A woman trying to sort through the tangled ball of string that can sometimes be our love lives, asked me this question the other day. The following is my response:
“I won't pretend to tell you how to know who is right for you, but I can tell you how to know who is not. You must learn to love yourself so magnificently you find authentic love in your relationship with yourself, and will then be better able to determine real love from its imitation when it comes into your life.”
The truth is that it may take awhile to find the right person for a romantic partnership, but at any given moment we can start a journey where we learn to be the right person for our self right now. When we know what it is to love our self, we are better able to determine whether others in our life are able to support our journey of love and treat us in a loving manner that meets our needs.
Though I believe we spend our entire lives learning how to love and be loved, I have been an intentional student of self love for the past few years after life turned upside down, and I found myself going through a painful divorce and trying to find sure footing once more. Somewhere in the middle of the process of reestablishing a sense of normalcy in my life, finding an identity rooted in myself and not with another, and trying to wrap my heart around what had gone wrong, I realized something vital to my well being.
The onus is on myself to find healing for my broken heart.
Passively waiting for time to trickle by isn't going to heal me. Avoiding the painful feelings that come from heartache isn't going to heal me. And diving into something with a new person without taking the opportunity to know myself, certainly isn't going to heal me. At the end of the day I have realized we must learn to hold our own hand and be strong and loving for ourselves.
Love truly is an inside job, and it needs to begin with cultivating an intentional relationship with our self.
Many of us equate loving ourselves with what we like about ourselves and the good characteristics we identify with most strongly. But what about the rest of the self? If we see ourselves as strong, independent and positive, we often struggle to know what to do when other mood states pop up. How do we think about our anger? Our sadness? Our grief? The parts of ourselves we don't always like?
Though we present a unified front, in reality we all hold an ocean inside of us consisting of a myriad of shades, nuances, and depths of being. We interact with the world through a fluid, evolving dance that is neither static nor limited to a handful of characteristics. We are a whole, composed of many beautiful parts. Self love offers us the journey of learning to love all of ourselves.
It takes great courage to stare our self in the mirror each day and continually open our heart to what we see. It takes even more courage to learn to love the parts of our self we don't always like. Especially the parts that feel broken, ugly, and misshapen. But authentic love encourages us to embrace the whole of these things so we can accept our full self.
Self-acceptance leads to self-compassion, and self-compassion leads to self-love.
Somewhere throughout my journey of self love I have met parts of myself I like a great deal. The woman with the iron spine. The creative artist. The joyful free spirit. The healing heart. But, I have also met parts of myself that find less desirable. The girl who likes to throw time limited pity parties. The deep griever who once spent a summer writing miserable, woeful poetry after a bad break up. The cranky dark cloud who occasionally likes to rain on life's parade just because it's Monday or she ran out of ice-cream.
However, the longer I have made myself try and look into the mirror each day and find acceptance, I have begun to meet other parts of myself I didn't know existed. The supreme comforter. The part who will not judge my process. The resilient spirit who seeks out silver linings. I have started to see myself with new eyes filled with compassion, eyes that refuse to reject. A sense of radical self love has risen up the longer I have done this, and I have realized the parts I don't like are still part of me and therefore no less deserving of my love.
I may not always like some aspects of who I am, but I have become aware that those pieces I am most tempted to reject have powerful lessons to teach me. How to more fully recognize my needs. How to grieve. How to let my tears wash me clean, water my inner soil, prepare me for new life. How to love that which can sometimes feel unlovable.
I tell my clients all the time that wholeness is found in the integration of self. We will struggle to feel whole if we label parts of our self as bad, shameful or fearful, and cower away from full knowledge of our own being. If we cannot shine a light into ourselves and learn to see what is there, who will do this work for us? If we cannot learn to accept ourselves, how can we expect others to?
Acceptance is the beginning of learning to love ourselves.
Sometimes we need only stand still and learn to accept ourselves in this present moment. With compassion and grace and love. Knowing that love isn't designed to be meted out when we reach some standard of being, love is designed to be bestowed and received at any given moment. And it has to start inside of us.
Just as we are.