By now, most of you probably realize how imperative self-love is for healing the deep-gashes inflicted by self-hatred.
We spend our lives in quagmires of anger, self-pity, shame, guilt, anxiety, fear and depression, and it is only once we wade out of the bog of our misery onto the clean ground of awakening that we realize just how important nurturing ourselves is. When we fail to forgive, nurture and venerate ourselves, our lives are driven by unconscious instincts, reactions and self-sabotaging behaviors that perpetuate our cycles of despair and emptiness. There is no doubt that self-love is an extremely important part of becoming evolved and enlightened beings.
Ironically we can fall into the trap of using self-love against ourselves. How is this possible, you might be wondering? Well, it all starts with the word “should.”
The Role Inner Dialogue Plays in Our Lives
Yes, self-love is vital. But no, it doesn’t need to become a “should.” What do I mean by this? Let me explain.
We are raised since birth adopting a variety of phrases that eventually become deeply embedded into our inner dialogue, or self-talk. Some examples include the following expressions:
- “I should …”
- “I must …”
- “I need to …”
- “I have to …”
- “I’ve got to …”
- “If I don’t do this I will …”
- “I always …”
- “I never …”
And many more.
While these phrases and thoughts sometimes serve a useful purpose (e.g. “I should turn off the stove otherwise I might blow up the building”), we have got into the habit of using these expressions against ourselves, almost on a daily basis.
Here are some examples of how we misuse these expressions in our everyday lives:
- “I should say thank you otherwise they will think badly of me and I don’t want to be gossiped about.”
- “I must try to be strong around others, even if I feel weak inside. Crying is bad.”
- “I have to stick to this diet, even if I feel lethargic and sick. If I don’t, my yoga friends will think badly of me.”
- “I’ve got to make more progress – I’m going too slow!”
Do any of these thoughts sound familiar to you? If so, that is completely normal: most of us experience these types of inner dialogue. They all stem from our conditioning as children and young adults. How many of us were told for instance, “You need to get good grades,” “You’ve got to go to university and get a good education,” “You’ve always got to put other people before you,” “You should always be polite,” “You should never talk back to your father/mother/teacher,” “You have to be a good boy/girl for mummy,” and so on, and so forth.
Phrases like “should” and “have to” don’t serve us because they deprive us of our own personal power. They impose on us the burden of duty. Rather than stemming from our hearts and souls, we make chores of “doing the right thing” and “being a good person.”
Are You Making Self-Love into a “Should”?
Like me you might have read a lot of material all over the place on self-love. You might have watched videos of gurus explaining the importance of self-respect, you might have read books on people’s journeys of self-love and you might have a spiritual circle of friends that is always emphasizing the importance of taking care of yourself.
You might be bombarded with the overwhelming desire to love yourself – just like all these other awakened people do – but something isn’t quite right. You find that the more you try to love yourself, the more unhappy you are with your efforts.
You might find yourself berating yourself about an old misfortune or a new resentment, and then later repent, telling yourself “I should let this go and move on, I should be more forgiving.” Or you might try to be more confident in yourself, fall into insecurity and anxiety, and later think “If I am to love myself I have to be more confident in the person I am – I’m not doing well enough!” You might even compare some of your habits with others on the same path and feel miserable as a result, realizing that you are not as “self-loving” as they are.
When it comes to the word “should,” there is a very fine line between motivating oneself and sabotaging ones happiness. On one hand we motivate ourselves by setting goals and fulfilling them, (e.g. “I should keep up this exercise routine for the next week to see how I feel”), and on the other hand we can undermine our happiness by imposing unnecessary ideals, expectations and comparisons onto what we do.
Have you ever thought something along the lines of, “I SHOULD have more self-love! I SHOULDN’T feel so guilty!”? This is a perfect example of falling into the trap of making self-love a duty, a burden and a jail cell that restricts our ability to truly grow. That is the threat of making self-love into a “should”: it actually turns us against ourselves. Ironic don’t you think?
Self-Love = Gentleness and Forgiveness
At the start of our journeys, it is all too easy to be ensnared by the external comparisons we make between ourselves and other people who have perhaps advanced more on the spiritual path. I used to make this mistake a lot, until I realized one day that the very essence of self-love is about being gentle and forgiving with yourself.
Thanks to some much-needed guidance, I learned that it was (and still is) completely fine to take my time, to go slowly and to learn little by little. I learned that it was OK to be flawed, to continue making mistakes … just as long as I tried, persisted, and pushed through little by little.
So if you haven’t yet reached the pinnacle of what you consider to be self-love yet, don’t worry. It’s not necessary that you push yourself, and it’s not necessary to be hard on yourself – the precise opposite of what self-love is. Rather, know that self-love, at its core, is the ability to embrace your wrongdoings and imperfections, knowing that you are innately worthy of all the love life has to offer.
Are you struggling with making self-love into a duty, into a “should”? Please share your experiences below in the comments!