Self-love Just May Be the Single Most Important Lesson for All Humanity to Learn
Loving yourself empowers you to love others. Loving yourself also enables others to love you in return. If there is meaning to life, then I believe it is for each of us to regain complete love for ourselves. I propose that self-love is the single most important lesson for all humanity to work on as individuals and together, overshadowing every other reason we live at all. If everyone alive loved themselves enough to love everyone around them, then pretty much every other problem in all of human existence would vanish.
Here is a short list of just some of the negative side effects we suffer with by not fully loving and forgiving ourselves:
- Sleep disorders
- Eating disorders
- Road rage
- Politics rage (Polarization of the Americans who don’t love themselves, so they hate others too)
- Loneliness, even when in a crowd (Isolation)
- Fear of Failure
- Fear of Success
- Repeatedly making friends with, (or marrying) the wrong people
- Never reaching our own full potential
Before we begin, let’s not confuse self-love with narcissism. Anyone who truly loves themselves WILL love the people around themselves. Narcissists don’t love anyone around themselves. If they are kind to us it’s so they can get something in return. If they are filled with love then they can only give love. If they lash out in anger or whining, then they are filled with anger and whining. If bananas don’t grow on apple trees, then anger, jealousy, depression, bullying, stealing, lying, gossiping, name-calling, lack of conscience or remorse, polarized political rage, road rage, etc cannot grow on the tree that loves itself wholly. Anyone who lashes out, is lashing out from whatever ingredients are within them to lash out with. If they lash out in anger, then it’s anger, not love, that’s within them.
Healing the Side Effects Doesn’t Fix the Problem for Very Long
The side effects of poor self-love listed above are just some of the negative side effects that we all have to deal with when we don’t fully love ourselves. True healing doesn’t come from healing only the side effects. True healing comes from also identifying and eliminating the root-cause of those side effects in the same way that killing fruit flies doesn’t solve our fruit fly problem. Fruit flies are a side effect of keeping rotten fruit in the kitchen. We can kill all the fruit flies today, only to find another swarm in our home tomorrow. Throwing out the rotten fruit fixes the fruit fly side effect permanently. (It also fixes the kitchen odor side effect at the same time).
Why Most of Us Lack Self-Love—The Root Cause
One major reason for this imbalance makes sense when we consider the whole picture of human child rearing. Most of us were raised by parents, teachers, ministers, friends, siblings or peers who seemed fixated on our shortcomings and mistakes, calling us brats, and clumsy, and helping us to settle for less because they didn’t think we could handle the success of the potential they couldn’t see in us. As a child, my peers pranked and ridiculed me every time they felt the need to feel as if they were better than me. Meanwhile parents and teachers would ask me “What is the matter with you?” whenever they were angry or embarrassed at the fact that I was just a child who still needed to be taught social and mathematical skills. So as an intelligent boy I tried to find the answer to the question they had just asked me. What was the matter with me? Of course the only answer is “I’m human” But that answer wasn’t allowed to be given to my parents or teachers. So by not having an acceptable answer, it proved that I was just simply incompetent in a world where other kids my age weren’t. My parents and teachers would say with words that they had faith in me, but their actions didn’t match those words. Their actions proved that I was incompetent at making my own decisions or finding joy in things that they didn’t think I needed to find joy in. An example from my own life is: As a boy, I wanted so badly to play piano or any other musical instrument that I repeatedly asked if I could join a school program or take lessons. My parents scoffed at that and refused to allow me to join any musical programs at school or anywhere else, saying “if we buy an instrument, you’ll just quit and we’ll be stuck with an instrument we don’t need.” It didn’t matter how many times teachers or parents would use words to say that they believed in me, their actions always told the absolute truth of what they truly thought of me. As a child, I learned to believe their actions, not their words.
So, like most of us, I grew up knowing that verbal compliments or verbal support didn’t prove anything at all. So just telling me to love myself today isn’t going to motivate me any more than telling me to jump across the ocean. I know I can’t do either. It’s been proven through thousands of actions over my lifetime that when it’s time for real support, most people will back down and prove that they have no faith in me at all. So I learned not to have faith in myself either. I can’t fully love myself if I have no faith in me.
Self-love and Self-forgiveness Go Hand in Hand
I grew up struggling to love myself because I could never forgive myself for being the incompetent child my mocking peers, or unsupportive teachers proved to me that I am. In this way, Self-Love and Self-Forgiveness are synonyms.
