Self-Love & Self-Compassion

30/08/2016 11:58

The concept of 'self-love' is often viewed with suspicion as being a form of self-indulgence or even self-obsession. Some may point to the myth of the young Narcissus who fell in love with his own image reflected in a lake. We are more inclined to focus on serving others and contributing to the greater good rather than entertaining a frothy notion of 'loving oneself'.

While I fully subscribe to being of maximum service to others and serving with integrity and without being attached to an outcome; service that does not start with oneself can soon become counteractive. It is not possible to be of maximum service to our fellows if 'our own cup isn't full' - we can burn out, become resentful and confuse 'helpfulness' with controlling others. In other words, how can we truly love and serve another human being if we fail to love and serve ourselves?

For instance, if we start the day with an emotional and spiritual practice (for example mindfulness meditation, yoga or prayer), read inspirational literature and take moderate exercise we have practised self-care and are much more likely to have the power to be of benefit to others. If we pause throughout the day and explore our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical well-being, this will recharge our internal flow of energy and make us more effective.

Self-love and self-care, however, consists of more than just daily meditation, yoga and exercise. Self-love is directing compassion inwards. It is accepting our emotional wounds and having the courage to heal and be empowered. Self-compassion is taking the risk of coming out of hiding and showing our vulnerability - when we come out of hiding and talk about the shame we feel around our addictive behaviour (with trustworthy friends), we can heal.

Tragically, so many of us suffer from self-loathing. Unless we approach this with gentleness we will find destructive ways to suppress our toxic shame (usually through addictive behaviour). Think for a moment of when you revisit a high-school photo or even on occasion, when you catch a glimpse of yourself in a shop window. Does this trigger a toxic feeling of shame or self-criticism? How do you feel when you think about your past 'failures'? Does this bring up aggressive and shame-based emotions? There are many ways to detect a lack of self-compassion and self-love.

When we are mindful and have decided to practise self-compassion and self-love, life will give us plenty of opportunities to heal. A major part of self-compassion is to be gentle - to go easy on ourselves. This is why in a book I co-authored titled, The Kindness Habit: Transforming our Relationship to Addictive Behaviours, I wrote: "When we practise self-compassion, we look after ourselves just as though we are nurturing a small child. This is what the author John Bradshaw meant by 'reclaiming our inner child'. In recovery, we can begin to nurture our inner child and connect deeply with our heart and spirit."

What steps can you take today to practice self-kindness, self-love and self-compassion - to nurture your Inner Child?

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