom salts, or essential oils and candlelight
• Yoga, or other body calming exercise (if you have a history of trauma, be careful with exercises that focus on the pelvic area)
• Getting out in nature
• Doing some craft work, or art
And the simplest is breathing, deep and long, connecting into all of your five senses, grounding yourself into the Now.
You may want to stay within this step for a while, until your self-care muscle is sufficiently strong, so that you know you can self-rescue if you ever need (whisper it, you’ll be starting to trust yourself).
Step Three: Begin to Heal Yourself
It’s a myth that once broken we will forever be broken. That is simply not true, although it is a very powerful myth that can keep us trapped in Victim and unable to access Lover for a very long time.
When we start to explore inside ourselves with curiosity and no judgement (tip, practicing meditation in step two will help tremendously with this), we start to see clearly that what happened in the past to trap us in the self-loathing armour was not our fault.
You were not to blame
The process of this exploration will be different for us all, and for some it might involve accessing the support of a counsellor or coach. Or, you might choose to work on your healing yourself.
Regardless of how we process the unravellings of the layers of armour, peeling layer after layer, we must recognise that this can mimic the trauma, and so feel traumatic and re-traumatising: it is not then that caused the hurt; it is now that is processing the hurt and enabling the hurt to be let go. (This is why we practice step two for as long as it takes to develop trust for self-rescue and don’t dive straight into healing).
If you are working on healing yourself, journaling is a super-simple practice that I recommend to my clients that you can do for yourself.
In the One of many world you might have heard of Morning Pages; this comes from Julia Cameron’s seminal work, ‘The Artist’s Way’, and is a way of connecting with the unconscious to re-engage the creative spirit.
Journaling, or writing down your thoughts and feelings about the things that are hurting you, bothering you, or causing triggers for you, has been proven to help heal.
Dr James Pennebaker at the University of Texas demonstrated that just writing for thirty minutes about something that was causing shame could have positive health benefits even six months later.
‘Opening Up by Writing it Down’, written by Dr Pennebaker with Dr Joshua Smyth has many exercises and examples to help guide you through this process.
You’ll find that regularly accessing your Mother PowerType to soothe your inner hurt part will also be of great value to you in your healing journey (whisper it, your healing has already started).
Step Four: Grieve For The Lost You
Oftentimes I observe that people are still holding onto the hurt of having lost the person they were before: the refrain of never being the same again is one I hear a lot. Yet, to enable us to love ourselves, as we are now, we have to let go of the person who we were.
We can honour that version of us who was hurt, acknowledge we loved them, and grieve for them. It is when we have grieved, that we are able to move on with our lives, loving ourselves fully.
When you have grieved the version of you that was hurt, and grieved the things you missed out on because of the hurt, grieved the different version of you that was lost, and the loss of all the versions of you that you might never now be, then you are really honouring all of who you are (whisper it, you are loving you).
Step Five: Love
Once you have moved through the grieving process, you’ll find that you are naturally embracing the whole you, the you that you love and accept, unconditionally. You have found self-love, and now you can Be Love.
PS. The myth that you can’t be loved until you love yourself is entirely false. Loving oneself feels out of reach to so many people; and yet, many, many people who don’t love themselves entirely do find love, and are very happily partnered. Don’t buy into the myths that exist to make us feel less than.
About Emily Jacob
The survivor coach, living her ReConnected Life.
Emily Jacob is a coach certified by the ICF, and a Master NLP Practitioner. She is an author, speaker, and founder of ReConnected Life, helping women to go from living a half-life, one day at a time, and living their full, whole lives again.
After overcoming PTSD, she still did not feel ‘whole’ and could not trust that she would not fall into the abyss again. Whilst learning the tools and techniques involved in neuro-linguistic programming she started to understand how to rebuild herself; and through her lightbulb moment of the critical importance of the mind-body connection, Emily knew she had found her formula for living whole after rape.
Through ReConnected Life Emily helps women all over the world in her supportive community, and through her online programmes and individual coaching. Her Taste of Recovery programme has been licenced by RSVP, and is helping to support survivors whilst they wait for counselling resource.
Emily is a graduate of Lead the Change, and a One of many certified coach. To find out more about the work Emily does, visit her site ReConnected Life, or book a no-obligation discovery call by clicking here.