When Self-love Feels Not Possible
~This is the beginning of a love letter to a friend. My friend.~
You shared that the word “love” when it refers to yourself is painful. It is a charged word full of grief, sorrow, uncertainty. It is a word that feels so far from your reality that you can’t even begin to imagine a life in which you offer it to yourself.
Self-love as a theoretical concept is imaginable but only as an elusive experience that will never be yours. You feel it is for others, but not for you.
From a lifetime of feeling the same, I understand. I know the pain of separation from self. My heart goes out to you.
You ask me “How do I get there?”
I can only share my journey. I can only share what I have witnessed in my other friends and their journeys.
This is the beginning of my love letter to you to share about this journey...
For me, releasing the concept of “getting there” was a start.
You do not arrive at self-love any more than you arrive at inner peace, or arrive at enlightenment.
It is a lifelong journey. You don’t “get there.”
That is not what we want to hear. We want to hear a prescriptive formula to stop the pain, just like with physical pain. We want a clear path to our answer. And we want it to be simple and easy.
It is what we want.
It is not typically how the journey goes.
But there is nothing wrong with wanting it to be simple and easy and formulaic. We all want that. We can all relate with that.
The journey of self-love, much like the journey for inner peace or outer peace, is one that is full of small daily movements in the direction of.
Movements in the direction of.
It is not about arriving at.
Self-love is a value, not a goal.
What does this mean?
It means, a goal is something you achieve and you move onto the next goal. Through a series of deliberate steps you get there eventually. When you get there, you know you’re there. You know you have accomplished your goal. For example, take the goal, “To lose weight”. The small tangible measurable steps of this goal may be:
to exercise five days a week for 60 minutes each day
to eat balanced meals with lean meats and vegetables
You know if you are taking those steps, and you can measure your progress. You have a clear goal and you can clearly see that you are taking the steps to get there. You know when you’ve arrived because you’ve lost weight. Losing weight is the goal, not necessarily maintaining that weight (which is a lifestyle relating to the value of healthy living), so you can be done with the goal of "losing weight" and move on.
But underneath the goal of “losing weight” is something that you value. Something that is important to you. Health.
You value health. Health is your value. You move in the direction of your value of health by creating a goal “to lose weight” and by taking small tangible measurable steps.
You reach the goal of “losing weight” but you do not reach a value.
You do not reach the value of health and then say to yourself
“Ok. I’m here. I’m healthy now. I can move onto my next goal. I can stop making movement toward my goal of Health. I’m finished. I’ve reached my goal of Health.”
If you value health, you are never finished. Never finished with moving in the direction of or moving toward health.
Your value of health may dip. You may go through a period where your value of health isn’t as important to you as other times or as other values. But if health is a strong value of yours, you will come back to it.
If you do not value health, health may even drop off your list of values altogether for your own reasons. Another value will take it’s place. What we value does not stay the same throughout our entire lives. Just like all else, what we value changes, values are impermanent.
We can move gracefully with the changes to our values by not inserting guilt or shame when our values change. Do not moralize values as good or bad values. Do not moralize whether a value is a priority for you by considering yourself good or bad because you do not value a certain value. This is an example of a guilt and shame loop.
Self-love is similar to this value of health. Similar but not the same. Similar and also connected.
If you value self-love, you are never finished with self-love. Never finished with moving in the direction of self-love, moving toward self-love. Your value of self-love may dip. You may go through a period where your value of self-love isn’t as important as other times. But if self-love is a strong value of yours, you will come back to it.
Self-love can also drop off your list of values altogether for many reasons.
But because the absence of self-love is so intricately tied to guilt and shame, self-love (in all it's forms including tenderness, compassion) is a key element in being able to have the internal resolve not to internally self-punish through the use of emotions like guilt or shame. Mental self-punishment, and self-picking, self-berating through the use of guilt and shame can happen if self-love drops off the list of values.
For example, when we do not experience self-love, the pain loop may look like this:
We already do not experience self-love.
Working on self-love is painful.
We feel we can only avoid what is painful, or we logically want to avoid pain.
Self-love is not a value because it feels too painful.
Self-love not being a value creates guilt and shame.
That guilt and shame create more pain.
Which reinforces that we do not love ourselves.
Self-love gets further and further away from possible.
We feel stuck in a guilt and shame loop of self-contempt, self-loathing, self-berating, and a disconnection from self.
Without self-love many other values are also not possible. Without self-love, a resistance to self-punishing behaviors like guilt and shame are not possible.
In this way, self-love, as a value, is unique.
