This is one of the top questions I receive from people and for good reason. We live in a culture that teaches us that we're not good enough as we are. We come from generations that were taught to "power through", "toughen up", and "not air dirty laundry". We received the message that having and expressing emotions was impolite and weak.
::A quick note: This is universally changing. Just you seeking to develop self love is sign of that, and you're not alone. There is a massive energetic shift that is happening right now, and the time has come for a new way of living. This is a perfect time to focus on self love::
There is really one thing that gets in the way of most people's ability to love themselves. Efforts put towards anything else before this will not be totally wasted, but they are not going to get you the result you're looking for. I won't write a whole post teasing you about it only to reveal it at the end. I'll give it to you straight right here, and you're welcome to read the rest of the post if you'd like.
If you want to develop self love, you have to accept yourself IN ENTIRETY. You cannot pick and choose aspects of yourself to love. "I love __________ about myself" is not the same as loving yourself.
You have to accept the part of you that opens the door for old ladies AND the part that lashes out at people unfairly.
You've got to accept the side of you that hits the gym 5 days a week AND the side that binges on gelato when no one is looking.
You have to love the fact that you fail often AND the fact that you never give up.
You have to love how hard you're working in life and recovery now AND how destructive you were in life and active addiction before.
You might be thinking, "If I accept all of those things, then I am condoning them and saying that they are/were OK. That's not right."
No, you're not.
Hiding the fact that I regularly used to drink and drive in my active addiction doesn't mean I didn't do it or that by not talking about it I'm somehow carrying out a penance for the wrong I did and thus making it right. It means I'm living in shame around it, myself and my past. It doesn't help me, the people in my life now or the positive impact I'm not trying to have on the world. It is another belief built on a lie.
Let's pause so I can throw it out there that I 100% know this is all easier said than done. In fact, it's not easy to do at all. Not even a little bit. It is the hardest thing any one of us will ever have to do. I've worked with people who have quit hardcore drugs and been in combat who say THIS is harder and scary than both of those things combined. However, there is no way around it. If you want to develop self love, you have to accept and love yourself completely.
Number 1: You're going to have to look at yourself. Really look at yourself. A key component to this is that you no longer escape what you're experiencing or how you're feeling. You've got to sit in it and explore it. It will suck at first (and sometimes later on, too). For most of us that means we no longer use substance or behavior (or combo) to escape discomfort. When the pain comes up, don't run away. Look at it. Get curious about it.
Ask questions like
"What am I experiencing right now?"
"How am I feeling it in my body?"
"What am I afraid of?"
"Where is this coming from?"
"What do I feel compelled to do right now?"
"How have I reacted to this in the past?"
Number 2: Acknowledge the reality of the situation and what is happening in you in response to it. I genuinely express this stuff either in my head or out loud.
It might go something like this:
I lean in close to my partner as we lie down to go to sleep, wrap my arms around him and press my body into his looking to connect. He rolls over, shrugs my arms off and scoots away. ANGER IMMEDIATELY ARISES!
Option 1: What a jerk! I'm just trying to connect before we go to sleep. He is so insensitive. He doesn't want to be next to me. He's not attracted to me. He is repulsed by me. Why am I even in this relationship? I put in so much effort to make this relationship work, and he can't even cuddle with me for 2 minutes?! If he doesn't want to be close to me than maybe I should just bail on this all together. Now I'm not going to get any sleep, which is HIS fault, which I will make very apparent tomorrow. If I'm going to have a bad day because he's a jerk, then I'll make sure he has a bad day too. It's not fair that I should suffer the consequences of HIS mean actions. Then I lie awake with an elevated heart rate, stewing in anger.
Option 2: Hmmm...What am I experiencing right now? I'm experiencing anger, which is my brain's go-to defense mechanism. It thinks I need to be defended right now which means it detects a threat. What is being threatened??? Ah, my sense of security in this relationship. What am I afraid of? Hmmm....Oh, being deemed unacceptable and therefore abandoned. Where is this coming from? Well, I know I have wounds from my dad abandoning me, so that is likely a factor. I also know that as a human I am wired to be in community and that back in the day if I was cast out, I'd be dead before dawn. Ok, so this is coming from a past hurt as well as a biological element. That makes sense. What do I feel compelled to do right now? Run away. Why? To avoid being hurt. Oh yeah, that makes sense too. If I look at our relationship as a whole , is it true that he isn't attracted to me or that he doesn't want to be in this relationship? No, he works hard to bring me joy and make this a successful partnership. So in reality, nothing bad has happened to me. He wants to go right to sleep which pressed an old button which triggered my brain to think I was under threat. "Thank you, Brain, for trying to protect me. Everything is ok. There is no threat. You can stand down." My heart rate begins to slow down. I take a few deep breaths and calmly drift off to sleep.
If Option 2 sounds ridiculous, let me ask "How's Option 1 been workin' for ya???"
Number 3: Practice Non-Judgement. Let's stick with the example above.
In Option 2, I observed and examined the situation objectively. Each piece was looked at simply as it is. When I acknowledged that I was experiencing anger I didn't say "I'm angry" or "I'm experiencing anger and that is a bad emotion" or "He MADE me angry." No, I simply observed that I was experiencing anger. By not adding a judgement to it, I was able to continue exploring comfortably.
In Option 1, I immediately created a villain:victim scenario. I judged his actions and his self to be bad, which meant he was doing something to me. He is a villain and I am a victim of that. Now I cannot examine it because I do not have the power (because I just gave it to him by believing he was doing something to me) and must protect myself from him.
Once you are able to look at yourself, acknowledge your experiences and examine all of it without judgement, you are truly developing self love. It is a process, and every moment of your life is an opportunity to practice.
"I have gained a better understanding of problems I have and the solutions for them.
After applying the tools that Jace presented to me I am now getting the
results I was looking for in my journey."
- John R, 3 years in recovery