Fairfield County Edition

I Love You, Self

What We Need is Within, not Without

When we look up natural stress relief, the suggestions are usually to take a bath, go for a walk, meditate or care for ourselves. There is information on changing our negative thoughts to positive ones. While these can all be helpful, what we give less attention to is self-love. Oftentimes, we think negatively of this phrase. Many of us seem to associate self-love with narcissism, a very separate concept. Self-love involves accepting ourselves as we are, including the good, the bad, the ugly and the spectacular. Every last piece of the inner self deserves our love, even the pieces we tuck away in the corner, hoping no one will see our shame, anger, sadness or other emotions. We should not be frightened; once in practice, self-love can be powerful. 

Knowing ourselves is an initial step to self-love. It includes both knowledge and acceptance by understanding who we are as a person and accepting our many different layers. Those layers include what is genuinely us and what is not, such as beliefs, values and the internal compass that makes up who we genuinely are. The latter may be different from what we were taught. We grow up in a world learning the ways of the people before us. We learn the values and beliefs of our parents, friends and other significant people in our lives; but our growth process does not stop there. As we mature, we are then asked to examine how much those beliefs, values and characteristics are really us. Do these represent us or are we different in some ways? How much is still waiting to be explored? Accepting our own peculiarities and allowing ourselves to be different from our concept of “normal” can lead to self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is the next step toward self-love; it is allowing permission to be and accept who we are. This is a series of steps to meet, get to know, embrace and love ourselves.

Self-love can be a difficult concept to understand and, even more so, to practice. It is an unconditional love for oneself, no matter the circumstances. Often love is experienced as conditional. Society, in many ways, teaches us of the conditionality. We learn to search for “loving” or “unloving” statements, behaviors and feelings from ourselves and from others. For example, when we open a door for someone, this act is considered “good”, translating to a sense of worthiness and love. On the other hand, closing the door on someone is considered “bad”, giving off a sense of unworthiness and lack of love. Conditional love, taught for generations through the lacking practice of self-love, evokes shame and self-loathing. These experiences deter us from being our genuine selves and from providing ourselves with the love we truly need, desire and deserve. Moreover, people have attempted to gain love, as in the examples above, through their external environment. This does not fill the void needing to be filled with self-love; it instead provokes feelings of self-criticism and lowered worth. 

Another common example would be a person who desires their intimate relationship to provide them with the love they have not learned to self-provide. Often times, a person looking for external love and validation is left feeling unsatisfied by their partner. Their partner cannot provide what they need to self-fulfill. This is true of most things. We are taught to look externally for love, validation, approval and stability when we really need to be looking for these within ourselves. The search for these external attributes can lead to conflict in relationships and general unhappiness. This brings back the topic of allowing self-love. Maybe it is time to start. 

We do not need someone outside of us to fulfill our needs. If we accept and allow self-love, then we can allow ourselves to love someone else. It allows us to fulfill our own internal needs and truly engage with another person. We can have healthier relationships when we understand what our needs are and learn to self-fulfill what no one else can fill for us.

The concept of self-love has been perverted into the belief that self-love is unhealthy and narcissistic. The concept of narcissism was established through the image of Narcissus in Greek mythology. Narcissus was a man who obsessed over his own reflection and died staring at himself. This can be applied to the concept of narcissism, which refers to a shallow, superficial and grandiose sense of self. Narcissism is a defense mechanism developed as a way to ward off the world. Typically, this is based on early childhood emotional wounds experienced in relationship with the child’s primary attachment. Narcissism is a deeply held emotional wound. The individual did not receive the love needed to understand and provide genuine self-love. 

The aggressiveness and dominant tendencies are their way of hiding their inner, severely wounded child. Imagine an infant struggling to survive in an adult body. The survival is the armor which keeps everyone away, repelling some and attracting others. The individual who presents with narcissism needs nothing more and less than what the rest of us need: genuine self-love. Self-love allows us to then experience true love from others. Self-love goes deeper than the transient nature of conditional love. It is undivided and steadfast.

It is time we stop this dangerous misconception that self-love and narcissism are the same. We are each worthy of self-love and can love ourselves without being pathological.

Teresa Reyes Castillo, PhD, and Anna Huff, PhD, are licensed psychologists and owners of Being Centered: Psychological Services. Being Centered provides psychotherapy including individual, couples and uncoupling and psychological testing. Connect at 203-614-1089, Info@Being-Centered.com and Being-Centered.com. See ad, page 12.

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