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Learning to Love Yourself

Why We Need To & Three Ways To Start

by Deah Curry. PhD

Many women start counseling with the idea that loving oneself is selfish. It’s a concept bred into us from an early age by our society. Therapeutic progress often begins with untangling err-oneous notions of selfishness instilled in childhood which have created internal conflicts that are disempowering to healthy interpersonal relationships, and destructive to self-esteem and a creative spirit.

The accusation of being selfish is frequently aimed at children by parents whose own agendas are at odds with what the kids want for themselves. Parents warn don’t be so selfish when they want to control a child’s choices and behavior, or teach the principles of sharing and empathy. They usually mean well, and have no idea of the damage they could be doing.

This approach is an unconscious form of discipline that believes that shaming a child into conformity with the accepted values of society is in the child’s best interest. But psychologically, it’s a harmful practice. Although children who are shamed into "unselfishness" may grow up to have genuine compassion for others, they can also become underachievers in their careers and creative expression, doormats in their relationships, stymied in their attempts at soul growth and life purpose development, and miserable in their sense of self-worth. That’s an awfully high price to pay for that particular disciplinary admonition.

Untangling Selfishness from Narcissism

To be self-ish, is to attend to the Self — the central point of consciousness in the personality. At the most basic level, without a Self, we would not be able to know what we know, or even who we are, or what we need to survive.

Being Self-ish is not the same as believing and acting from the idea that anything and everything that happens is about oneself, and that only one’s own views and values matter. Clinically, we call such shallow self-absorption and lack of critical self-examination narcissistic, and label it as arrested emotional development, or personality disorder.

Glenda exemplifies a confused understanding of selfishness. Hearing the warning message so often, she internalized an interpretation that it’s bad to ask for what I want. Then that distortion went deeper until it became I can’t get what I need without being selfish, and I’ll be a bad person if I’m selfish.

Consequently, Glenda had tremendous difficulty defending herself when she should have, and found it impossible to get what she rightly deserved. She entered counseling because she was miserable, felt invisible, and — when others took advantage of her — was unable to assertively speak up for herself.

When Glenda began to uncover and examine the dysfunctional core beliefs she held about being selfish, she realized that she could not identify a central concept of her Self that was empowered and healthy. Instead, she was burdened by old parental tapes and societal messages that were all aimed at manipulating her in some form. She ineffectively responded to these manipulations from a position of trying to avoid rejection, ridicule, and shame.

As a result, Glenda was suppressing more than her true Self. After learning that loving herself was not selfish but was actually crucial for her physical as well as her psychospiritual health, Glenda had the powerful insight that her old beliefs were contributing to her chronic lack of energy and insomnia. But she needed to learn how to change her deeply embedded and imbalanced beliefs to ones of harmony and self-empowerment.

3 Ways to Start Loving Your Self

1. Be your own best friend. Many of us treat ourselves in ways that we would never think about doing with our friends. Loving yourself starts with stopping all the criticism you heap on yourself for imagined and trivial shortcomings. Glenda now practices compassionate non-judgment with herself first so that she can genuinely extend open-hearted non-judgment to others. Her practice now is to never say anything to herself that she wouldn’t say to a friend.

2. Celebrate and express your Self. Honor your own accomplishments and meaningful moments in ways that are unique to your own style and creativity. Whether you buy a new piece of jewelry as a reward for a hard-earned achievement, or write a poem of praise about yourself to commemorate an obstacle overcome, such outward demonstrations of self-valuing boosts the sense of self-worth and validates self-respect. Glenda now takes the entire month of her birthday to treat her friends, and to sculpt clay items of spiritual significance to her, rather than waiting to be remembered. These pro-active gestures inject joy and fun into her spirit, and overcome the negative self-pity that happened when she thought it was selfish to celebrate herself.

3. Share Your New Self with Your Community. People often say that we learn things best when we teach them to others. It’s true with personal behaviors as well. Integrate your Self loving changes into your daily habits and core beliefs by acting in those new ways with your friends and family. For example: instead of putting yourself down, stand up for yourself in social situations. Where before you might have just accommodated someone else’s ideas, let people know that you have some preferences and needs of your own.

As you demonstrate your true Self you’ll find it becoming second nature to act with an enlightened Self-interest that will help you continue to become the person you want to be – a person who loves herself and is not afraid to show that to the world.

There are many other ways to start loving yourself. Perhaps making a list for yourself will be insightful and revealing. Once you have a list, commit to changing just one thing a month until you have shifted many of your old habits into a new, more self-compassionate response pattern. Then take those new habits and patterns out into your social arena and act on them. You’ll find that you can be proactive about your needs and desires and still experience the grounded satisfaction and joy that comes from loving yourself.

With 17 years experience as a psycho-therapist, I have many therapeutic coaching approaches that can help you identify your authentic Self and help you learn new ways to appropriately love yourself without becoming narcissistic. For information, appointments, and Kirkland WA office location, send email to DrDeah@deahcurry.net or call 425-814-9083. See www.Inner JourneyWork.com, www.DeahCurry.net, and www.Emotional FirstAid-Coaching.com.


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