Bridges to Self-Love

Many of us live with the presumption that being with another person or persons will bring us happiness or even solve all of our problems . There is a strong internal dialogue of  “I will be happy when I fall in love / when I get married /when I’m not alone.”  The fear of loneliness can lead to making sexual and romantic decisions that individuals may have otherwise chosen differently.

Here’s a children’s book written by Shel Silverstein called The Missing Piece (Video, Book, Sequel). It playfully addresses the ongoing search for something outside of oneself to complete oneself. The irony is the illusion of finding this piece is not always the answer.

Young author Chidera Eggerue, offers her thoughts in this video on Embracing aloneness.  She shares her perspective that it is common for individuals to use other people as a distraction from giving ourselves the time we need to get to truly get to know ourselves.  We allow social media to be a tool to gain validation. Many of us have been influenced by the cultural phenomena that having a partner will rid us of this searching. Chidera offers that even when you’re married you can feel alone. The longing is to be understood, deeply. She invites you to embrace yourself as an autonomous being. She makes a call to recognize the miracle of being alive in her words, I’m here… there are millions of cells in my body that are working to keep me here. I must honor that and make room for my existence.”

Gay Hendricks shares that, “Often we seek love to remedy a lack of love for ourselves.”

Giving ourselves love, we provide our inner being with the opportunity to have the unconditional love we may have always longed to receive from someone else. One of the best guides to how to be self-loving is to give ourselves the love we are often dreaming about receiving from others. Hendricks responds to this stumbling block with concision: “You can never love anybody if you are unable to love yourself.”
In addition, “Do not expect to receive the love from someone else you do not give yourself.”

Television writer and relationship author Tracy McMillan share in the following video about her experience of being married three times and then realizing the one she really needed to marry was herself. She came out of childhood with one goal: to never be left. In her 40’s she learned the one who was never going to leave her was herself.

She invites you to fully commit to yourself, with the intention of realizing you’re already whole, no circumstance waiting around the corner to complete you.  Here is her guide for the ceremony of committing to oneself.

  • You’re marrying yourself for richer or poorer (loving yourself right where you are)
  • Walk yourself down the aisle exactly as you are
  • For better or for worse: this includes the big life disappointments. You agree to stay with you no matter what.
  • In sickness and in health: you forgive yourself for your mistakes. You learn to sit by your own bedside and hold your own hand. You learn how to comfort and teach yourself you can count on yourself.

Beautiful Solitude (Soledad Hermosa)

You can utilize your living space as an opportunity to be self-loving. This practice may be especially helpful and empowering for single folks who are living alone. Bell Hooks writes about her process of getting rid of things she didn’t absolutely love. Then, each item she placed in her home she saw as enhancing her own well-being. She names her different homes, one being called “Soledad Hermosa” ( beautiful solitude).

She goes on to share that all of us long for community and that while it can enhance life’s joy, it can also be an escape from the fear of being alone. She offers that “knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving.”  With a well-practiced embrace of aloneness, we gain a greater ability to be with others without using them as a means of escape.

Theologian Henri Nouwen celebrated the value of solitude in many of his books, such as Reaching Out. He offers the distinction between seeing solitude as being about the need for privacy. He regards solitude as the place where we can look at ourselves with honesty and shed our false self. Loneliness is one of the most universal sources of human suffering in our time. He writes, “ the difficult road is the road of conversation from loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, and turn it into fruitful solitude…loneliness is painful; solitude is peaceful. Loneliness makes us cling to others in desperation; solitude allows us to respect others in their uniqueness and create community.” Whether you are single or partnered living alone or in community, embracing your solitude is one bridge toward finding more love for yourself.

Learning to Sit Inside Your Own Quietness

Yep, you guessed it! Here comes the part when a meditation practice is suggested as a tip for cultivating more love for yourself. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of being “a meditator” here is an invitation for you to set an attainable goal for being quiet with yourself for any amount of time.

Practice: Create Space

Try starting by setting a timer on your phone for 3 minutes and allowing yourself to simply be, with you. The important thing here is that whatever you are doing isn’t distracting you from being with yourself. Choose your own solitude-centered adventure, as long as it leads back to you.

