Love yourself forward. That’s the three-word description I made up for how I’ve brought myself through life as an adult. Let’s face it, I’ve had a lot of healing to do. Have you? That’s one thing I’ve come to accept about myself. I’ve given up judging myself for that, because it’s not as if that’s a damning truth, or a reflection of a personal failing. It’s simply that I’ve struggled. I’ve struggled with self esteem, which, as anyone who’s also struggled with self esteem knows, is the rock-solid belief that everyone else is better, prettier, smarter and more deserving, talented and successful than I am.
Ouch. Low self-esteem, as I see it, is a form of self-abuse. It comes from messages we receive about who we are. In the absence of information to the contrary, we take on those messages as true. They are so pervasive that we don’t have to have had a person in our lives giving us these disempowering and hurtful messages. They’re in our society, our belief systems and our psyches.
I remember where I was the moment I realized I was abusing myself with incessant thoughts of self-judgment and criticism. All I can say is, I woke up to the voice in my head. Because I was in therapy, I also had the voice of my therapist in my head, so I asked what I thought she would ask about that critical, damning voice: Who’s voice is that, anyway?
I quickly ran through the usual suspects, and then said to myself, “But they’re not here, and it’s still going on.” Then, “Oh! This is what is meant by beating yourself up.” I’d never really gotten it before, viscerally, in my body, in the moment. I knew it only as a concept: being hard on yourself. But this was more than that. This was brutal, damning, mean-spirited cutting down of my very being. It was relentless. It was also making me sick, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I had not a moment’s peace from the fearful idea that I was and always would be less-than.
So how do we love ourselves forward?
First, and this is where a lot of us stay for a long time, we recognize that we’re struggling. We recognize that on the thrive scale, we’re in the low numbers. We become conscious, aware and present to our inner life. We honor it. We honor it by acknowledging the truth. In doing so, we legitimize ourselves. We stop waiting to be rescued, seen, approved of, nurtured or helped by someone or something outside of ourselves. In today’s lingo, we realize, ‘It is what it is.”
How is this a good thing?
Now we can do something about it, instead of waiting for it to go away, or trying to fix ourselves by external means (think: bypass surgery, finding Mr. or Ms. Right, getting the doctor to prescribe something.) Now, I mentioned that I was in therapy. That’s not being rescued by someone else. It’s not an external fix. Instead, it’s a deeply loving, wise thing to do.
It is a profound act of self love to be present to our struggle and to stand up to that voice and see it as dysfunctional and make the decision to heal it, handle it, and grow beyond it. There is life after self-abuse. We claim that for ourselves by first identifying it, calling it out, and saying, “You know what? I deserve better.” This is the process of becoming real to ourselves that I call loving ourselves into being.
Next, we love ourselves whole. How? By befriending ourselves. We become the advocate, the parent, the ally. We not only see ourselves and speak up to the inner critic, but also we take actions that show us we are worth it, we are loved, and life can be better than this.
What actions do we take? First, we attend to physical needs, tweaking things we may be tempted to ignore, like diet, exercise, fresh air, movement, our physical environment, the visual scan we are subject to. We feed ourselves good things, not only experimenting with what foods make us feel nourished and energized, but what activities we enjoy, what colors makes us hum, what sounds we enjoy, and what kinds of environments we like to hang out in. We notice. We get to know ourselves and our responses to things. We care. We learn how to nurture ourselves.
This is not an overnight thing. It’s a lifelong process. Start anywhere. Start with the most obvious. Start with the easiest. Do you have a lifelong tendency to deny yourself things you know you would enjoy? Do you do it in the name of convenience, the budget, time or other practical considerations? Do you need more sleep but keep yourself up? Do you like to walk but tell yourself you look fat? Do you enjoy taking rides, but don’t want to justify burning the gas? Do you think drawing might be fun, but think you can’t afford some paper and colored pencils? Do you want to visit the ocean, but don’t have the time?
Get the gist? Be generous with yourself. Because you’re worth it.
How else do we love ourselves whole? We get to know ourselves, all of us. We practice accepting everything about ourselves that we discover. We practice not judging, not dreading, not being embarrassed, at least to ourselves, and we practice curiosity about this person we are. We allow ourselves to be inconsistent, conflicted, illogical, irrational, babyish, mature, wise, ill-informed, prejudiced, fearful, brave – not because we want to stay these ways or celebrate smallness, but because it’s our job to know ourselves, all of us. Only then can we grow and become who we want to be.
And now we come to loving ourselves forward. As soon as we allow ourselves to be who we are and where we are, just naturally we start to move to somewhere else. And this is where we get to have a voice, to dream, desire, create, love and make choices. We give ourselves permission to have preferences, to avoid people whom we feel crappy around or just don’t enjoy. We stop answering to guilt and start answering to our inner compass. We practice trusting ourselves, not because we’re always right, but because trusting ourselves is the kind of relationship we want with ourselves. We allow ourselves to try things and then to let them go if they’re not right for us. We make forays into bigger arenas. We let ourselves be seen. We take steps, no matter how small, toward creating the life we want.
The Love Yourself Forward Process
First, love yourself into being. Witness and legitimize your inner world. Acknowledge that you struggle. Give yourself space to just be. Develop and practice ways of listening to yourself.
Love yourself whole. Learn who you are and what you love. Learn to accept everything about you, without judgment, shame or blame. Learn to recognize and give yourself what you need. Give yourself permission to avoid what is destructive to you. Learn how you deprive, discount, shortchange, and sabotage yourself. Learn about all of you: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Love yourself forward. Express, create, dream, desire, and love. Take actions, no matter how small, toward creating the life you want. Seek out the loving support of others who understand that healing is a lifelong process, without shame or judgment for choosing to be on this path. Reach out to others who are also on this path and extend to them the love and support that you are able to give, because in doing that you find that your capacity to love yourself increases and you find stores of wisdom, grace and compassion that you didn’t know you had.
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by Phyllis Capanna © 2016 joyreport
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