With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, we can’t help but think about love. Not the universal, ‘brotherly’ kind, but the very human kind of love, the kind that (usually) involves physical contact and fluttering hearts. Whether we’re looking for someone new or are in an existing relationship, we can benefit from attending to these three steps to find lasting love. This week we cover Part 1;
Love Your Self
We are not very good at self-love. It seems to be all the rage, and we certainly pay lip service to it, but most encouragement around this idea is watered down to the point of a platitude. As a result, it’s difficult to understand what self-love is, much less practice it.
Based on my experience, Self-love is not seeing everything we do with a rosy glow, or ignoring feedback we don’t like because we don’t want to damage our fragile self-esteem.
Self-love may have to be tough love sometimes. If we think about a healthy relationship between a parent and a child, or a mentor and a student; what the parent / mentor wants most in the relationship is to see the child / student grow and find happiness in success.
At times, this will require course-corrections, admonishments, suggestions, etc. While this may be painful, at times, for the child or student, it is a necessary part of learning.
With self-love, we perform this role for ourselves. Rather than glossing over what we’re not doing right or dwelling on it so much we can’t see outside of it, we need to be able to look at our unhelpful behaviors with both a critical and compassionate eye.
The Devil you know
This holds true for any aspect of life, but since we’re focusing on love in this post let’s take that as an example. Let’s take a moment to write down all of our fears and insecurities around finding new love or about our current relationship.
These might be physical qualities, like our weight or the proportions of various body parts associated with physical attractiveness. They might be personality qualities we think inhibit a lasting relationship; ‘not playful enough’, ‘too controlling’, ‘too anal’, or –on the flipside – ‘too messy.’
It is okay if you cry during this exercise, I have often cried during such exercises. When we’re pulling up our deep fears and wounds, we should feel emotionally moved. If you don’t feel an intensity of emotion around what you are writing, it may be a sign you are not digging deep enough.
Once we’ve exorcised all those ghosts in our hearts, we are ready to really see them; to evaluate how they affect the way we feel about ourselves and the ways they get in the way of having a healthy relationship.
When we are bogged down by our fears and insecurities, especially when we haven’t taken the time to really be conscious of them, they can inhibit us from having healthy and fulfilling relationships. For example, if I’m insecure about my weight, I may project that insecurity onto my husband.
If he says, ‘let’s not eat out tonight’ I may interpret that to mean he thinks I’m fat and if we eat out again I’m only going to get fatter. Or if he says “We need to start going to the gym more.” I may think he means I need to go to the gym more because I’m getting fat.
Truthfully, my husband may think none of these things. I simply don’t know, and even if I ask, because I’m already projecting my own fear onto him, I’m unlikely to believe anything reassuring he says. We put a healthy relationship in jeopardy when we look to our partner to reassure us on the areas where we already feel vulnerable and insecure.
Each of us has different areas of sensitivity. Many people are insecure about their weight, but some are not. Some are insecure about their desirability or how good they are in bed. Others may be insecure about their intelligence. It doesn’t matter what our areas of insecurity are, it’s a key first step just to find them. If knowing is half the battle, we can’t even begin to fight if we don’t know.
Now that we’ve flushed out our relationship fears and insecurities, we’re ready to work on the self-love part. First, we need to be compassionate with ourselves about the fact that we even have all these fears and insecurities. We can also feel pretty good that we were willing to admit them to ourselves, and bravely write them down!
Secondly, we should take each item individually and evaluate whether this is something we can (or want to) do something about or if it is something we just have to accept about ourselves or our situation; it may be both.
I engaged in this exercise before the birth of my second child. I had many fears and insecurities about the upcoming birth, especially given my last birth experience, and I really wanted to work on them. One of the fears I wrote down is that I would ‘run out of energy’ and be unable to deliver. My first labor had been thirty-four intense, long hours and I was terrified I wouldn’t have enough energy to go through that again.
When I looked at this fear I realized there were some reasons why my labor had been so long. I could ensure that my midwife and the hospital staff were well aware of the difficulties that happened the first time around. Too keep up my energy, I could ensure my diet leading up to labor was healthy and full of energizing foods. I could make sure we had lots of healthy ‘early labor’ snacks and that I was getting a good night’s sleep.
Writing down these ideas and putting them into practice greatly reduced the influence of this fear.
On the other hand, another fear I wrote down was that we would have a child with high-needs that we were unprepared to fulfill. Our first daughter requires so much energy and attention, my husband was very wary of having a second. I really pushed for the idea and I knew it was something that I wanted much more than he did.
As a result, I was terrified that this second child might make our lives even harder and cause my husband to resent that I had pressed so hard to have one. What if we found it hard to love the second child? What if we were never able to spend time being together as a married couple again because our lives were so full of childcare responsibilities?
Unlike the first fear, this one I had to accept. The many tears I cried over this fear helped me come to terms with it, though. Once all the tears were cried out, I was able to accept this potential reality and move forward knowing deep down that whatever happened, there would be support, love, and help from the Universe.
I offer these examples, knowing they may cast me in an unflattering light because it is important to be honest with ourselves about our fears and worries, even if we would be embarrassed sharing them with someone else. Even if we are embarrassed to even have them.
I recommend going through each of the fears and insecurities you’ve identified around love and relationships and making an effort to understand them at a deep level as just modeled. What are you willing to change? What are you unwilling to change? What do others have to accept about you? What do you have to accept about yourself?
Now that we have made an effort to identify, understand, and come to terms with our fears and insecurities, we should promise ourselves that we are going to avoid projecting them onto potential (or existing) partners. In order to avoid the projection, we had to go through the painful exercise of identification and reconciliation first.
It’s important to find and keep a supportive partner. However, we must recognize that no partner, no matter how wonderful, can heal our wounded sense of self-worth. We can only heal ourselves and we can only do so by truly loving ourselves. Allowing our conscious mind into the dark and hidden corners of our own hearts will help us find a path of healing.
When we really understand and internalize this lesson, we will naturally stop expecting our partners to bridge the gap between their own love and the love we should feel for ourselves. We will be one step closer to finding lasting love.
Tune in next week for the next step in this three part series on how to find lasting love!