I find it helpful now to identify one memory each day that identifies a time when someone taught me I was someone who couldn’t be forgiven. Then, each day I can begin the task of finding forgiveness for that person, and then for myself. I submit that the truest daily goal each of us should focus on is to identify the scores of places in our lives where we learned to NOT love or forgive ourselves. From there, we can begin to work on accepting the truth, one tiny piece at a time, that we really can forgive those things about ourselves.
Over the period of my childhood, I systematically lost love for myself because I kept adding to the list of things I couldn’t forgive myself for. I eventually took over all my teachers’ roles to become my own personal self-deprecator. I learned to close my eyes, slap my own forehead and say “I’m so stupid” every time I did something that didn’t go well. Bananas don’t grow on apple trees, so those of us who truly love and forgive ourselves for being normally flawed humans, aren’t going to call ourselves stupid. So what is this automatic act and chant “I’m so stupid” honestly telling me about myself? If I’m automatically calling myself stupid, then something within me believes it to be true. Now I’ve identified a place to work on and forgive myself for. Once forgiven, I can love myself.
We Have No Reason to Feel Shame About This
I don’t want anyone, anywhere, to feel ashamed of themselves for not fully loving yourself, because absolutely everybody on earth needs to work on their self-love also. It’s probably the “original sin” we’re all said to be born into, meaning that lovingly learning to forgive ourselves is the reason we are here at all. Almost no one has it handled, which explains why so much harm is done through jealousy and a thirst for personal power. Almost all human life struggles with self-love and almost all social problems, from health and health care, through global hunger, global warming, corporate bullying and political dishonesty, are caused by too many individuals who can’t love themselves enough to feel satisfied that their lives are wonderful just the way they are, or in the belief that their own personal goals for happiness aren’t worth pursuing, so they take their lack of self-love out on others instead. This is why people hurt each other. Looking into another’s soul is like looking in a mirror. If someone looks into my eyes and hates me, they are really looking in a mirror hating themselves. We’re all connected. We’re all fragments of the same global consciousness. What affects you affects me and vice versa.
Self Love and Self Forgiveness Go Hand in Hand
If you were to meet you today for the first time, would you like you? A lot of us feel like we wouldn’t like the person we met if we met ourselves. Maybe it’s because we each know the skeletons that we’ve hidden in our closets, so we think we’re not the person others see us as. I can’t count how many times friends have said something like this to me “If you really knew everything about me you wouldn’t like me.” A lot of us have friends who like us more than we like ourselves, or, I should say, we have friends who love us more than we love ourselves. The whole scenario is out of balance. I should be capable of loving myself as much as you love me, or as much as I can love anyone else, because I’m here to tell you that everyone has skeletons hiding in their closets. Everyone has made mistakes that they don’t talk about. Everyone is equal in this scenario. Why would I need to be harder on myself than I am on them? Bananas don’t grow on apple trees. If you are a person who can love yourself no matter what, then you are a person who can love anyone no matter what.
So since we were not born broken, but were taught that we were broken, too many of us grew up to become who we were raised to be more often than who we were born to be. If this, in any way, describes you, then the good news is that you need not feel alone with the devalued self-love that we are all suffering with. Devalued self-love happens to the vast majority of us, in every country, in every social class, every day. The even better news is it is fixable, and, even better yet, the fix is completely within our own control.
How We Almost Get It
Only a few people have taken on the challenge of learning how to achieve self-love. Billions of us have turned to various different religions and belief systems, many of which were originally designed to teach self-love, but somehow their follow-on teachers have since morphed the beliefs into systems of rewards and punishments and majestic steeples and how to fill collection baskets or go out and recruit more tithers. In Christianity, their mutated version of the original message actually creates more shame and more self-hatred because the message they teach is that our “salvation” depends on our physical acts of putting others first. They drive into our minds that we were born as sinners, and they raise us in childhood bible classes, with a constant reminder that we are born bad and have to atone for our inner evil, even claiming that because of our own inner evil, their Jesus character was forced to die for us. Yeah. Like I can really love myself after digesting that message. Calling a child a sinner in Sunday school is exactly the same as calling her or him a brat at home. As children and teens, our nature is to learn who we are through our teachers and protectors. If they say we’re sinners and brats, well, then they’re giving us the inner voice that will permanently guide us through our entire adulthoods.
