“The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you that you love, well, that’s just fabulous.”
A couple of weeks ago I was having dinner with friends and one of them said to me, “you have to love yourself and believe that every single cell in your body is supposed to live.” There’s no question I want to live, as I’m sure there’s not question you want to live. But I did stop to wonder if I was truly embodying what it means to live and love myself.
Throughout my life, I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time worrying about other people and putting their needs ahead of my own. When I did put my needs first, words like selfish, entitled, princess and spoiled often followed. As a result, for most of my life, I felt small, insignificant and powerless, yet somehow managed to believe I had the power to make other people happy or worse unhappy. I felt responsible for other’s moods even when it had nothing to do with me. This was a huge burden to carry and one that made me feel miserable. In return, I relied upon my happiness coming from others. I was taught in my late twenties that as adults we are responsible for our own happiness. I liked the sound of that and concurred it had to be better than relying upon what was outside my control. From then on, I began working towards the goal of creating my own happiness instead of expecting others to do it for me. It took me over five years of practice and a cancer diagnosis to grasp this concept.
The next lesson I learned is that we get to choose what we get upset about or don’t. Put another way, we can choose to see ourselves through our best friend, parent or partner’s eyes or we can see ourselves through our own eyes or our higher power’s* eyes (let’s make it Cupid for Valentine’s Day). For story purposes, let’s say Cupid made you. In Cupid’s eyes, you’re perfect. Cupid would not have made you if you weren’t. Cupid created you for a purpose. You may or may not know what that purpose is yet, and that’s ok. In the meantime, Cupid wants you to experience unconditional love, joy and happiness. Cupid knew you’d also face conflict, struggle and challenges, but nothing you couldn’t handle in the long run. Cupid created you to survive by having an unwavering belief in yourself and him. Cupid didn’t design you to walk around acting small—I have a habit of shrugging my shoulders, ultimately sinking, instead of standing tall and proud. It wasn’t to feel invisible—I used to feel unseen, and when acne blanketed the top half of my body I didn’t want to be seen. And he certainly didn’t put you here to feel like you weren’t enough—I often felt like I hadn’t accomplished enough, wasn’t skinny or pretty enough and ultimately wasn’t enough. If you exhibit any of these traits, as I did, on a sustained basis, you are communicating to your cells that you may not really want to be here.
Cupid made you whole and somewhere in the process of being born, growing up and turning into an adult, how to live confidently, lovingly and strongly may have been masked, but not lost, by challenging events in your life. Underneath the tarnish exists an entirely whole being that is the real you. Anyone who chooses to see you as less is unable to see themselves as more. When you stand tall, want to be seen and know you’re enough, you see the same in others regardless of where they’re at in their life.
Valentine’s Day is a fantastic time to start a practice of self-love. Not only will it improve your relationships, but you’ll reap the benefits of increased confidence, self-esteem and happiness along with a better functioning immune system. Less stress equals enhanced immunity.
The world around us plays a large role in shaping who we are. Maybe you wanted to play the guitar in high school, but your best friend convinced you to join the chess team instead, and you’ve had a longing to play the guitar ever since. Play the guitar already! Maybe it’s not that simple and you’re not sure what you really love.
Uncovering what you truly love and enjoy can take work. Journaling, vision boarding and meditating are all great ways to get in touch with what lights you up. If you already know, great. All you need to do is start today.
Whatever you discover, make no apologies for doing what you love. It’s the differences between us that make us unique and exciting. If people in your life can’t accept that, think about increasing your resilience to their criticisms or building a tribe that understands you.
Treat Yourself the Way You Treat Your Best Friend
The hardest person on you is probably you. We beat ourselves up when we mess up or feel like we don’t measure up. Be kind to yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone fails. If you’re not nice to you how can you expect anyone else to be?
Do Not Accept Others’ Stories as Your Truth
We all live through our own lens. Stop taking hurtful, critical and judgmental remarks and comments from others as who you are. It is not who you are.
A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson
Reading Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”, jump started my path to loving myself, giving love to others and receiving love. It’s very God heavy, which didn’t bother me even though at the time God did not play a significant role in my life. If you feel alone, in a state of fear and anxiety or have a general malaise I recommend checking out this book. I often apply the phrase, take what you like and leave the rest (meaning, if the God part bothers you, ignore it and focus on what resonates with you).
Commit to Your Relationship with a Higher Power
I didn’t grow up with organized religion and, therefore, don’t have preconceived notions of what it is or isn’t. During cancer treatment last year I knew I wasn’t strong enough to get through it without a force much stronger than me. God was an easy choice. As I continue to grow and develop I feel myself drawn more and more to Buddhism, so we’ll see where it all shakes out. No matter what higher power resonates with you, there is strength in seeing yourself through the eyes of your creator, asking your higher power for help and praying for yourself and others. I will never be without a higher power again.
Replace Negative Thoughts with Positive Thoughts – A Complaint Free World
One of the many exercises I practiced during my quarter-life crisis in Chicago was wearing the Complaint Free World bracelet. Every time you complain you have to switch the bracelet to the other wrist. The goal is to keep the bracelet on the same wrist for 21 days or no complaining for as long as possible. Try it! This is an excellent way to change the way you think, see life and speak.
Mantra – Infinite Love and Gratitude
I have lots of tools in my tool box. When the going gets tough, and I feel helpless, I repeat the energy medicine mantra that is part of the LifeLine Technique, Infinite Love and Gratitude. This gets me off the hamster wheel of whatever is bothering me and shifts my focus.
Many years ago, when the concept of self-love was new to me, my soul sister, Jamie Eslinger of the Promise 365, recommended I try this activity that Louise Hay started. All you have to do is sit comfortably in front of a mirror, and say, “I love you.” Do this activity for anywhere from 5-10 minutes daily. It sounds simple enough, but the changes can be quite surprising and profound.
Choose three to five friends who you love and love you who have the confidence, self-esteem and adoration to cheer you on unconditionally. You’ll do the same for them. How you set it up is up to you. In January 2013, I did this with several of my girlfriends and the results were monumental. We all grew tremendously and came to see ourselves through one another’s love, positive and uplifting lenses. While I mentioned above that we cannot tie our self-image to others’ negative images of us, seeing ourselves through our besties can be just what the doctor ordered to get over our destructive, self-sabotaging ways.
Changing your mindset takes practice. Over the last seven years, I feel as though I’ve done all there is to do to change the way I see myself and the world, including reading books and blogs, therapy, seeing healers, meditating, cleaning up my diet, regular exercise, and more. And then a new challenge is presented, like a cancer diagnosis, which causes me to dig deeper and incorporate additional positive changes in my life. I wouldn’t say these changes are easy or instant, but they’re worth it. Despite my cancer diagnosis last spring, I couldn’t be happier.
Ever since the conversation with my friend, I check in and ask myself, “Am I behaving like I know every cell in my body is supposed to live?” Or am I self-sabotaging, living in fear, holding unresolved anger and ultimately manifesting my personal demise? If I find myself running on the hamster wheel, sitting in anxiety or being upset I stop and tell all my cells that I want to be here, choose a tool from my tool kit and move on.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Here’s to more love and light in all of our lives. Xo
*Since I wasn’t raised with a lot of organized religion, to me, a higher power is anything you choose to see as bigger than yourself. As a thirty-something, I find a lot of people I talk to are disgruntled by organized religion. Instead of throwing the concept out the window altogether, I’d much rather encourage you to find something that resonates with you. Could be Buddha, the Universe, love or anything else that works for you.