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Why Is It So Darn Hard to Love Ourselves?

How to give ourselves the gift of self-compassion

Wikimedia Commons image by Chris perry baker
Source: Wikimedia Commons image by Chris perry baker

Extending love and compassion toward others isn’t easy. But feeling love and compassion for ourselves is even more challenging.

Why is it so hard to love ourselves? Sadly, we often treat ourselves in ways that we’d never treat others. What will it take to bring more compassion to ourselves?

Plato famously said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” We would do well to apply Plato’s advice to ourselves! Who among us has not faced betrayals, adversities, and losses? Life becomes more fulfilling as we cultivate the art of self-compassion.

Our Negativity Bias

Many of us received the message that life is a struggle and that we don't deserve the luxury of happiness. Perhaps we grew up with neglect or abuse rather than receiving the message that we have worth and value—and that we’re loved.

Growing up with not enough acceptance and too much shame, we may cling to our shortcomings, past failures, and poor decisions. We minimize the good things about ourselves and our positive qualities.

Scientists tell us that our brain has a negativity bias. Our ancestors survived due to their ability to scan the environment for danger and take actions to avoid injury and death. There was little survival value in relaxing and relishing the beauty around us.

Self-compassion begins by realizing that we have a right to be happy. In fact, the founding fathers felt so strongly about this that they enshrined “the pursuit of happiness” into the U.S. Constitution.

However, happiness is not an entitlement. We need to create the necessary conditions to find fulfillment. It takes work and the right kind of attention. This includes living an ethical and connected life. Inner peace and happiness will remain elusive if we remain oblivious to the needs of others and the world around us. Such narcissism not only harms others, but it is also destructive to ourselves—-confining us to a small, isolated existence.

Loving Ourselves

Inner peace and happiness are synonymous with cultivating compassion toward ourselves, which is easier said than done.

Self-love and self-compassion are more than just being good to ourselves, such as soaking in a hot tub, or getting a massage, or buying ourselves flowers. Although these things might help, self-compassion is an inner job. It has to do with how we hold ourselves and relate to our feelings. It means finding the strength and resilience to embrace the full range of our human emotions. It means finding inner resources so that we can gently embrace our feelings rather than meet them with aversion or judgments. Being human means wrestling with uncomfortable emotions.

The next time you're feeling sad, lonely, afraid, hurt, embarrassed, or some other unpleasant feeling, you might try this: take a few slow, gentle breaths and notice how such a feeling is living in your body right now. Does it feel prickly, tight, heavy, jumpy, or something else? See if you can allow the emotion and the bodily sensation associated with the feeling to be there without judging the feeling or criticizing yourself for having it, or being afraid of it, or feeling shame around it. If you do notice shame or fear simply notice that—and maybe you can find a way to be gentle with those feelings too.

Self-compassion means accepting ourselves as we are—meeting our feelings with loving-kindness rather than trying to fix or change ourselves. It means being our own best friend. Processes such as Focusing or working with a psychotherapist who can help us welcome and be gentle with our feelings can help us cultivate loving-kindness toward ourselves.

Being compassionate toward ourselves also serves others. Having more inner peace, we have more to offer. By being more familiar and gentle with our own feelings, we can more easily extend compassion toward others when they are feeling distressed or challenged.

© John Amodeo

Wikimedia Commons image by Chris Perry Baker

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