From a very young age, we’re taught how we should treat others. “Don’t hit!” “You need to share.” “Give your sister a hug.”
These lessons have shaped us into the adults we are, good members of society who (usually) don’t strike one another and remember to say “please” and “thank you.”
But what did we learn from our parents about loving ourselves? Did they teach us to hug ourselves? To be kind to ourselves? The only time we were encouraged to interact with ourselves was in timeout; and we all know timeout wasn’t filled with self-love, but festering anger from being stripped of our toys.
Over the years, we’ve all developed barriers to self-love. It’s not our parents’ fault – or ours – but it’s now our responsibility to start identifying the ways in which we self-sabotage, cling to unrealistic expectations, or seek external approval.
In order to move towards greater self-love, we need to look inside and see to which walls we need to lay siege, breaking through our barriers and advancing towards a happier, more contented life.
The Voices in Your Head
Pay attention to your inner voice, the track that makes comments about everything you do, either laying beats of discouragement and judgment, or positivity and encouragement. Most likely, it’s a combination of both.
Psychologists have identified the two opposing voices as the anti-self and the pro-self. The anti-self has essentially adopted other people’s criticism we’ve heard over the years; small comments about our intelligence, our beauty, or our competency. It might even mimic our caretakers’ habits and insecurities.
The anti-self clings to this negativity, spitting it out when we’re pursuing new accomplishments. “You never stick with dieting!” “This relationship is too good for you; you don’t deserve love!”
How can we work with these negative voices, resisting the urge to snap back and tell them to get lost? The best thing to do is recognize their presence and observe them from a calm distance. “Oh!” we can respond, “There’s that anti-self again, saying whatever comes to mind.”
We don’t need to identify with these voices. If we can find them comical, even silly, all the better! They may not go away, but we can strip them of their power by identifying them, instead of identifying with them.
Checking Motivations and Expectations
It’s no surprise that we’re often our toughest critics. We may hold ourselves to unrealistic standards, or strive for external approval.
Have a closer look at your motivations. When we’re trying to improve a part of our lives that triggers insecurities, like losing weight, sometimes our motivations are impure. A common example is guilt tripping.
Guilt tripping looks like this: “Oh, now you’re going to have a cookie because you think you deserve it? Great. Enjoy. Good luck working that off.”
Not much joy to be found in a cookie after that!
Instead of finding motivation in guilt, try moving towards something positive, like your future self. Your future self is you in a few years, or maybe even tomorrow; it’s the ‘you' you could talk to, relate to, and empathize with. You want only the best for your future you, and he/she wants only the best for you!
With your future self in mind, ask: “What would make my future self happy? Eating the cookie and celebrating with friends and family? Selecting something from the vegetable plate instead?” Thinking of your future self is a way to make decisions based on love instead of acting out of fear or guilt.
Lastly, it’s not only important to investigate our motivations, but our expectations. Are we seeking perfection in everything we do? Or do we remember to account for the fact that we’re humans, full of mistakes?
Choosing to show ourselves love and forgiveness, even when we make mistakes, is one of the best ways to break down barriers to self-love.
Leaning into Suffering
It may seem counterintuitive, but leaning into suffering is one of the most rewarding paths to greater self-love. (2)
Suffering is uncomfortable, there’s no way around it. But the more we avoid our pain, running from it, the more we distance ourselves from being human, and ultimately, the more we suffer.
Suffering is often labeled as “bad,” but really, it holds the key to transformation. Suffering is like a tide on the shore; it comes and goes, it can be violent at times, and when we resist it, we get knocked down and waterlogged, our eyes stinging with salt.
By surrendering to the tide, over time our sharp edges smooth and we learn to ride the waves, knowing, eventually, they will subside and calm waters will return.
Embracing suffering is probably the hardest barrier to self-love. Its walls are thick and stationed with our best archers. But with a bit of patience, practice, and forgiveness, even these walls can be brought down.
To help with this endeavor, we created the 30 Days of Love Challenge Series. It's one of our many Intention Inspired curated journeys. It is an inward journey designed to give you clarity on what has limited you from holding more love for yourself and experiencing deeper love with others. It will give you the daily practice you need to finally break down those self-love barriers you have put up and held up for so long. You owe it to yourself to give it a try, or at least something like it. You'll thank yourself later.
❤ TRY IT FOR FREE! ❤
As psychologist and meditation teacher Flint Sparks once said: “The mess is part of the miracle of life, but in attending to the mess, we often forget the miracle.” (3)
Remember the miracle of your life; remember to lean in with all your heart. This life is the only one you get, and it doesn’t start tomorrow, when you think you’ll be a little better, a little more loving. It starts today, in this moment, full of flaws, barriers, and beauty. Using this time to invite love in is possibly the most noble of all quests on which we could embark.