Too many churches have watered down the message, which is Love your neighbor AS yourself. I used upper case on the word “AS” because it is the key word in that sentence. According to their own teachings, their Jesus taught us to love ourselves AS our neighbors, but our Sunday School teachers have instead taught us to love others while feeling ashamed of ourselves. As a result, we grew up as they taught us to, leaving too many of us trying to love our neighbors instead of ourselves, or more than ourselves, but when it comes to forgiving the mistakes we ourselves make, we can’t seem to do that. So we live, not in a sense of peace, but of inner rage, anger, disappointment and self-sabotage. Those misguided self-images leak out onto the people around us, leaving us unable to love them no matter how hard we try to. We’ve missed the one, single most important goal that the religion or the belief system originally intended to teach us. I am a human being, created equally in “God’s image.” I really am AS valuable AS any other human being. By loving and forgiving others while not loving or forgiving myself, I’m still not balancing my love for life itself, nor for others as well. By not loving myself I’m accusing God of being a screw-up who created a flawed human.
We’re All Connected: When We Don’t Love Ourselves, We Don’t Love Anyone
I can tell you from experience that when I’m unhappy with myself, I’m unhappy with everyone. On the other hand, during those rare times in life when I feel like things are going my way and I’m not wallowing in self-guilt or defeat, those are also the times when I can successfully forgive anyone for anything. When I’m feeling good about myself and my neighbor’s dog won’t stop barking, I can smile and just turn on some music to drown it out. But when I’m unhappy with myself, or feeling defeated and ashamed, I want to scream “SHUTUP!!!!” at that d##m dog as loudly as I can and start looking for ways to get revenge on the neighbor.
In nearly all my writings I refer to the fact that we’re all connected, and this connection helps explain the reasons for why I’m able to love and forgive everyone around me when I’m feeling love and forgiveness for myself. I’m a person just like you are. If I hate you, it’s because I hate myself too. If I hate you because you disagree with me in politics or religion, then I’m putting way too much of my self-worth into that political party or that pastor. My ability to love myself is not my political party or religious body’s fault. It’s mine. Even though I was given a poor self-image by my culture, it’s my problem now, which gives me the power to begin the healing process.
Imagine You’ve Achieved It
When I was a badly bullied young boy in the Christian Schools, the stress of all the hatred around me would drive me deep into my own imagination. Today’s bullied kids can hide in video games where they can kill anyone they want to without remorse. But video games didn’t exist for me in the 1970s, so I had to hide inside my own mind to find relief from “the cruel real world.” I found it by imagining that I’d somehow sailed to an uncharted island that no one knew about and where the natives were all like me. In my fantasy, they accepted me. They fully understood me. I never had to explain myself or make excuses or accept my failure at being good enough for them. The imaginary island, which was filled with people who didn’t judge or dislike me was my happy place. The physical relief that these fantasies gave to my body were enough to calm my nerves and allow me to fade off to sleep each night.
Try an Imagery Exercise
What would it feel like to experience a life of pure self-love? Stop for a moment, right now, and imagine yourself feeling as if you’ve achieved total forgiveness for every silly or clumsy or mean thing you’ve ever said or done. Imagine that the hand of God has touched your forehead and magically wiped out all memory of any of your past mistakes. The hand of God has wiped your slate clean once and for all. Today is a new day and you are now totally and completely accepted for who you are. Imagine that every human being alive now loves you unconditionally for who you are. Your parents, your pastor, your neighbor, siblings, workmates all smile a loving smile when they see you. No one wants anything from you. All they want is to chat over a morning coffee with you. The hand of God has touched them too, and they’ve all become enlightened and they all love themselves as much as you love yourself. Imagine this for just a moment and check in with your body. Does this bring you any peace? Can you imagine maybe someday going off your anti-anxiety meds if this were to become your permanent way of life?
Now Begin the Journey of Your Lifetime
Naturally this exercise can’t make other people love themselves AS they love us, but the wonderful news is that today, we can begin our journey of learning how to love and forgive ourselves, with or without their permission. The trick is not to fall into the trap that religions have fallen into: Don’t fixate on the end goal of living a perfect life someday in Heaven with no self-doubt, but DO agree to begin the journey toward that “Heaven/Zen/Shangri-La” state and then enjoy the journey itself.
As we learn more and more ways to adopt a tiny bit more self-love and self-forgiveness each day, we become less and less concerned with how we’re treated by others. In fact, while we can’t control others, remember we are all connected, so as we become more and more at peace with ourselves and with our own existence here on this earth, we become a positive influencer to those around us. Kindness spreads. Forgiveness spreads. People take notice. SOME of those people will learn by our example and maybe even one or two will finally ask us what our secret is and will ask to learn from us. Like the old saying teaches, we can “be the change we want to see in the world.” Will we change the whole world? Who cares? If we’ve become more satisfied with who we are, the world’s problems won’t feel so bad, and yes, as forgiveness spreads, more of the world’s problems will begin to fade off. Again, don’t fixate on the world’s problems, focus on your own self-love and let the world’s problems fade when they fade.