Being with Oneself May look like: Distracted From self may look like:
taking a long bath ( phone free) Being alone in bed and mindlessly scrolling on social media
Going on a solo walk in nature Being alone, but constantly working
Sitting and looking at the ocean Engaging in video games in an unhealthy way

“I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.”- The Invitation, Oriah Mountaindreamer

Loving Yourself While In a Partnership

The flip side of the myth that “we will be happy once we have love” is that oftentimes relationships can feel even harder than being alone. Practicing loving yourself while in partnership is important both for our own health, and for the health of the relationship. Intimacy is a rich playing field to expose our deepest desires, vulnerabilities, and growth zones. It is by no means a walk in the park, and can simultaneously bring a sense of connection, companionship, and aliveness that so many of us desire.

The following video by The School of Life discusses the repercussions of self-hate on relationships.

If an individual is stuck in the paradigm of disliking themselves (whether they know this or not),  the love of another other person won’t be able to penetrate their armor. They will  unconsciously set out to repel this love because being open to it feels more foreign / misguided than making it stop. This can manifest in the self-hating individual making something wrong with the one who is loving them, sabotaging the relationship and moving away from the receiving line of love. Falling in love with someone who hates themselves more than they love themselves creates a mess for the beloved. It can be exhausting to give affection to someone who doesn’t know how to receive love.  The more we turn toward loving ourselves, the more available we are for the love of our partners

Practice: Relationship Perspective

If you are currently in  a romantic relationship, want to reflect on a past partnership, or would like to try an exercise exploring the dynamic you share with a good friend, give yourself a moment to feel into the ways in which it is:

  1. Hard to love yourself within your current romantic relationship
  2. Easy to love yourself within your current romantic relationship

For example :

“It’s hard to love myself when- I get angry and yell at my partner for silly things like the dishes, or deeper things like how she disciplines our child.”
Or, “It’s easy to love myself when I get in touch with my gratitude for the gifts my partner brings to my life.”

Take a breath and bring a sense of love toward the ways in which it is both easy and hard to love yourself within your current partnership. If you find it’s easy to name ways in which it is hard to love yourself, that does not mean you or your relationship is failing.

Check this out: the struggles you experience in your relationships are not only about the other person being wrong, bad, or not “right” for you.

Try on the idea that this relationship is an opportunity for you to heal, to grow, and to learn more about the aspects of yourself that are asking to be loved.

Some examples: 

  • Maybe being intimate in your relationship brings up insecurities about your body, and this can be an opportunity to cultivate more acceptance.
  • Your dynamic with your partner may be touching an attachment wound from childhood, that is seeking your attention.
  • Perhaps you suffer from needing to over-control your environment and your partner holds different values about cleanliness. Instead of criticizing them, it could be an opportunity for you to allow yourself to soften- and practice holding less control around your environment.
  • Maybe your partner wants to engage on an emotional level that asks you to be more vulnerable than you have ever been before. While you may have the inclination to run for the hills, this may be an opportunity to lean in to exposing parts of yourself you’ve kept hidden in previous relationships.
  • It could be that you hold an intense fear of being abandoned. When your partner doesn’t prioritize texting you back immediately, it elicits uncomfortable sensations in your body. Opposed to this being a sign to blame them, it could be a sign to offer yourself empathy.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, maybe you are more comfortable being ignored, than having someone show you affection.  Here you can acknowledge your need for space, without sabotaging the experience of creating a meaningful intimate relationship.

It’s important to note, taking the approach of seeing relationships as an opportunity to love certain parts of yourself does not mean to stay in a toxic or abusive relationship in the name of taking responsibility for your pain and or “healing”. Sometimes healing looks like leaving, and we honor that.

Inspired by the work of Gay Hendricks:

A lot of conflict escalates because it is hard to sit with uncomfortable emotions, thoughts, and stories that arise when we are in a relationship with another ( be it a committed partner, lover, family member, friend, boss, etc.) It’s hard to be uncomfortable.  It’s easy to project this discomfort onto the other person.

“They make me feel angry.”
“They are so reactive!”
“They make me feel crazy!”

While it may look like this other person is the problem, the root of the issue lies within yourself.
If you’re up for it, it could be time to learn to love the discomfort, claim it as your own, and return to loving yourself ( and the other person)  for exactly what is arising.  One pathway into tracking discomfort that is triggered by relationships is to get curious about the sensations themselves. Let’s take a moment to explore the discrepancy between pleasant/harmonious feelings and unpleasant/ disharmonious feelings.

Practice: Track Your Harmony

Bring to mind a time when you felt completely happy and at ease within yourself and those around you.

What were you doing?
Who were you with?
Allow yourself to notice what this feeling is like in your body.
What sensations accompany this harmonious memory?

In contrast, think of a time when you felt unpleasant feelings inside and felt out of harmony with yourself and those around you.

