In my last blog post I described mindfulness, an essential to personal growth, along with two fundamental barriers to mindfulness: 1- If we don't accept ourselves, and 2- If we feel like we will get hurt by ourselves or others when we relax our mind. Because not accepting ourselves is so unuseful, and because I am often asked, "How do I begin to love myself?", in this post I offer some thoughts on how to begin accepting and loving yourself.
*Note: Popular positivity preachers make it sound like you can begin unconditionally loving yourself overnight. My experience is that positive self regard evolves over time with practice.
A mentor of mine once suggested something ridiculous.
"As soon as you wake up," he said, "I want you to go straight to the bathroom mirror, look yourself in the eye, smile, and say, 'Good morning, Gary, you're the best thing I've seen all day!'"
I scoffed at the idea. But I did it. And... it worked---I laughed! Did I believe my words? Hardly! But simply going through the ridiculousness of it taught me one very important thing- Don't take myself so seriously. And then something weird happened. It occurred to me that maybe, just maybe it is okay for me to relax and like me a little bit. I began to incorporate "maybe" into my vocabulary to help chip away at my rigid ways of doing and being. Back then, I wasn't aware that I didn't like myself, or that my hyper-seriousness stemmed from distrust of myself.
It's an ironic thing, to come into a therapist's office to finally start taking your issues seriously and then be encouraged to not take yourself so seriously! Yet, even when delving into traumas with my clients, I make a point to welcome situation-appropriate laughter and lightheartedness. I believe the healing path strengthens both our metabolism for emotional pain and our ability to savor peace and enjoyment.
On the flip side, not taking yourself seriously at all is a great way to abuse your already aching heart! Showing up for therapy, week in, week out, and practicing gentle self-care day in, day out, is how you show yourself that you matter. Many say they love themselves while their actions speak otherwise.
There is a misconception, especially amongst hyper-macho circles of men, that loving yourself is weak. Many caregivers and providers believe that loving oneself is just selfish. However, in my experience, one can overcome and provide far more when the person attends to business at home first, inside one’s own heart.
Growing mindfulness, the prerequisite for change, requires us to be willing to forgive and laugh at ourselves with courage and commitment. On one side of the self-love coin is seriousness and on the other side is non-seriousness!
So, shrug and laugh! Growing can be hard work. If we don't have any rest and enjoyment along the way, how are we going to refuel and return for the next step on the journey?