The Goal Is to Enjoy the Journey Itself
To become totally and completely self-loving, is pretty unattainable, so we can’t let ourselves become defeated by thinking we have to achieve it totally. Think of it this way; People don’t take Cruise ships as a means to get to a location, they take the cruise to enjoy the food and the scenery and the entertainment of the cruise itself. Think of the journey toward self-love as the cruise ship you want to ride on for the rest of your life. Think of how fun it would be to learn one more thing every day that helps you love and forgive yourself and those around you even better today than yesterday, all the while knowing that tomorrow you’re going to get even better at it than today.
Don’t Fixate on the End Result
Once we fixate on the end result, we lose our love for the journey. As an example, I ride my bicycle to the market almost every day. I have a perfectly good Jeep I could drive, but I ride my bike for the exercise and the feeling of the wind blowing across my face. Sometimes on the journey I get frustrated that I’m not there yet. While I’m riding toward the market, I sometimes find myself wishing I’d driven the Jeep because if I had I’d be there already. But then I catch myself and remind myself, WAIT! I’m riding the bike for the bike ride! I don’t even want to be at the store yet because I’m still enjoying the free feeling of wind on my face and being able to say “hi” to people as I ride past them. I’m exercising my legs and my lungs while feeling a bit like a kid again. The journey, not the destination, is the goal. The destination is the target I’ve chosen to give myself an excuse to take the journey.
So How Do We Learn to Love Ourselves More?
The tricks and tips and methods for building upon our own ability to love ourselves with each day are too numerous to mention here in this blog. Also, the reason for not needing to list them here is that they are available in millions of therapists, teachers, coaches, posts, classes, books, podcasts around the globe. My goal with this blog is to show that self-love is worth pursuing, and then to send us all off to pursue it.
Here’s a small beginning list of some techniques we can use or remember to love ourselves a little bit more today than we did yesterday:
- No one is perfect: Accept that everyone hides skeletons in the closet, so we’re not the one bad person on this earth just because we also hide past mistakes in our memory files.
- Begin to forgive those who gave us wrong information: Accept that we were likely taught by someone else to dislike ourselves. We can work to grasp that this was their own lack of self-love that they taught to us because that’s what devalued self-love does—it spreads. The more we work to forgive them for what they taught us, the more we forgive ourselves for having learned it.
- We’re all connected: You can’t love/forgive yourself if you don’t love/forgive others: The definition of love is a sense of connection. We love people we feel connected to. And we’re all connected. No one can hate you if they love themselves. Likewise you can’t hate anyone else if you love and fully accept yourself for who you really are. We’re all connected. For the science minded, “together, we’re the single consciousness of the Universe.” If you’re Christian, then “together we’re all the body of Christ, each of whom was created in God’s image.”
- Bananas don’t grow on apple trees: If you feel pure, uncomplicated love for others then it proves you feel pure, uncomplicated love for yourself. If you feel raging anger at others, know you need to focus on your own sense of raging anger at yourself for a few minutes. And if you see people not loving others, remember bananas don’t grow on apple trees, and hate doesn’t grow out of love. If you see hatred on any level, you are witnessing the physical fruit of self-loathing within someone.
- We’re on a journey that improves us a tiny bit every day: Don’t fixate on the final goal of total enlightenment or total love. You’ll defeat yourself and go back to your old self-destructive ways. Enjoy being on the hypothetical cruise ship each day, knowing that today you can work to achieve one more tiny inch toward loving yourself more than you did before you started the journey. Enjoy and savor each bite of the feast that is the reward of learning something new today. Enjoy knowing that tomorrow, you will have the chance to learn even one more new thing and you will love yourself even more tomorrow. If you so choose, you can stay on this journey every day for the rest of your entire life.
- Explore the teachers of the world: Some psychologists get it. Others don’t. So shop around for a good therapist if you can. Find one who believes that we’re all connected, and that self-love is the true goal. Also, the internet and the bookstores of the world are filled with the writings of people who have the very message we each need to hear to get us from self-loathing to self-loving. Just be cautious, as you choose who to listen to, that their message stays pure; that loving yourself equals forgiving yourself equals forgiving others equals loving others. As soon as the expert you’ve sought out starts to fixate on the end goal, they’ve gotten off the cruise ship and are treading water right where they got off. Teachers are plentiful and you have the right to go find another teacher so that you can stay on the proper journey toward self-love. Those who are treading water will eventually find their way back onto the ship if they so choose. You don’t owe them anything.