Where were you?
What were you doing?
What made it so hard ?
Take inventory of what is going on inside of your body. Aim to do so without an emotional response of wanting something different or something more.

Now that you have an imprint of what these two feelings are like inside your body, start to track them in your everyday life.

Challenge: For the next week bring a journal or piece of paper around with you. When you are aware of feeling in harmony/ at peace and caught in discomfort/ disharmony, take note of what is going on.  Make a note once an hour. If you can, note your feeling states every 15 minutes. Not who is around, what is being said ( or not said), and how this is informing the experience in your body.  Here is a list of feelings and sensations to support you in more specific tracking. You can also try a mood tracking app like this one.

Owning Your Feelings

Now that you have a record of the situations and people that trigger unpleasant feelings in you, let’s take the next step in. Though you may have noted several times that when relating to your boss you felt uncomfortable feelings in your body, these feelings are YOURS. Your boss is not causing your feelings.  A different kind of cause and effect could be at work.

For example, somewhere in your past you may have had a painful relationship with one of your family members.  Perhaps you experienced them as aggressive and demanding. When your boss makes a request for a document that you’ve been working on, you get triggered, whereas someone without this parental dynamic would not. You may be projecting your feelings of discomfort with your parent onto your boss.

Gay Hendricks shares:

“One way to think about it is to picture our past emotional hurts as being like a cocoon or energy field around us. When others are in that field, whatever they do looks like a threat to us, and we may be hyper vigilant to their actions. In addition, whenever others are in our field they may find themselves acting in certain ways that fit our preconceptions. The interlock between our emotional field and the people around us cause the feelings we have inside us. We must start by taking responsibility for all our feelings; then we can see more clearly the effect that [we allow others to] have on us.”

Check out the list you made and select the first person for whom you felt unpleasant feelings in your body while interacting with.

  1. Allow yourself to conjure up the feeling by picturing them and the scenario that triggered these feelings.
  2. Now simply sit with these feelings for a moment.
  3. Give yourself permission to feel it.
  4. Say to yourself “I love myself for feeling this way.”
  5. Do not try to alter your feelings by minimizing, analyzing, practicing compassion for yourself or other- for this moment- simply feel the discomfort in your body, and love yourself for feeling it.
  6. Love the unpleasant sensations as you would someone you really care for and love. Accept the imperfection as you would with a friend.
  7. Your feelings- pleasant and unpleasant- deserve this kind of love.
  8. As you bring this kind of open and loving care toward your feelings, notice what happens to the sensations- do they shift/ change/ stay the same?
  9. Be with them, keep breathing, and keep practicing loving them and yourself.
  10. If this feels helpful, continue to go through the list of people who triggered unpleasant emotions in you.

By learning to love the sensations and feelings, you will begin to take responsibility for them, taking the blame off the other person and allowing a possibility for softening to occur within yourself and the relationship.

Loving yourself through heartbreak

The undoing of relationships (whether romantic, platonic, or familial) can be a deep and painful process. Letting go and renegotiating terms of a relationship can be disorienting, pulling individuals away from their sense of who they are at their center. If you are grieving a relationship shift in your life, you may be asking big questions about your identity, your future, and your self-worth.  This time is a moment to remember that no matter what is happening on the external, you are loved. You can embrace yourself right now, with extra care and self-compassion.

Learning to Love Your Inner Child

Often, when we are experiencing painful separations from those we love, it can open wounds of abandonment from childhood. Many kinds of psychotherapy support the process of getting to know and loving the inner-child.

The following practice is crafted from the inpsiration of Gay Hendricks.

Practice: Getting to Know Your Inner Child

If it’s accessible to you :
– have a friend read the following steps aloud to you while you sit with your eyes closed (if this triggers overwhelming feelings for you, keep your eyes open)
– you can also read the steps out loud and record them to play back out loud. Many cell phones come with a recording application

Cultivating your safe-place

Imagine a time in your childhood when you felt completely safe and secure. Let the images bubble up and let yourself feel the pleasant feelings associated with this experience.
Maybe you are in nature. Maybe you’re with a loving family member or teacher. Maybe you’re playing your favorite sport or art form. If you are struggling to come up with a safe place, let your imagination do the work for you- what would this safe place feel like?

We will revisit this safe feeling and place again, so allow yourself to imprint this experience in your consciousness now.

Naming your inner child & requesting friendship

Take a moment to name your inner child: it can be your name, a nickname from childhood, or a new name that feels appropriate now. Once you have the name, allow yourself to visualize asking this little person to be your friend.

