As I sit here in Starbucks, there is a couple leaning in toward each other, laughing openly and loudly. They are delighted in each other. They are young, probably early twenties, and clearly in the early stages of a relationship. They gently brush each other’s cheeks, hold hands, kiss. Enamored is a fitting description. Love and laughter is openly flowing between them. It’s hard not to smile with the joy they are exuding.
One of my favorite poems about love speaks to the importance of loving yourself and feeling whole and complete so that you can give fully to others when in a relationship.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
~Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
The foundation for a solid, intimate relationship (openness and vulnerability) comes naturally to so many individuals. For others it’s a challenge.
Our childhood is when we learn the concept of what love is. From our earliest experiences as an infant being held and nurtured by our caregivers, to the first romantic infatuations we have in school, learning how to love and how to give ourselves to others comes from how we were treated by others.
For individuals who have experienced painful or traumatic life experiences (possibly being bullied during childhood, parental neglect, sexual abuse, exposure to domestic violence, you name it), being vulnerable and open to others can be scary. You may have learned that love is risky, that love hurts instead of feels good.
And it’s hard to love others when you don’t love yourself. I would even stretch to say that it’s impossible.
So how do you build upon and expand the love you have for yourself?
This is going to look different for each person. What works for you may not work for someone else. If you commit to it and believe you are worth the effort it will happen for you.
This is one thing that no one can do for you; you have to put in the time yourself.
Change how you talk to yourself. What does your internal dialogue say? Do you cycle through a list of berating comments, things that you would never dream of saying to another human, but you have no problem repeating them to yourself daily? Stopping yourself in this cycle can be helpful in you journey toward loving yourself. Try finding an affirmation that is genuine to tell yourself daily. Put it on post-its throughout your house, at work, in your car, wherever you will see it and remind yourself of the new way you want to talk to yourself.
Make a list of successes. I love this idea from Rebecca Tracey to create a reverse bucket list. It’s easy to focus on all the things we haven’t yet accomplished or the failures we’ve experienced. But how often do you look back at the successes you’ve had, no matter how large or small? I challenge you to create a reverse bucket list to start identifying your successes and feeling pride and love in yourself for all you have done.
Honor and celebrate yourself. Now that you have a list of 50 things you’ve done in your life, let’s find a way for you to honor yourself.
A geeky story about me: I once won a competition at work for being able to blow the biggest bubblegum bubble. My co-worker Joanna gave me a small trophy-shaped paper award with my name on it (the kind kindergarten teachers pass out). That award made me proud. It wasn’t that what I had done was skillful or beneficial in the greater scheme of life, but I was successful at it and proud that I was recognized. It’s nice when recognition comes from external sources (your mate, boss, a friend) but it can be just as powerful when it comes from you.
Are there one or two things on your list of successes that you can create an award for yourself? Go and pick up a batch of award certificates from the dollar store, buy yourself a Starbucks gift card and put it in a gift card envelope addressed to you, or give an awards acceptance speech in front of the bathroom mirror honoring and recognizing your successes. However you decide, honor yourself.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, what are some things you are willing to do to commit to loving yourself more?
By cultivating love, kindness and compassion for yourself you will begin to rewrite the negative messages you learned about love in your past.
When you love yourself, love for others will come naturally and easily.
I am passionate about helping individuals lead authentic lives. Many of the people that come to see me have difficulty with loving themselves or finding strengths. If you would like some support in healing from past wounds or strengthening your love for yourself please call me at 916-547-3997 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to connecting!
Adriana Joyner, LMFT, is a Sacramento Area therapist who specializes in providing counseling to people healing from trauma and abuse, and those within the LGBTQIA community. Her office is located in Gold River, CA located off Highway 50 at Sunrise Blvd. For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call (916) 547-3997 or email email@example.com.