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How to Love Yourself

Through the conditioning we’ve received from the time we are born, we’ve been sold a lie. This deceit is reinforced through advertising and popular music and television shows and movies and social media and more. Nearly every aspect of our social world trains us to believe we need to be loved by someone else.

Much of our conditioning is based around the idea of being someone loveable. Men are taught to be strong protectors and providers, qualities they have been told will make someone love them. Women are taught to be pretty and nurturing, qualities they have been told will make someone love them. As we grow up, we realize men can be pretty and nurturing and women can be strong protectors and providers. But we still believe we need someone to love us to make us complete. Over and over, we’re told if we don’t have another person’s love showering upon us, we have failed at life. We desperately seek our soul mate – or anyone who can play that role – so we can feel whole.

When we succeed in making ourselves lovable and find ourselves in a relationship with someone who loves us, we discover it doesn’t fulfill us in the way we were taught it would. We find we are still longing, wanting something more.

If we are willing to look deeply, we discover what actually makes us feel alive is not when we are loved, but when we love. Even after this realization, our past conditioning still gets in the way. We flip the script and instead of working to be someone loveable, we now look for someone who is loveable. We create a scorecard in our mind and search for someone who measures up to our expectations. Given enough resources, we might find a person who meets our standards and is willing to be in a relationship with us. For a moment, we feel successful in finding someone who deserves our love. But even in this relationship, there is something off. We find we are still longing, still wanting something more.

Most people stop here and live a life of quiet misery. They made a bargain and they stick by it, exchanging feelings of deservedness and they call it love. We tell ourselves: “They are a strong and beautiful … or they are generous and kind, so they deserve my love.” We have a reason for giving love, and we are trapped by our reasonableness.

But once in a while, we meet someone who fully embodies love. They don’t parse it out like money; it is given freely to all. They exist in a sublime state of joy, free from seeking completion. They are happy and whole all by themselves. The secret is they love themselves. And because they truly love themselves, they can love others without reservation.

When we hear we need to love ourselves, we automatically apply the same formula we have been taught. We try to make ourselves loveable; we try to do what we think are all the right things. Because of our conditioning, we think we must be worthy of love. We hold out our love as a carrot on a stick, telling ourselves if we would only eat healthier, exercise more, earn more money, then we will love ourselves. This never works because love, real love, is unconditional.

So how do we love ourselves?

Love begins with total acceptance. This means acceptance no matter what we have done or are currently doing. It means dropping all forms of punishment against ourselves. We forgive ourselves for anything and everything. Period.

Love continues with nonjudgmental listening. This means hearing ourselves, both in mind and body. We don’t interrupt; we don’t analyze. We create the space to listen and hear whatever is being said or experienced. While listening, we do not need to understand the reasons behind what we are hearing. We don’t try to justify or minimize complaints. It is an invitation for the mind and body to express itself without restraint.

Love engenders respect. Through acceptance and listening, we begin to discover patterns of behavior. We learn what this mind-body complex has survived. We start to understand how strong, brave, adaptable and resilient we are. We recognize how we have always done the only thing we could have done given a set of conditions and our level of understanding at the time. We respect all the choices we have made.

Love develops into trust. With acceptance, listening, and respect, we start to finally honor our own needs. We begin to take care of ourselves, not as a reward or punishment, but simply because we exist. We do what is needed to bring about the highest level of functioning. We notice when we are treating ourselves and others badly because we are listening; we accept what is happening, and we respect ourselves enough to change. We do this without any thought of how it will make us feel in the future or what it looks like to others. We give ourselves what we need unconditionally.

As we discover and implement self-love, we make the transition from seeing love as something one deserves or does not deserve to unconditional love. During this process, especially in the beginning, we may feel guilt when we take time to listen to ourselves and do what we need to do. Others may even call us selfish when we turn our focus inward.

The self-care which originates from self-love is not selfish. By taking care of ourselves, we actually alleviate a burden from society by no longer being weighed down by questions of self-worth. Instead of adding to the misery of the world, we create the space for love to be nurtured and shared. By practicing self-love, we walk through the world in peace. We come into alignment with all that is Divine and we are able to give selflessly, without thought of a reward or return on investment. From this space of inner balance, we allow others to discover unconditional love and their best selves.

With enough practice, loving ourselves becomes our new normal and we cannot imagine acting any other way. We notice when we are disrespectful towards ourselves, and we correct our internal behavior by listening to and acting upon our needs. In our relations with others, we find we will remove ourselves from any harmful situations without making excuses. We will stand up for ourselves with compassion and respect for all we encounter.

As we develop love for ourselves, we discover it overflows into every aspect of our life. The love we feel connects us, and we see ourselves in the eyes of every other being. We cannot help but give it away freely to all we encounter. We treat all we meet with the same love, respect, and trust we have for ourselves. In love, we are complete and whole.

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Published inBuddha Lessons / Mindfulness