2018-02-16 / Community

You must love yourself to be able to love others


Many spiritual traditions recognize loving yourself as a primary obligation and great commandment. Yet loving yourself is perhaps one of the most challenging things for so many of us to do.

Our feelings, past hurts and past traumatic events can become some of the greatest teachers of how to love and transform our pain into healing and growth. Unfortunately, as it so often is with our physical pain, we try to use painkillers and other substances to numb our emotional pain. Yet without attending to the roots of what causes our pain, we often do not get better. Traumatic events from our childhood can form unconscious distorted beliefs about ourselves as not good enough, not lovable, not smart enough. Those deep, distorted beliefs keep us stuck and incapable of loving ourselves. If the closest people in our childhood did not love us and they abused us, how can we love and believe that we are lovable, good and smart? These unconscious beliefs often lead a person to split from the “true self” and engage in unhealthy behaviors that reinforce those same faulty unconscious beliefs.

Lack of self-love makes us feel incomplete, and then we believe we need someone else to make us feel whole. That can lead to dependent and unhealthy attachments. The truth is that unless we learn to love ourselves completely, no one else will. Lack of self-love, according to researchers, negatively impacts the brainstem cells that process anxiety and stress, and this disrupts the ability to regulate emotion and increases stress signals to the brain.

How do we fix this? First, by deconstructing our unconscious beliefs about ourselves and reconstructing them with healthy, evidence- and reality-based beliefs about ourselves. Rely less on others to define you and more on authentic reality-based affirmations of self-worth. Remove lies of any form from your life, since they will reinforce the unhealthy split of self and prevent you from being your true and authentic self. Another helpful practice is loving-kindness meditation, which has been proven, with consistent practice, to transform the regions of our brain that process and perceive our emotions. Additionally, replacing the negative thoughts and statements about self with positive, encouraging statements is proven to be beneficial. Often finding help from experienced professionals can help us to learn more effectively how to genuinely love ourselves and share that love with others.

Self-love is essential to healthy psychological and emotional wellbeing, and to healthy and fulfilling relationships.

Stan Strycharz is a licensed psychologist practicing in Southwest Florida. He can be reached at drstan.net.

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