Share a dialogue with this person in your mind, saying in your own words, “Hello ( use their name), I’d like to be your friend. I’d like to get to know you. I’d like to love and honor my whole self more, and this includes you.  Would you like to be friends with me?”

If you get a no, pause here and allow this to inform your next steps. You can try ‘Embodying the Unpleasant Feelings’ below when ready.

There are many ways to support working through childhood pain and trauma. Some folks find psychotherapy helpful, others rely on reading and more internal work like journaling.

If you are feeling inspired to do this kind of exploration within a therapeutic relationship, Psychology Today is a great resource for finding a therapist in your area. In addition, Open Path is a collective that connects individuals with therapists all over the U.S. that offer therapy on a sliding scale of $30-$60.

Alas, back to your inner child. Below is an exercise to support you in making contact with them, once they/ you are ready for this reunion.

Exercise: Embodying the Unpleasant Feelings of your Little One

Pay attention to the details of your inner child.

What are they wearing?
What is their body posture?
How are they feeling right now?
How do they experience challenging emotions?
Which challenging feeling is most dominant for your inner little one?
Perhaps its anger, anxiety, or fear?
Choose the one that feels most dominant…

Allow yourself to feel the dominant feeling in your body now as an adult. Notice if it feels similar to how it did when you were a child. Where does it show up in your body right now? Be with these feelings long enough to truly explore them.

Once you have made contact with these feelings, return to your safe place and take a few clearing and deep breaths. Allow yourself to reside in comfort within your safe place. And remember this mantra for sinking into comfort:

Let it be easy.

Who Is In the Lead Here?

Think of the most challenging and stress-inducing interactions you have in your current life.
What relationships feel most difficult and trigger the most uncomfortable emotions in you?

Ask yourself honestly, who is in the lead here? Is it my inner child or my adult self reacting and responding to these challenging interactions?  Does my adult self disappear, leaving my inner child to interact with others?

Once you get your answer, return to your safe place for a few minutes.

Bringing your inner child to your safe place

Reconnect with your dominant Inner Child feeling. When you feel it strongly, let it melt down into the feelings you have in your safe place.

Let your safe place and secure feelings receive and hold your inner child completely. Let this peace embrace your inner child and envelop your current experience in your own body… take rest here.

Practice: Tending to Your Relationship with Your Inner Child

Taking them to their safe place.

You can check in with your little one when you are about to step into a high intensity situation in which they may need your help.
For example, if you are about to have a challenging conversation, go into an interview, present a performance, take an exam, meet with an employer, etc.

Before embarking on these moments in life, you can check in with your inner child and escort them to their safe place. This safe place may be the same one you discovered in the exercise above or it may be different in the moment. Maybe your inner child would like a cup of tea and a blanket and tell them they are loved, before having that phone call with your ex. Or maybe they need to wiggle about before going in for that math exam.

This is a practice of visualization. It’s a practice of using the imagination. It happens internally, with intention, to support what is happening outside of you.
This practice will encourage them to take a rest, so that your more evolved adult self can be in the lead in these edgy moments of life.

Play Dates & Magic Words

Loving your inner child may take getting to know them. You can do this by having play dates with them. This practice is not necessarily how you would choose to spend time alone with your adult self. Your inner child may want to play with sidewalk chalk, run around outside, or take a bubble bath with a rubber duck. Allow yourself to follow their lead and show up for the dates you set with them.

Sometimes the wound of our inner child is poked and it can be challenging to find our way back to our adult selves. You can say some magic words to your inner child in this moment, to keep them from acting out (in destructive ways) for your attention.
As simple as “ I love you” and/ or “I see you” or “I hear you.” Sometimes this simple contact is all they need. You can also take it a step further, asking them “ What do you need right now?” “How can I support you, or ease your way?”
Listen and respond to their needs.

Cultivating a loving relationship with one’s inner child is a unique point on the path toward self-love. None of us are exempt from having a child within us who is longing to get their needs met.
It is never too late to show up for this part of yourself with care and curiosity.

Check out our section on Play, and learn how it enables well-being.

Fostering Self-Love in Kids

In this powerful time on our planet, when asking ourselves big questions like “How do I best serve in this life? How do I leave a positive legacy once I am gone? What can I do to make the world a better place?”, one may consider the leaders of our future… the children of today. They are the ones who will inherit this world and create what is to come after we are gone… What an opportunity for them. What a responsibility for us.

It is never too young to start to create a culture of self-love for the youth of our world. Just as we teach children to love their neighbor, we can teach them to love themselves.

