”In order to love who you are, you cannot hate the experiences that shaped you.” - Andrea Dykstra
We’ve all heard the proverbial thought to love ourselves first. Yet, often we put our needs on the back burner while we pour our energy into loving and caring for our children, our parents, friends, partners, and others through volunteering. What about our needs? Why is it so difficult to put ourselves first, to love ourselves for who we are without criticism and judgment?
Sometimes it’s easier to put our energy into helping others and deflect thinking about ourselves, both out of cultural expectation and avoidance. Perhaps, we’re not thrilled at where we are in life, and use our past experiences as an excuse as to why we have our current circumstances. Perhaps, we haven’t reconciled our past and wish it were different and haven’t integrated those experiences with who we are today.
As I reflect on what self-love is, I’ve realized that every experience I had shaped and sculpted who I am. There’s much to come to terms with in the past, and the journey of self-love and discovery begins with accepting the past knowing those experiences are part of us and will never leave, being present and reflecting on how those experiences have shaped us, turning any negative experiences into lessons learned, and realizing that our past does not define us nor create our future. As an adult, we have the awesome ability to choose what we bring forward into the future, yet for many of us this is a heavy responsibility.
Ultimately, learning each experiences lessons, letting go of the past and focusing on honoring who we are now, while improving and bettering ourselves each day gives back our power to love ourself as the beautiful, unique creatures we are. For within us lies the needy infant, the rambunctious toddler, the young child, the rebellious teenager, and the adult we now are. We are a sum of all these and to deny ourselves the very experiences that we had during these years, is to deny ourself the love for each stage of us.
Self-love begins with accepting and appreciating the special person you are and treating yourself with kind, respect, and nurturing, and expanding your growth and well-being. There is no one, not from the past, not presently, and not in the future, who is exactly like you, with your experiences and passions. No one is like you, you are unique, and you have gifts within you that no one else. Self-love is about appreciating those gifts, and loving you for the incredible person you are. No one knows you completely, your inner desires, your experiences, your passions, except for you.
Rather than being a sum of all your flaws, take a moment, look in the mirror, and ask yourself ”What is one thing you like about ourself”. Create a sum of strengths of things you love about yourself. This may be difficult and maybe the answer is not immediate, be gentle and kind to yourself. When it comes, no matter how small, write it down. Writing things cements in the mind that this is a truth, and the more things you write, the more your mind is excited about who you are.
We all have a notes section on our phones. Take a moment to open up a note called “Things I Like About Myself”, and every time you think of something, put it in. This practice focuses on appreciation and respect for all the small things about yourself that you like, rather than criticizing and judging yourself harshly for all the things you don’t like. Add to this list daily, read it in the morning, at work, and before going to bed, and soon you’ll see the unique and beautiful person you are shining through. When feeling down or beating yourself up, refer to this list and spend a few minutes reading it aloud. It’ll provide courage and inspiration as this is the truth about you.
A practice that I began years ago is to wake up before everyone else and spend time on giving to me. This practice prepares me for the day and puts a positive spin on it as I’ve gotten in touch with what’s important to me while practicing giving love and accepting love. This practice is a form of self-love and incorporates self-care by prioritizing myself first. Some things in my self-care and self-love practice are reading inspirational books, meditation, pilates/yoga and walking every morning. This self-love and self-care puts me in touch with who I really am and what I am becoming and taps into the emotional, spiritual and physical part of me.
What will you today to begin a practice of self-love and self-care?