Love is a funny word. We use it to express a variety of feelings and attitudes. It can communicate romantic, sexual interest towards someone special; affection for family and friends; and when we really like something. “I love that picture,” or the more enthusiastic “I love, love, love your new hairdo!”
We express an altruistic form of love as we joyfully do for others from a selfless connection to them. There is an even higher form of unconditional love called agape. It describes the love of the God power for humans and the reciprocal love that humans feel for the God power.
With one small word representing so many different qualities, it is no wonder that people get confused about what love really is. However, to be able to express love in a positive way, one must first be comfortable with self-love. This is no small task for most of us.
Psychologist Erich Fromm suggested back in the 1950’s that loving self meant first knowing self; understanding our own strengths and weaknesses, taking responsibility for our own actions, respecting ourselves, and taking care of ourselves. This type of self-love is not arrogant or conceited. It is only when we know how to do all of this for ourselves that we can know how to love others. When we know how to love others, we can attract a similar love from them. Anything less can result in a dysfunctional relationship based on dependency and insecurities.
Many of us are ambivalent about self-love. Perhaps we have inherited a pattern of thinking from Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century Italian Dominican friar whose influence on Western thought has been huge. He connected self-love with the vice of pride and “the beginning of all sin.” Some of the early settlers of the United States called for simple values with emphasis on God, rather than the individual. Whatever the source, many people, especially women, have a difficult time feeling “worthy.” The media takes advantage of this to promote clothing, makeup, medicines, diet schemes, and other products to elevate today’s woman (and man) to acceptability.
The antidote to that is to train women (and men) how to love themselves. People who are confident about themselves tend to thrive, be more productive, and able to express their truths in a positive manner. They become clearer communicators, make better decisions, and command respect from others. The more comfortable they are with themselves, the less likely they are affected by negative influences. They are able to respect others and become examples to those whose lives they touch.
How to Develop Self-Love
Practice thinking, feeling, and understanding what you really want. Dig deeper. Do not be afraid of what you will find. This is what you want, not what you think you are supposed to want.
Watch your patterns of behavior. Some are automatic, but not helpful (eating chocolate when stressed). Understand the behavior that will lead you to your goals and keep you focused. Continually repeat this positive behavior until it becomes automatic.
Take care of your needs: sound nutrition, good sleep, enough exercise, healthy relationships.
Limit activities and relationships that drain you, harm you, or are not in harmony with your basic outlook. If it makes you feel bad or “less than,” stop it. You will feel better, and it leaves space in your life to attract improved activities and relationships.
Take responsibility for your words and actions. If you disappoint yourself, fix it if you can, but let it go. Move on. Tomorrow is another day. You will do better. This is how you learn from your mistakes and grow. To hold onto the mistakes is to stay stuck in yesterday. Remember that it is part of love to accept your weaknesses, so you can learn to accept the weaknesses of others.
Live with purpose. Set your intentions. The purpose does not have to be precisely defined. If you set a healthy standard for yourself, you will make decisions that will tend to uphold that standard. As you accomplish your intentions, you will feel increased self-love.
Self-love is an ongoing process. As we take positive steps to feel better about ourselves, we begin to accept our weaknesses, as well as our strengths. We lessen the need to apologize or explain ourselves. We behave in ways that increase our well-being, and we develop compassion for ourselves and others. We become more fulfilled as we flow with our own values and purpose. We become lighter, freer. We begin to attract people and circumstances that support our well-being. We learn to love, and we begin to allow others to love us.