How to Love Yourself is Elusive

how to love yourselfSomething that often comes up while we are working with clients on their development and personal evolution is exactly how to love yourself. Thanks to a profusion of vague and contradictory interpretations, there is a whole lot of confusion out there about what loving oneself actually means. Self-help advice on the topic is ubiquitous, but advising someone to practice being kind to themselves, or to stop their negative self talk is not particularly useful.

In part 1 of “how to love yourself” we look at understanding our human nature in order to better understand and accept ourselves overall.


What Does It Mean to Love Ourselves?

Love can be hard to define for anyone who loves spending time outdoors but who also loves video games. Who loves their comfortable sneakers but also loves how they look in heels. Loves their reliable old 4×4 but would love to own a new sports car. And who absolutely loves ice-cream. Of course they also love their dog, who doesn’t? They love their romantic partner to death, they love all the members of their extended family, but above all, they love their kids, all exactly equally of course. Jokes and sarcasm aside, love in the context of how to love yourself simply means to accept and appreciate all parts of yourself without conditions or reservations.

What We Don’t Accept and Appreciate About Ourselves?

In order to accept and appreciate ourselves, we need to know about ourselves in detail. It’s futile trying to generate an overall acceptance for a vague overarching conceptual idea of ourselves. A great place to start is to identify exactly what it is that we don’t love about ourselves. Sometimes it’s a physical attribute that we judge as unacceptable, but more often it’s our thoughts and behaviors that we really take issue with. The good news is that the things we are judging are usually not the problem. Our problem is almost always the judgment itself.


How Do You Know If You Love Yourself?

The answer probably is “yes”, and “no”. Many people just assume that they do love themselves by default because they only have an overarching concept of self love and have never bothered to dissect it. As one of our clients once put it when asked, “Well, I’m not exactly trying to off myself”. The reason that it can be tricky to measure self love is because our problem is usually not an overall self-loathing. It’s more of a situational thing, where we judge our thoughts and behaviors moment to moment, and then store away those verdicts subconsciously . The issue is not that at any given moment we fail to accept or appreciate our entire self. It’s a gradual incremental accumulation of negative judgments that wears away at our self-image and self acceptance.


How to Love Yourself Just As You Are – Human Nature

The lack of understanding of our human nature, even on a relatively superficial level, causes a whole lot of internal conflict and negative self-talk that could be avoided if we were more aware and accepting of a few simple facts about our human nature.

Here are some facts for you to ponder.

Fact 1 – All human beings share exactly the same human nature.

We all have every single human trait and quality baked right in to our human nature. It may appear to us that someone does or does not have certain human traits or qualities, but every human being has the capacity to express the full array of human traits and qualities, depending on what they perceive their situation or circumstances require.

Fact 2 – No part of human nature is inherently good or inherently bad.

Every single human trait and quality can be a useful mechanism given the right situation or circumstances. For example, violence can be a useful mechanism to protect ourselves if we are physically threatened.

Fact 3 – No part of our individual human nature (trait or quality) can be removed, discarded or permanently suppressed.

Accepting and appreciating our human nature as it really is removes internal conflict. It brings our expression of the various human traits and qualities under our conscious control. Denying or attempting to suppress any part of our nature (a particular trait or quality) causes internal conflict, suffering and self-depreciation. The parts of our nature that we accept and appreciate serve us, but the parts of our nature that we try to deny and suppress tend to get in our way or run our lives.

Fact 4 – Any part of our human nature that we actively try to deny, disown or suppress becomes dissociated form our identity/persona (idea of ourselves).

Our disowned and dissociated parts of our human nature are collectively called the shadow self and represent the part of our nature that we are in conflict with. Whenever we express any part of our human nature that we have disowned and dissociated, it tends to be expressed explosively in an out of control manner. For example, disowning the capacity for violence in human nature, but lashing out (physically or verbally) when threatened and causing unintended injury.

Fact 5 – All human beings are fundamentally self-serving by nature, altruism is a myth.

This is tough for some to swallow because parts of society try to condition us to believe that altruism is noble and admirable. People simply won’t do anything unless they perceive some benefit or payoff for themselves. The perceived payoff may be obvious or subtle, physically real or completely made up or imagined.

In romantic relationships, subtle attempts at manipulation often masquerade as altruism. A parner may appear to sacrifice or compromise on their needs, hiding their true expectations. If their unspoken expectaions are not fulfilled they accumulate resentment. They may suddenly become confrontational when their resentment boils over, exposing their true selfish agenda and their underhanded mechanism.


How to Love Yourself Through Others

Our persona judges everything relative to its idea of itself, alienating and distrusting anything that appears different. We often label traits or qualities in other people as bad, simply because we don’t perceive the trait or quality to be serving us, and regardless of whether or not it is serving anyone else.

Stephen R. Covey wrote that “each of us tends to think we see things as they are, that we are objective. But this is not the case. We see the world, not as it is, but as we are – or, as we are conditioned to see it. When we describe what we see, we in effect describe ourselves, our perceptions, our paradigms. When others disagree with us we immediately think something is wrong with them”.

Of course our judgment of others is just a function of our own growth mechanism. Everything we label and judge as negative or bad is ultimately a blurry reflection of some unloved and dissociated aspect of our own human nature. These judgments simply reflect the dissociated parts of our nature back at us. They point out our fragmented idea of ourselves.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Jung

Our Refusal to Accept Our True Nature Causes Us Suffering

Our denial of parts of human nature creates situations and circumstances in our lives that challenge us to question and correct our biased beliefs. The more we resist growth and cling to beliefs that don’t match reality, the more painful our experience. Our shadow-self (the dissociated parts of our nature) directs our creative energy away from creating what we want, and diverts it to unproductive internal conflicts.

Whenever we are triggered by someone’s “bad” traits or qualities, it points out for us the parts of our own nature that we have disowned. It is an opportunity for us to accept and appreciate parts the of human nature in them that we have not yet come to terms with in ourselves. If we consistently question our biased beliefs and perceptions by looking for benefits and advantages associated with these bad traits and qualities, we are able to balance our skewed perceptions and correct our biased beliefs. The more we learn to accept these traits and qualities in others, the more we accept them in ourselves, leading to greater integration and wholeness within ourselves. Increased integration affords us greater presence in each moment and an increases our capacity to create our life the way we want it.

In Conclusion

Plato famously wrote “Man, Know Thyself”, which he took from the inscription at the entrance of the temple of Apollo in Delphi. People who came to see the Oracle of Delphi were required to first introspectively examine themselves, as self knowledge is our basis of understanding the world. When we understand and accept our fundamental nature, and learn to cooperate with it instead of resisting it, our personal and spiritual development accelerates as a natural result. As Aristotle wrote, “self knowledge is the beginning of all wisdom”. Consistently questioning our conditioned false beliefs and preconceived ideas about human nature increases our understanding, acceptance and appreciation of ourselves.

We hope you found this article useful.
Please take a moment to comment below, we love to read your feedback.

Regards, Graham and Monika Burwise