One of my favorite writers is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. In his book, “Teachings on Love,” he has a chapter on self love. I have read and re-read the chapter several times. I repeat to myself his love meditation on ourselves: “Until we are able to love and take care of ourselves, we cannot be of much help to others.”
I think of this often. Despite 60 years of living and having experienced many successes, I still find it hard to experience self love. Given my family history, I should not be surprised. I do not think any of the people I grew up with — mother, father, grandfather — ever achieved self love. And my story is hardly unique! When people speak honestly, as they often do in my role as a clinical psychologist and as an executive coach, they admit not only that they struggle experiencing self love, but they often tell me that were not raised in a family of people who loved themselves.
What is self love anyway? Sure I feel good about myself when things are going well, but as soon as I make a mistake or am criticized, I turn angry at myself. I feel shame, which I think may be the opposite of self love.
Maybe self love is not a given. Maybe it is not something we are born with or even raised with. Like many important things in life, self love can only be achieved through hard work, practice, persistence, and endurance.
Here’s part of my own discipline in developing self love. Specifically:
1. I try not to react with anger to other people when they are angry at me.
2. I keep track in a notebook of nice things people say to me about me.
3. In the same notebook, I write down the daily abundances in my life.
4. I practice ways to know myself better, through meditation, reflective writing, meaningful conversation and every once in a while, psychotherapy. I believe self love grows through self knowledge. To paraphrase an old song, “to know, know know me, is to love, love, love me.”
So what do you think? Is self love a given—either you have it or you don’t—or is it a competency which needs to be developed and practiced?
If so, how do you practice learning to love yourself?
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