A Journey Towards Self-Love
Self-love. For a long time, this was such a vague, foreign concept to me that I just didn’t know where to begin. Once I learned how important it is for me to connect with and care for myself, I stayed perplexed about HOW to go about it . . . there are after all no step-by-step manuals for sale. Since I’m not alone in this kind of journey, I decided to writing out my personal story in hopes of providing inspiration for others. Note: there is no one path or magic tricks to this—just determination and willingness to go through a lengthy process with ups and downs along the way, with above all learning the skill of self-compassion.
“Out of love” with self
Not loving oneself isn’t necessarily the same thing as self-loathing. For me, it was for the majority of my life more like being out of love, uninterested, disengaged, disconnected from myself. If not ignoring or putting myself to the side, then I was judging or blaming me for wrongdoing. Living with a harsh inner critic wasn’t very fun, but it was my “normal“ . . . that is, until I realized it didn’t have to be that way.
The tipping point
As is typically the case, it took a crisis of some sort (one called “midlife” in my case!) to wake me up. I came to realize that NONE of my old strategies for my deepest of longings—love and appreciation—were working anymore in my favor. I had lost myself completely, not knowing who I really was or what I really wanted, and most of the time I felt quite frustrated and lonely. I knew I needed some guidance and found it in many coaching and communication training sessions that primarily helped me discover, accept, and love the “real me.”
No two journeys toward self-love can possibly look the same. Here, I give an overview of the steps that naturally unfolded before me . . .
My Step 1: Learning new compassionate language skills
Through various trainings, I was introduced to Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model, which taught me above all to value me for me, see my self-worth. I learned amazing skills for:
- self-connection (being in touch with and owning my personal feelings and needs—read more in my blog post, “Rediscovering Self-Connection”)
- self-compassion (hearing what I actually long for, underneath the protective, yet often un-true critical self-talk)
- self-honesty (expressing my feelings and needs instead of my thoughts; saying “no” when I don’t have a “full yes”; read more in my blog post, “Edging Towards Honesty”)
- self-care (coming up for my needs while staying in connection with others; read more: “Prioritizing Self-Care (even when you think it’s impossible)”).
Self-compassion is a willingness to look at your own mistakes and shortcomings with kindness and understanding — it’s embracing the fact that to err is indeed human. When you are self-compassionate in the face of difficulty, you neither judge yourself harshly, nor feel the need to defensively focus on all your awesome qualities to protect your ego. It’s not surprising that self-compassion leads, as many studies show, to higher levels of personal well-being, optimism and happiness, and to less anxiety and depression. – Harvard Business Review, 2012
My Step 2: Increased self-awareness via coaching
Learning new communication skills was a huge step for me, yet it alone wasn’t enough to pull me over the line toward self-love. Group learning is one thing (I can stay relatively hidden in that form), but I knew I needed more individual quality attention. So I sought out additional guidance in the form of personal coaching. It not only modeled for me how I can be a much more attentive listener for myself, it was just the safe, open environment I needed to really dig deeper and learn more about the barriers holding me back from self-love. Different than therapy (which dives into the past), we stayed in each moment, observing me, my thinking and my behavior. I learned that there are parts of me that I have for many years been trying to shut down, ignore, destroy (particularly the little girl in me, trying still after all these years to keep me small and therefore safe). I was spending so much of my time trying to figure out how to more deeply connect with OTHER humans, I wasn’t even able to “connect and embrace all my own parts” (which is how it was posed to me). This learning was critical in order for me to move on in my journey.
Another big moment for me was when I dared to verbalize to a group of friends that I have a tremendous amount of love in me to give, and that I wished for them to receive it (I was wanting to build trust and lessen fear that could sometimes get in the way of our connection). I realized in that moment that I, TOO needed to hear that request from myself. I have much love in me—please give and receive it to myself! (I wrote more on this in here.) Just a couple of weeks later, I coincidentally found some kind of validation for all of this. I filled out the VIA Institute on Character’s “character strengths survey,” and at the very top of my list was LOVE. Granted, not the kind of thing you add to your c.v., but I do know this is a great strength of mine, one I bring to most things I take on. Now to learn to receive it as easily as I give it!
My Step 3: comprehending the self-love gurus
At this point, I had enough self-awareness that I was able to listen to and benefit from some of the gurus out there (whereas before, it felt more frustrating than helpful!). Bryon Katie for starters – wow, she went a LONG way in helping me see reality from the stories I create in my mind. Kristen Neff and Tara Brach made sense to me in their teachings about self-compassion and self-love. I listened to Brach’s “Radical Acceptance” audio book about five times and started a daily appreciation and gratitude practice (including towards myself!). I journaled often, practicing all of my new “self” communication skills until they started to become a part of who I am, rather than odd things I simply tried out from time to time.
My Step 4: circle of abundance
Last but not least, I met local coach Arianne van Galen who is all about being true to yourself. Her “Circle of Abundance” model (currently available only in Dutch) has been super supportive for me. According to her, the essence of life satisfaction and happiness is to:
- share (different than giving oneself away, e.g. pleasing)
- receive (confirmation of my step #4)
- enjoy (live life with full “yes’s” and nothing less)
- play (seeing this as the biggest circle was eye-opening to me – I have a lot of room to grow here!)
And now . . .
It’s hard for me now to imagine my life without having started through this journey towards finding, accepting, and loving the real me. An absolute ongoing process, I now know that self-love is critical for my happiness and my ability to love others. It contributes immensely to my partner and children, and now also to my coaching and communication training clients. I enjoy passing it on and do so by providing workshops and coaching sessions on the themes of self-connection, -compassion, and -care, the primary components of self-love . . . The next one is 29 May, 2016 in Amsterdam: Self-Connection & Self-Care for Busy Women—contact me to register!