In our culture self love and self image often go hand in hand. And it is common for most people to believe that it is important to love yourself and to have a positive self-image. But what does this mean?
What does it mean to love yourself? In order for this to be an issue we have to have feelings and thoughts of not being loved, or loveable. We may even have feelings of self-hatred, which comes with thoughts and stories about how awful we are. The thoughts and stories feed the emotions and vice-versa, creating an agonizing internal environment.
We are told in order to counteract these bad feelings we should tell ourselves positive stories. To make this seem authentic we remind ourselves about all of our good or exceptional qualities. This has the unconscious, unintentional affect of making loving ourselves conditional. Once love is conditional it becomes fragile and impermanent. One wrong move and it is taken away, and there is the self-loathing again. So we work on never doing the things we see as bad and wrong so that we can love ourselves more. This is such a trap, and a vicious circle.
Love has been such an important part of my healing and my spiritual journey. I never really thought about needing to love myself, but I did feel self-hatred and shame. I did all the things I mentioned above. I tried to focus on the aspects of my personality that I thought were redeeming. I cultivated them, exaggerated them, and believed in them; which ultimately made them inauthentic and fake.
There were specific behaviors and emotional reactions that would trigger the self-loathing. It seemed that if I could hide these feelings from others I could pretend they weren’t there. So I would try never to express them, or let anyone know I had these feelings. This of course exacerbated the already present underlying sense that I was an impostor. When people appreciated me and loved me I knew they wouldn’t if they knew who I was really.
No matter how hard I tried nothing completely and permanently relieved these feelings and beliefs. The work I did, psychologically and spiritually did loosen the pattern and make space for a more honest and direct approach.
Many of the people that come to see me have some variation on this theme; interestingly most of them believe they are unique in this. When they get the courage to share their story of feeling like an impostor, and how people don’t know whom they really are. They share it as if they are revealing a deep dark secret that will shock me and most likely make me see how awful they are. Naturally that is not my response at all since what they are sharing I know very personally and intimately.
The process of having a negative self-image and working toward having a good self-image is very much the same as trying to love yourself.
When we think about the idea of having a self-image of any kind, we are trying to put together a group of believes that create a picture in our minds that we like. A picture we think others will value. So really we are talking about something that is already an illusion, something that doesn’t exist in any tangible way. No wonder is it so fragile. The same is true for self-love; it is just a bundle of thoughts that make us feel good for as long as we can hold them in our minds.
So how does this dilemma finally get resolved? The short answer is getting rid of any self-image, or getting rid of the stories about being unlovable. The answer is not in creating better stories.
I stumbled on this accidentally. I realized that the thoughts were the problem and that they were causing the self-loathing. So I did two things at once, when the thoughts arose I would not follow them, I would see them as not true and just habits. If the bad feelings showed up I would wrap an energy field of love around them. In time the thoughts began to lose power and the emotions became lighter. There was space in my mind and in my heart. This space allowed me to see through the thoughts and emotions; and I began to experience the boundless awareness.
Soon I began to realize that this boundlessness was always there, that it is usually covered up by beliefs. Warm loving acceptance emanates from the boundless awareness, as well as peace, well being, and joy. There is no need to try to love ourselves by creating stories of being lovable or making up good self-images. We are already being held in love by the boundless. What is True is that we are the boundless, we are love. We can know this by continuing to let go of all the stories of who we are, and by not creating new ones.
I can see that the whole journey was necessary for me, that I had to go through all the steps to get to this Truth. Some people can hear that all they have to do is let go of all their beliefs about themselves and the world, and they just let go. Most of us are like me and have to pick apart our childhoods, let go of enough beliefs, and heal enough emotional pain, and then the rest of the beliefs can relax. When this happens we find more than self-love and a good self-image, we find love itself, and boundless awareness.