There are values that are intricately tied to our hearts. There are values that generate from our heads. And here are values that are a combination of the two.
For example, you may say to yourself “I should be healthy. I should value my health. I see the benefits to being healthy. I will take the necessary steps to being healthy.”
Or you may say to yourself “I should easily communicate with others without shyness or fear. I should speak more in group settings. I should speak up and not remain quiet. I see the benefit in communicating more and speaking. I will take the necessary steps to speak more.”
These two examples are examples of values that both generate from the head (the mind) and the heart (the true self). There are aspects of what we want for ourselves, perhaps even from what society wants for us, or what we believe society expects from us, or what we want for ourselves only because we believe it what we should want for ourselves.
The aspects of the value that relate to others are “outside-in”. Anytime we use the word should as it relates to something we want for ourselves, it is an indicator that there is something outside of us that is propelling us to action.
There are aspects of values which are from the heart, the true self. In the health statement, the aspect of “I see the benefits of being healthy” and “I will take the necessary steps to being healthy”, can both be heart generated. This can truly be a heartfelt value of “Health”.
In the communication statement, the aspect of “I see the benefit in communicating more and speaking” and “I will take the necessary steps to speak more” can certainly be heart generated if the person is truly interested in sharing their voice and connecting deeply and authentically with others. It is still a head or mind or “outside-in” value, if “talking more” is generated by guilt or shame or based on a desire to meet an external expectation to “talk more”. If it is, it is not generating from the individual but rather from a “should.”
Connection, like self-love and health, are values. They are not goals.
If you have committed to these values, you will never be finished with moving the in the direction of, moving toward these values.
These values are intricately connected as you know. And without self-love as the foundation, the others are not possible.
My dear friend, you have shared that you value self-love. That you want to experience it- to know it. You have shared that you realize how self-love ties into connection with others, connection with self, and self-care. You have shared that you want it but moving in the direction of self-love is wrought with pain, stuck-ness. You can’t seem to take the necessary steps toward self-love. You are unsure why you are not progressing in your goals of connection with others, and self-care. You have also expressed that you realize that self-love is a key element of that self-connection and connection with others.
Perhaps self-love has dropped off your list of what is important to you. Not because you don’t want it but because it feels so elusive and impossible that even focusing on it hurts too much.
And you continue to insert feelings of guilt and shame when self-love drops off your values list, because not focusing on self-love elicits great pangs of guilt and shame. And you don’t know how to stop.
So there is a stuck place. A loop.
You have shared that love is too big of a word.
And you ask “How do I get there?”
I know you want an answer. A clear formula. And I know that what I am offering may create more questions for you. It did for me also. One such question that arose for me and that helped me the most on my journey toward self-love was “Why am I not willing to offer myself love?”
My dear friend, this is a lifelong process, a journey. This is why this is only the beginning of this love letter.
If you have decided that self-love is a value you want to commit to, then know you will never “get there”- you will never “arrive”- the journey will be for always. Instead of getting there, the journey of self-love, just like the journey of health, connection, peace, is
to live it, breathe it, be it- every moment of every day
and without guilt or shame in the moments when you are not living and breathing it.
I love you.
Love your friend,
Has this article helped you in some way? Do you have anything you'd like to share? I’d love to hear below.
Dear Wonderful Person,
I hope this message helps support you on your path of personal liberation, connection, and peace-filled compassion. Need more guidance on this topic or looking for a coach to partner with you on this part of your journey? Check out my private coaching programs.
Wishing you much peace and joy,
Customized. Personalized. Just for You.
Looking for a personable, heart-felt, caring coach to partner with you and help you achieve your personal and professional goals?
Rebecca's transformational whole-person coaching has helped her partners build confidence, self-awareness, self-acceptance, and connect authentically with themselves and others. She has partnered with executives, managers, and teams for over 15 years offering private coaching as well as Workshops in Public Speaking, and Worksite Wellness Classes in Stress-reduction, Work/Life Balance, and Time-management.
Over 15 years as an Executive Coach and Trainer for leaders in Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies, Top-tier Universities, Government, NGOs, Small Businesses helping leaders and their teams achieve superior results
Results: Strengthened relationships and communication, Increased confidence and happiness, Reduced stress, Improved quality of life and employee wellness, Enhanced performance, Increased job satisfaction
1500+ hours of formal training and certifications in stress-reduction, mindfulness, and communication strategies
Certified Master Coach
MPA in Managerial Leadership, graduated with honors
BA with a concentration in Speech Communication, Magna Cum Laude
Named Top 16 Coaches in Raleigh for 2022 by Influence Digest