I generally ask my new clients if they feel that they are taking care of themselves well. They often tell me they are, and because of this, they can't understand why they are feeling badly or having problems in their relationships. When I ask them to describe how they are showing themselves love, these are some of their common answers:
I take lots of relaxing baths. I get massages. I get my nails done. I work out. I eat well.
This woman is practicing self-care undoubtedly. In other words, she is being loving to herself physically, but what about emotionally?
I meditate and pray every day, and I belong to a wonderful spiritually-oriented church.
This man is taking care of himself spiritually, but what about emotionally?
I work hard and I'm careful about my money. I've invested well and I feel safe financially. I'm a responsible person — I pay my taxes on time, I get places on time, and I keep my home and office organized.
This person is taking care of him/herself financially and organizationally, but what about emotionally?
Much of the time, I find that people may be practicing self-care physically, financially, spiritually and organizationally, but are abandoning themselves emotionally, which is why they seek my help.
Regardless of whether or not they are exercising or meditating, they are still suffering the consequences of not loving themselves emotionally (these include things like anxiety, depression, anger, addictions or relationship problems). That's why it's essential to love yourself emotionally — not just in these concrete ways we tend to associate with self-care.
But what does it mean to love yourself emotionally? How is loving yourself different than self-care?
You can begin to get a sense of what it means to love yourself emotionally if you imagine what a child needs in order to feel loved at that early developmental stage. To begin, try looking back on your own childhood. What sorts of things made you feel loved? Did you feel more loved by getting a toy you wanted, or by being seen and valued for who you are? When you were upset, did you feel more loved by being given a cookie and told to watch TV, or by receiving kind and compassionate attention?
There are five major actions you can choose to make sure you are emotionally loving to yourself — and all of them take practice.
1. Be present in your body.
Most of us grew up focusing our attention on the goings-on of our minds, because this was a way of protecting ourselves from painful feelings that we had no way to manage.
However, as an adult, staying in your mind rather than in your body is a form of self-abandonment. You need to be present in your body in order to know what your needs are — to know when you need to attend to your feelings with love and attention.
2. Seek spiritual connection.
We cannot manage the painful feelings of life (loneliness, heartbreak, grief and so on) alone. We need the help of some greater power to manage these big and very painful feelings with self-compassion. We also need the help of our higher power to learn from our anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, anger, loneliness and emptiness. This greater power can exist within ourselves, and give us the power not to feel alone.
But these painful feelings are often present because of some kind of unconscious self-abandonment — staying too focused in our head, judging ourselves, turning to addictions to numb our feelings, and/or making others responsible for our feelings. These feelings are often informing us that we are abandoning ourselves rather than loving ourselves, and we need the help of our higher power to do the learning and healing we need to do.
3. Take responsibility for your feelings.
We are loving ourselves when we move toward our feelings rather than trying to avoid them. Just as actual children feel rejected when their parents judge or ignore their feelings, our inner child, the part of us that deeply needs to feel loved, will feel alone, rejected and abandoned when we avoid our feelings rather than compassionately embracing them and opening to learning about what they are telling us.
4. Define your own worth.
We abandon ourselves when we make others' attention or approval responsible for whether we are OK or not OK. When you learn to see yourself — your essence, your soul self, your inner child — through the eyes of your spiritual guidance, then you can let go of trying to get love and attention to define your worth.
5. Take action.
If you had a child who was upset and you took no action to help the child, he or she would feel unloved. Loving yourself means that you take loving action for yourself — physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, financially and organizationally.
When you don't know what loving action to take, you need to open to learning with your higher power simply by sincerely asking, "What is loving to me right now? What is in my highest good right now?" Try it! You might discover that you receive wonderful ideas about loving yourself.
To begin learning how to love yourself, you can start with our free course here
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