One of the gifts of my stroke was learning to truly love myself. When I had the stroke, I was single and living alone in a tiny apartment. Although I had lots of friends and family supporting me in ways that were overwhelmingly touching, at the end of the day (or most any other time of the day) I was alone. It was up to me to decide how to best care for myself and how to get through this very difficult time. No one was there to check that I was following doctors’ orders, that I was doing the things that helped me to heal, mentally and physically, from the trauma I had experienced. Soon after the stroke, it became very obvious to me that if I did not treat myself in a loving manner, I would soon be dead. So I did, and in caring for and nurturing myself, I found that I was a pretty lovable person.
Just as important as learning to love myself was the lesson that self-love is innate. It is part of the Laws of Evolution, and it is our natural state of being. The proof of this is in Darwin’s theory of natural selection, which states that species develop through variations that increase the likelihood of the specie’s survival. This means that anything contrary to self-preservation is contrary to nature itself. Self-love is the means of ensuring self-preservation.
Before my stroke, I didn’t know how to experience self-love. I was constantly pushing myself to be more and do more in order to earn acceptance from others and myself. I put myself under ever-increasing pressure, ignoring warnings from both my doctor and my body. My lack of self-love was leading me to self-destruction, and an early death. Only through having a stroke and learning to care for myself have I started to truly live in a manner that is compatible with a long and healthy life.
But, you ask, if self-love is our natural state, then why is there such a lack of it? Throughout time, self-love has received an ever-increasingly bad rap. Society tells us that people who love themselves must be self-absorbed and unable to love others, but nothing could be further from the truth. Love is not a scarce commodity that gets used up. Love is like a muscle—the more you use it, the bigger and stronger it gets. The more you love, the more love you have, and the best place to start is with yourself. If you do not find yourself worthy of your own love, then how can you be worthy of loving others, or receiving their love? You will be continually finding yourself unworthy of love, and therefore choosing mates who do not give you the kind of love you deserve. Or you will over-compensate in your love for others by doing too much. You will provide love in a codependent, unhealthy manner in order to gain love you don’t feel like you deserve. It’s like the oxygen mask on the airplane. You put yours on first so that you have the strength to put it on others.
And where does self-judgment, self-loathing, and non-self-love come from? They come from outside of ourselves. We learn them from others’ abuse or uncaring attitudes toward us, which they, in turn, learned from being abused themselves. This might not even be our parents, but other relatives, a teacher, or even the television, may teach us that we are unworthy. It is taught through a lifetime of others’ holding back their affections because they never learned to love themselves freely and openly. As children, we learn most things from those around us, and part of what we learn is to deny our natural intelligence—our intuition, the honoring of our own souls. Simply because society has swung to this desire for self-effacing individuals who try to learn love from a place of non-love, we deny our innate knowledge of what is right, and learn to put ourselves last in the queue for our own love. But if we do not love ourselves first, there is always something lacking in how we love others.
And so, my call to action is for us each to start our own loving (r)evolution. If you are in a long-term, loving relationship, where you have an emotionally healthy, supportive partner with whom you experience trust, then you probably also have self-love. Congratulations! Examine yourself for how you experience self-love and emotional security, and help others, when they ask your advice about relationships and life, to find this for themselves.
If you don’t experience strong self-love, then evolve your love to a higher level by turning it on yourself first. There are many steps in this process. The first is doing simple things to care for yourself, like stopping to appreciate the sun on your face; having a warm bubble bath and a glass of wine after a hard day; getting massage; listening to your favorite music; taking a class to learn something new or enhance your knowledge of something you enjoy; eating healthy food; getting moderate exercise and enough rest; and avoiding stress or learning how to cope with it. (I could never do the latter, so now I am forced to do the former.) But first, just believe me when I say that you are a divine being, who should be honored and loved by everyone, including yourself!
I love you, my friends, now go love yourselves!