In the book Creating Compassionate Kids, Shauna Tominey gently guides the reader through the step-by-steps of having important conversations with kids, through the lens of compassion. She demonstrates the importance of supporting children in building self-awareness (covering issues of race, sex, gender, the body,sex, culture, and values) , fostering resilience (covering issues like divorce, substance use, suicide, incarceration, and violence) , and the importance of promoting compassion within relationships (covering issues like making ammends, being aware of privilege, and making a difference). The guide is thorough and works as a hands-on approach to compassionate parenting.

In this article, the same author covers some quick tips on ways to talk to your child in a way that both creates boundaries and conveys to your child that you love them.

Loved- Based Value Translated into speech
You are loved for who you are and who you will become. “I don’t like it when you hit your brother, and I still love you.”
Your feelings help your parents and caregivers know what you need. “I hear you crying and I wonder what you are asking for right now. I’m going to try holding you in a different way to see if that helps.”
There are different ways to express your feelings. “It’s okay to feel frustrated, but I don’t like it when you scream like that. You can use words and say, ‘I’m frustrated!’ You can show your feelings by stomping your feet over here or squeezing this pillow instead.”
Everyone is a learner and making mistakes is part of learning. “You tied your shoe! It was really hard at first, but you kept working on it and now you learned to do it all by yourself!”
Your parents and caregivers are trying to be the best parents they can be “I’m not sure what to do right now, but I’m trying my best to listen and figure out what you need.”

The themes of the previous article have crossover with the framework of Compassionate Communication (also known as Non Violent Communication) created by Marshall Rosenberg.  Compassionate communication is a way of being that allows for the curiosity and care of our own and other people’s needs and feelings. It has transformed businesses, families, and is a great tool for caring for oneself. One of the trademark questions in NVC is, “What can I do to make life more wonderful for you ?”

Perhaps you could ask yourself that question and see what answers arise.
As a parent, you could practice holding that question in your heart and approaching your caregiving from this generous place of curiosity.

Learn more about NVC through the section we have devoted to this way of being here. You can also check out ParentingTuneUp.org for a wide angle on intentional parenting.

Times they are a changin’

Bob Dylan had it right in his hit song from 1964. Times have not stopped changing… including times for today’s youth. Being a kid today is certainly not like what it was then, or even twenty years ago.  The number of young people suffering with anxiety is increasing, as kids are swimming in a sea of social media, fighting to get into college, and navigating the expectation of sexual norms. Lisa Damour, explains pressures are extra intense for female bodied individuals and especially for girls of color.

In her book Under Pressure she supports parents and mentors to become aware of what these young women are facing to better usher them into womanhood with solid mental health.

Some of the issue she discusses are:

  • Pay attention to how you pressure girls to say yes
  • Illuminate the pressures they face in asserting their needs
  • Challenge the language police
  • Help girls embrace their negative feelings
  • Don’t emphasize looks too much
  • Be aware of the extra pressures on girls of color

Read more about her book and these issues here.

More Videos/ Resources for supporting your kids in cultivating radical self-love!!

Check out this inspiring video of parents teaching their transgender children the self-love tool of affirmations.
The Representation Project: Rewrite the Story
5 Ways to Promote a Healthy Body Image for boys 
The Mask you live in 

Plant the self-love seeds early & watch them grow…

Parting Words of Love

If you’ve made it here by reading through each page in the Self-Love section, here is where we wish you goodbye and a healing journey forward.

Try out the following closing practice, and if you’d like further exploration and reflection, don’t forget to check out the Practice and Exercises and Resources pages for Self-Love.

CLOSING PRACTICE

As a way of closing, your final invitation is to find a moment to write a love letter to yourself.Address it to yourself: “Dear ( Your Name), ”

Write to yourself like you were writing to someone that you loved, admired, and treasured. Tell yourself what you appreciate about yourself, what you’re learning in your life, what feels beautiful, what feels challenging, and thank yourself for being courageous. Make a written commitment to practice being compassionate, kind, caring, and forgiving toward yourself.

Acknowledge the barriers in your life that create challenges toward loving yourself (past and present), and reflect on what bridges might be helpful to support you into leaning into more love. Name anything your grieving, anything you’re wanting to repress, anything you are hiding from yourself. This is a place to be intimate and to practice staying with yourself, in this simple moment. Tell yourself you love yourself. Sign it with love. Read it. Return to it when you forget. Write another one when you get lost.

Self-Love The Mind The Body Spirit Self-Compassion Barriers Bridges Self-Love Practice & Exercises Self-Love Resources