a short treatise on self love (with a call to action)

it’s february 14th, valentine’s day, aka one of my favorite days of the year, and i am sitting alone in a candle lit home gazing at my light box sign. on it i’ve lettered, “love is an active noun.” this is a summation of a favorite quote of mine penned by my hero/mentor/spirit animal, mr. rogers. his longer, and more descriptive, quotation reads like this: 

“Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

whenever i read this, i have to look at it over and over. i want love to be a verb (and it is) but it is also an action noun (described as a noun denoting action), falling into the “idea” category of “person, place, thing, or idea.” i guess it could also be a thing. regardless, it’s important. actually, it’s crucial. not only for directing toward others, but also for directing toward self. i’m pretty sure that mr. rogers (or, as my friend a.j. calls him, Saint Fred) would be o.k. with me suggesting this interpretation of his words:

love isn’t a state of perfect caring. it’s an active noun like struggle. to love one’s self is to strive to accept one’s self exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.

if we ever hope to receive love from, or return love to, others we must first learn to love our selves. i am not speaking, here, about a self-agrandizing, narcissistic, overly inflated feeling of self importance. i’m not talking about “treating yo’self” to indulgences or to fostering a sense of denial about our weaknesses or flaws. what i am referring to is an honest relationship with our very sense of self. an eyes-wide-open acknowledgement of our strengths and weaknesses. an understanding of our personal agency. a gentleness regarding the injuries we have faced and a right-sized pride in our accomplishments, even if/especially when they are meaningful only to the self.

this kind of self love enables us to handle rejection and pain. it enables us to tolerate boredom and to creatively meet our needs. it affords us the ability to both stimulate and soothe the self. it seeks out spaces that allow for the flourishing of who we truly are rather than limiting us to contexts that box us in, shrink us, or cause us to squeeze into identities we were never created to be. to be honest, i believe that it is this kind of self love that enables us to experience genuine love from God and from others.

sometimes christians, in particular, question me about this. “it is not the relationship of self to self that is foundational,” they exclaim. “it is the relationship of self to God.” while i understand this, i have amassed a lifetime of being intimately connected to people that informs my belief that, unless one has an authentic and loving relationship with them self, their relationships with others (including Diety) are limited in health and driven by projection and self fulfilling prophecy. if we are relating to others, including God, out of who we are and who we are finds ourself either over- or under- worthy, over- or under- lovable, over- or under- deserving, we will find ourselves responding to the other from the position of narcissist or worm. neither is healthy and both create a kind of glasses through which we see the world and those we share it with. if we are worms, unworthy and unlovable, we see others as either idealized and unattainable or devalued and undesirable, falling prey to objectification due to our own feelings of unworthiness. if we are narcissists, we look only for how others can function on our behalf or for our benefit, tossing them aside when they don’t submit to our wishes. both of these end up creating self centered and self harming paths.

if we lack self love, we are insecure and need others to validate us (as opposed to wanting to be connected to who they as individuals actually are) and, regarding narcissism, i have previously written:

Psychologically, narcissism is born out of insecurity and emptiness. From a core that feels unlovable, unacceptable, or less-than the individual who functions from a narcissistic perspective looks outside of them self to find affirmation, confirmation, and security. The narcissistic self needs others to praise it. It needs intensity of response to it. The narcissistic self needs us to respond largely to it. Positivity or negativity is irrelevant…intensity is all. Where a more grounded self might say “I hope that my presence adds positivity” the narcissistic one might say “I hope my presence makes an impact.”

today, on this day of love, what might it look like to put away narcissistic attention seeking or worm-like assuredness that we are unlovable? how might we be gentler with our flaws while also being honest about them? how might our relationships flourish if we were able to communicate clearly what we need and want in places we discern to be safe and available? how might our vision of the world, others, and even God change if we were able to gaze deeply into our own eyes, past the flaws or inflated sense of beauty that we see, to engage the most authentic parts of ourselves? to take responsibility for our wishes, to work to discern healthy paths toward realizing them, and to ask others to join in with volition (as opposed to guilty driven, unconscious expectation or grasping assuredness that there is no one to rely upon)? to be willing to handle the consequences of taking small risks toward being an authentic self because we know we can soothe and care for our selves if we falter. to struggle not to become perfect or praised or promoted but to struggle simply to be, and, in that being, to accept, and eventually to love, who we are?

rather than waiting to feel loved externally or bemoaning the commercialized nature of this day, how about taking a turn in loving your self? where ever you are, grab a piece of paper. seriously, grab one. this will only take five minutes and will move you one step closer to the struggle of self love. it can be scrap paper or newspaper or the most lovely card stock you have on hand. fold it in half and tear or cut a half heart shape and open the fold. set a timer for 5 minutes. sit and ponder (sometimes lighting a candle and looking at the flame or gazing at a fire in the fireplace can help to focus the mind) a few things you appreciate about yourself and a few things that you wish were different. write the things you appreciate on one side and the things you know are true about you but that are less than what you’d like on the other. with gentleness and lovingkindness look at the things you wish were different. see them and try to love and be gentle with yourself anyway. accept that you are a work in process and that even in acknowledging these things you might move closer to changing them or accepting them if they are un-changable. turn the valentine over now and look at the traits you appreciate about yourself. again, with gentle lovingkindness express gratitude for these things and let them balance out the experience of acknowledging the difficult parts of your self. end by expressing love for your self and finding at least one small way of expressing that love. nothing fancy needed. a long drink of cold, clear water. an application of a fragrant lotion. a small taste of a food in your fridge. wrapping yourself in a blanket and pulling it tight like a hug might work. as might stretching or singing or listening to a beautiful piece of music or watching the steam rise from your diffuser. notice how it feels to struggle to know, accept, and love your actual self.

before we can love others deeply and well, unconditionally and without strings, we must learn to know our selves, to accept our selves, and to find ways of loving and living with her/him who is us. may you struggle often and well…

Doreen Dodgen-MageeComment