I like to garden. Yes, I truly do! But do I actually garden? With a hoe, seeds, and a dented tin watering can? Ehhh,… nope! My current “garden” has all the modern characteristics of urban living complete with topsy turvies and random innovative yet amateur contraptions supposedly geared towards yielding actual consumable food. But I have yet to have a yummy result that I would be proud to boost about at my next social gathering!
However, even though my actual garden might be quite an embarrassing sham, I thoroughly enjoy and feel quite honored to work with individuals at Live Life Counseling and Consulting on planting seeds of self love in the garden of their lives. The concept of self love is not a new one. But just because a concept is known to the masses does not mean it is easily achieved or practiced by the masses. For some individuals learning to appreciate and love oneself seems like chasing an elusive ghost, especially if one grew up in unhealthy environments in which shame, neglect, abuse or just plain old fashion minimization was the norm. Individuals who have a healthy sense of self and healthy levels self love generally have had seeds of self love planted in their life’s garden by an individual who have demonstrated unconditional love and positive regard. Perhaps, it was a teacher, friend, or (hopefully) a parent or two. However, if these seeds were not planted in early years, it doesn’t mean that one is doom to a life of gloom, insecurities, low self esteem and self doubt.
As an adult, one must develop a proactive desire to learn new patterns based on creating awareness of what self love actually is. Definitions of self love differ from simply saying “I love me”, to more extensive emotional, sexual, or behavioral expressions of gratitude, appreciation and personal validation.
The following are some characteristics of self-loving people:
They tend to treat themselves well with personal respect.
They do not continue being mistreatment by others.
They are loving towards others because it feels good, not because they have to be.
They put themselves first in life.
They see fun and enjoyment as an important part of life most of the time.
They find a thought that is healthy and practice it.
Now some people may say that some of the above statements sound quite selfish! So where is the line between self love and being selfish? Ahhhh another grey area in life for another blog article! It is not being selfish,... it is being self aware and caring about a quite important person: You!
Having a low opinion of yourself is not “modesty”. It’s self-destruction. Holding your uniqueness in high regard is not “egotism”. It’s a necessary precondition to happiness and success. ~Bobbe Sommer, PhD. (Human Relations Motivator)
The basic principles of self love are planted in the following statements:
Who you are is more important than what you are.
You are valuable. Nothing can change that.
What you want always matters.
Learning to live a fulfilling life with these principles in mind takes mindfulness and learning to build self-confidence through accepting responsibility for one’s joy as well as one’s unhappiness and problems. Ultimately, it’s self-esteem and our thoughts and actions that determines our sense of well-being and how we love ourselves. Taking personal responsibility can be painful especially when denial is just so much more “comfortable”. Most people rather make excuses and blame others for their actions, since they already feel so bad, which can then create unhealthy cycles and negative interactions in relationships. You know that feeling right? I know the feeling because I have done it! But taking self-responsibility neither implies great moral blame nor guilt, instead it allows one to reflect on how and why one’s life is the way it is.
Stop. Look for solutions. Ask what assumptions, beliefs, perceptions or attitudes are motivating your recent and past choices and behavior. And then reflect on what actions can be taken in the future. Avoiding self-responsibility puts you in the role of a helpless victim, waiting for others to change, so that you’ll feel better. That is time consuming and it does not work. Why doesn’t it work you may ask? Because we can not change others. We can not change our past. We can not go back and ask our parents to rebuild our self-esteem or validated our childhood actions. So quit looking for a time machine!
What we can do is be proactive, look ahead, and review our current self talk. Are we tearing ourselves down or are we focused on the positives and making concrete actions to change what we are unsatisfied with in our lives? Ask yourself what would be different if you took responsibility for your happiness, your financial security, your sexual satisfaction, your home, your friendships and your physical health? What are the pros and cons of not taking responsibility for your health, finances, goals, emotions, and relationships?
You probably feel better about yourself in areas where you are more self-responsible and accomplished. Because people feel more effective and satisfied when they take action, and action-oriented people tend to have higher self-esteem. Action orientated individuals take action despite how they feel. They don’t wait passively for things to change or expect others to change their lives. Keep in mind that action requires attention directed toward solving a problem, and includes journaling, expressing feelings, making a list, researching, being accountable, obtaining information, writing a letter, thinking through a problem, making a statement or decision, or changing your attitude.
Think about an area in your life where your self-esteem is low. How could you take more self-responsibility? What specific, small step would generate a greater sense of self-efficacy and make you feel better about yourself?
These are questions I often ask my clients when working on building confidence and self love. Sometimes it is difficult to navigate what steps to take next but that’s okay. You have now created personal awareness and that awareness can be a positive beginning to lifting personal barriers to self love, establishing healthy thought patterns and thus allowing yourself be on a positive path to a healthier view of your personal role in your life and greater self love.
DeAne Matthew, MA, LMHC