Some of the greatest lessons I have learned from books came out of fantasy novels. Call me a nerd, but if you read Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings and didn’t come away with a new understanding of life I think you are missing out. One of these fantasy novel lessons was so profound that I wrote down a lengthy quote on the back of a used envelope when I was a teenager and still have it tucked in a book in my modest library more than a decade later. The quote comes from a Terry Goodkind novel in the Sword of Truth series; Amazon calls this series a “critically acclaimed masterwork” and I have to agree. The quote is:
You can’t love anyone or anything until you love your own existence, first. Love can only grow out of a respect for your own life. When you love yourself, your own existence, then you love someone who can enhance your existence, share it with you, and make it more pleasurable. When you hate yourself and believe your existence is evil, then you can only hate, you can only experience the shell of love, that longing for something good, but you have nothing to base it in but hatred.-Terry Goodkind, The Pillars of Creation
Loving yourself has a major impact on how you love others. But it also has a major impact on growing yourself. “Self-growth cannot happen without self-love,” writes Divya Sood. When you love yourself and believe growth is worth the hard work, you will push through difficult moments in your journey. “A lack of self-love sets the stage for self-doubts, which contribute to self-sabotage,” says Sood. That self-doubt manifests itself in many ways that detract from your ability to move forward. Self-doubt becomes “… a self-fulfilling prophecy: If we keep reminding ourselves of our inadequacy and inability, these thoughts bleed into our psyches, becoming our realities. When we believe that something is beyond us, we exert less effort and are thereby less prone to success,” writes Sood. Self-doubt can make you believe that you do not deserve all of the good things you are working for. That what you desire is beyond your ability to achieve. To change your life, start with yourself.
I believe that everything begins within us. Personal growth needs to come from somewhere; ambition, desire, greed, hate, or love. What we base our growth on will determine our level of satisfaction in the long term. Things like ambition and desire, or even greed, can make us financially or professionally successful in the short term. Maybe you will make a bunch of money or amass other riches. But financially rich people who lack love in their lives are emotionally and socially poor. At our core, humans are social beings. We evolved to live in small tribes, take care of each other, protect each other, work together for food, shelter, water, and defense. A rich social life is one of the most fulfilling endeavors you can pursue. And social doesn’t have to mean a mass of friends. Often just a few close friends, family, or a life partner provide the connection to others that we all desire. But you truly cannot love and appreciate other people if you do not love and appreciate yourself first.
Henry Ford is credited with the quote: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Your belief, or lack of belief, in yourself can make the difference between failure and success. Your self talk shades the lenses through which you view the world. If your self talk centers around self-doubt, that will influence how you view your ability to grow and succeed. Doubting yourself may also lead you to doubt others. Doubting others is a fast track to lacking trust, losing networking possibilities, or ending a relationship that could have been good for you. When you love yourself and have positive self talk, that will drive you to find people, places, and activities and enhance your existence. And when love is at the forefront of your mind, you will be more likely to find it. Just as you cannot hit a target you are not aiming for, it is hard to find something you are not looking for.
Why is self love sometimes viewed negatively? Andrea Brandt, PHD, is a licensed psychotherapist, psychologist, marriage counselor, and anger management therapist located in Santa Monica. Brandt says that “many people mistakenly believe that self-love is the same as narcissism, or having a big ego. It’s not.” So what does self love actually mean? Brandt writes: “You take care of yourself like you’d take care of a friend in distress. You treat yourself kindly. You don’t nitpick and criticize yourself.”
“Loving yourself doesn’t mean you think you’re the smartest, most talented, and most beautiful person in the world. Instead, when you love yourself you accept your so-called weaknesses, appreciate these so-called shortcomings as something that makes you who you are. When you love yourself you have compassion for yourself,” says Brandt. Self-love is often portrayed as things like shopping, getting a massage, or going out to a nice dinner. Those things can be important, but they only provide short term gratification. “Self-love means giving yourself what your body, brain, and soul needs for the marathon that is life. It isn’t hedonism and it isn’t chasing a physical or emotional high. The practice of self-love is the practice of nourishing yourself,” says Brandt. Self-love means creating a healthy long lasting relationship with yourself which provides the basis for you to love others and appreciate your pursuits in life, whether they are personal or professional.
What you seek you shall find. “According to research on self-verification, people with negative self-views are sometimes drawn to those who see them as they see themselves—that is, negatively. Low self-esteem is also linked with feeling less deserving of happiness, which could lead people to tolerate poor treatment,” writes Julia Breines, PHD. Breines says that self-love and high self-esteem have not been proven by research as being essential to health relationships. “What seems to be more healthy is self-acceptance—that is, viewing yourself as a basically good person who is worthy of love, without needing to prove yourself or outshine others,” writes Breines. Whether you call it self-love or self-acceptance, it seems that experts in the field can all agree that positively viewing yourself is a key component of social success.
Self-love and self-acceptance are not new ideas just now being proven by research to help people grow into happier, more successful versions of themselves. Buddhism, yoga, and meditation practices have always taught acceptance of self. What is amazing to me is that we are now conducting research which proves some of these ancient practices. Why are we not taught more about this in school? I certainly remember self-esteem talks in elementary school, but nothing long-term meant to provide long lasting happiness and contentment. So now, as adults, how do we begin to practice self-love and self-acceptance?
I recently read The How of Happines by Sonja Lyubomirsky, which I highly recommend if this subject interests you. I have also started practicing yoga multiple times per week. Guided meditation has also become something I am trying to practice on more of a regular basis. At the end of the day this is all truly a practice. If takes a lot of work; reading, writing, reflection, and deep thought are all components of the practice. With the right combination of resources, we can all being to access that place within us from which love and acceptance flourish. Once we access this part of us, everything else in our lives will enhance that existence. Changing the way you view yourself will change the way you view the world and the other people in it.
Author Matt Haig writes in his book The Midnight Library: “You could eat in the finest restaurants, you could partake in every sensual pleasure, you could sing on stage in Sao Paulo to twenty thousand people, you could soak up whole thunderstorms of applause, you could be followed by millions on the internet, you could win Olympic medals, but this was all meaningless without love.” Base all of your relationships and actions on love, and everything else will fall into place. And remember these things are not far off relics to be discovered. They are right here inside of you. We just need to re-learn where to look for them. As Peloton yoga instructor Kristin McGee says: “Everything you could possibly ever want, have, or need, is right here inside of you.”