If we were having coffee this weekend I’d ask you what your thoughts on self-love are.
Because love, like charity, begins at home and I’m curious as to whether you agree with this idea.
I don’t feel it’s possible to love others if we don’t love ourselves first.
And it took a long time for me to learn this important lesson. I always believed that a good person puts the needs of others first. To do otherwise was just plain selfish.
So, I focused on doing for others and often neglected myself. Who doesn’t love a martyr, right?
That’s not to say that we should shirk our obligations and always put ourselves first; that really would be selfish! But, we have a responsibility to take care of our own needs, as well.
Unfortunately, I didn’t understand this and wasn’t able to strike a healthy balance. Occasionally I’d become resentful of the people I sacrificed for when they didn’t seem “grateful enough.”
Eventually, I learned about codependence. This is a relationship where both parties are over dependent on each other. A codependent individual needs to be needed in order to feel okay about themselves.
Once I realized that I was engaging in this type of behavior I began the hard work to change.
Wants vs Needs
An important first step was to learn the difference between wants and needs. We tend to use these words interchangeably when they actually refer to very different things.
Wants are the things we wish for like tickets to a concert or a new car. They vary from person to person and change over time. These are the “extras” that make us happy but aren’t necessary to live a meaningful life.
The excitement we feel in attaining them is somewhat short-lived. As time goes by that initial thrill wanes and they’re replaced with a yearning for the next desire.
The American psychologist Abraham Maslow devised the Hierarchy of Needs. This five level pyramid begins at the bottom with the most basic needs and moves upward toward the final level that he calls self-actualization. It is here that honesty, independence, awareness, objectivity, creativity, and originality reside.
Maslow’s theory is that only a minority of people are able to self-actualize because it requires these more uncommon qualities.
Needs are those things we must have to live healthy, functional lives. Food, water, and shelter are the obvious physical ones. They remain constant over time. Emotional needs refer to those necessary for good mental health: self-esteem, approval, and a sense of security.
The ability to differentiate between the two is important in how we prioritize and make choices in everyday life. We’re also better equipped to recognize this ability, or a lack thereof, in other people.
Self-love is the act of valuing your own happiness and well-being. When we see ourselves as worthy of kindness and compassion, we more easily view others in the same way.
As an important component of self-esteem, it enables us to have confidence and a positive self-image.
Without it, we feel the need to constantly “measure up” to self-imposed and societal standards. If that doesn’t happen then we feel like failures, unworthy of respect for ourselves and others.
This challenge is based on the work of Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston. She tells us that self-love is our birthright, that we aren’t required to earn it, but we must believe in it in order to achieve our best selves.
That can be a tall task in today’s world. The race to be smarter, younger-looking, healthier, richer, thinner, etc. is overwhelming. We’re barraged with products and services that can “improve” and make us more successful.
To overcome this, I remind myself of this quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery:
Changing negative behaviors requires diligence and strength, but we must first be aware of the behavior. Once we identify these unfavorable attitudes towards ourselves we must remember that only through growth can we change.
We always have the opportunity for self-improvement; growth is ongoing as long as we want it and are willing to do the necessary work to achieve it.
Cultivating self-love requires attention and practice. This should be our focus and hopefully, the moments of negativity will dissipate. The goal is to replace it with a spirit of kindness and caring, not only for ourselves, but others as well!
Revised & reposted from 2017