The science and spirit of self-love by Brandy Givens

The Science and Spirit of Self-love
By Brandy

I was no different than any other twelve-year-old. I wanted to be well thought of. I wanted to be looked upon as a person who was as good as my peers. No, I wanted to be better. I wanted to be admired, which is not unusual during adolescence for any of us and it is usually a struggle we all go through at one time or another during our lives. Sadly, my own personal struggle with feeling “not good enough” was aided through the years by several teachers that I greatly respected. 

The first time was in sixth grade.

Every spring my school’s sixth grade class took a big trip to Washington DC. It was the highlight of the school year and we planned for it and talked about it starting on the first day of school. I guess I had been bragging for months that I was going to bring $100 of spending cash (a lot of money in 1982) with me on the trip.   

Now, I know now that was the embellishment of a twelve-year-old girl looking for admiration, but in her defense, her parents often made big promises that they didn’t follow through on. One day (I must have been talking about my big wad of cash in the middle of class) I was called out into the hall by my teacher. There I stood in the industrial green hallway of West Salem Elementary School being told in detail, that I was a phony by a teacher that I greatly admired. He berated me for exaggerating to my peers about the very thing I was the most sensitive about. My parents lack of stability. 

My parents had gone through several separations in those elementary years and during that time family finances were as up and down as their marriage. That day in the hallway was sadly a defining moment in my life. It cemented a nagging doubt that had already begun to creep into my soul: I was not good enough. Anything good about me was fake and I didn’t deserve to feel good about myself.

Why am I telling you this stupid story from thirty-eight years ago? Because I have spent my life with that doubt about being enough to run the show. I have spent most of the last ten years of my life trying to change that and have been diligently searching for the meaning of self-love.

What is self-love? Most of us don’t even know. We mistake self-love for confidence or success but we all have met people with tons of confidence or success on the surface and not much self-love underneath it all. We even mistake happiness for self-love but loving yourself doesn’t mean you will always be happy. Although, loving yourself will make happiness more attainable.

We are born with self-love. 

Children are born with no pre-conceived notion of not being good enough. They delight in their reflections in the mirror and thrill themselves with their accomplishments. Our issues with self-love are learned behaviors. We are not born feeling bad about who we are. We are taught that we are not good enough. We learn to bend and morph to gain acceptance from those around us. Being unacceptable is one of the human race’s biggest collective fears. We are quite simply genetically programmed to be around other people. Biology has made us crave human contact for survival purposes and because of that instinct we will do almost anything to fit in.  

  Self-love is not just a feeling that you have. The whole body is affected.  Our brain chemistry and emotions are directly affected by our thought processes. Long-term self-doubt will have a physiological effect on your body. That is why the pharmaceutical industry is booming with sales of psychiatric drugs. The drug’s function is to tweak the brain chemicals to make a person feel better without doing anything to improve their lives.  

Now, I’m not saying that these medications do not have a purpose. There are those with medical conditions that make medications necessary to get through life and there are some that need a rescue medication at a difficult time in their life in order to deal with a difficult situation.  

However, there is a reason that so many people struggle with life even while using these medications. The plain and simple fact is that medications don’t actually change your life and if you want a shot at real happiness you are going to actually have to change your life, or at the very least the way you look at your life.

Self-love can never take away the pain, the rough patches, or hardships and it certainly can’t make everything sunshine and roses, but it does help give all of life’s difficulties and unpleasantries a different perspective. When you view life through the lens of self-love bad things still happen, but the most astounding thing that seems to happen is that you cease to be a victim. You no longer feel driven to accept a view of yourself that is determined solely on external judgement. That alone is reason to find a way to love yourself.  In my own search for self-love I came across the stages of self-love and found them to be quite true for myself. I hope they can serve as guide for you as they did for me.

The stages of self-love.

1. I am not enough

Most of us sit here, bidding our time and hoping someone or something will come along and make us feel differently. This almost never happens. This is the state we live in because parents, teachers, friends, bosses etc., have told us that we deserve to be here. We usually don’t challenge their views.

2. I have had enough 

This is the stage where you have started to think that maybe, just maybe, they were wrong. You are sick of feeling like shit and realize that the things that you have always thought and felt no longer serve you. This stage is where you start looking inward and looking for another way to live.

3. I am enough

Here is where you decide that even if other people didn’t and don’t approve of you that it just doesn’t matter. You are good enough. You can really look at yourself, your pain and your shortcomings and be okay with them all. You decide your worth without factoring in other people’s opinions. 

4. I am

This is the pinnacle of self-love. You don’t even factor in what has happened to you as a reflection of who you are. You have no shortcomings, only growth experiences. You feel no need to judge others and you don’t need to judge yourself. You are ready for and open to the journey of life and all its gifts. You look for the beauty in tragedy and you are happy for the trials that add to your experiences in this life. 

Now honestly, I am still working a little bit in each stage. I think I always will be and as impossible as stages three and four sound, they really are attainable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy. Certainly, there is no quick and painless process to achieve them, but they are possible with work. I have outlined some of the steps that I have taken to achieving more self-love.

1. Getting real with ourselves

This is counter intuitive to the things we have learned. “I don’t like this fucking job.” “I don’t like my ass-hole husband and I hate those bitches that I call friends.” Wow! I don’t like how this or that makes me feel and surprise, I love how I feel when I …Whatever your dialogue is, it’s yours and it’s okay. You can’t find self-love until you acknowledge you are uniquely you. Being brutally honest with ourselves is the key to starting this process. Being real stopped so long ago for most of us that we can’t remember what real is anymore. Start writing it down. Write about what you hate and what makes your heart sing. No one will see this so get it all out. It is not easy to be honest with ourselves, but it is easier than the next step.

2. Being honest with others about who we are.

This takes a lot of courage and requires us to be vulnerable. This is the point where you need to decide who is worth sharing yourself with. Some people and things just need to go. They don’t serve your best interest. I know that the bratty teenager with all the harsh opinions about me, the one who I support, can’t just go just yet but plenty of other things and people I know can. I once had a group of friends that made me feel so small and insignificant that every girl’s night made me pray for a case of the flu. These were supposed to be my friends, but I hated who I was when I was around them. The time came to say good-bye, and guess what? I found a group of girls who feel like family to me. Good riddance. If you can’t be honest with the people around you then you need new people.

3. Action

Sometimes thinking about something for too long is just as bad as not thinking about it at all. No one will breeze into your life and clean out your closets (unless you pay them) and no one will make you stop eating two bowls of ice cream every night. You have to decide on action steps.

Quit being a victim. You will never start to prioritize self-love if you believe that you have no control over what happens to you.

Don’t like the volunteer role you took on? Then quit or decide to make the best of it until it is over. Don’t like your job? Get another or learn to appreciate it. 

In the end, the action part of the equation is just learning to live your truth whatever that maybe. 

It can be just as important for you to be able to tell your mother that you really wish she could accept that you don’t do laundry every day because you don’t want to and to stop nagging you about it, as it is to make the decision to change career you don’t like your current one. Being able to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie in July, when you are Jewish (guilty!) because you love them, and you don’t care who knows is important if in the past you were ashamed to let people see that side of you. 

Remember self-love is all about self. No one will give you permission to be you but you. No one will fight for your interests and celebrate your victories quite the way you can. Starting to recognize that we only get from others what we receive from ourselves is maybe the most important lesson we can ever learn about love. It has been said that we can’t love another unless we love ourselves. Knowing that long before I understood self-love the way I loved others made me doubt that adage. But, and this is a huge but, once I learned to love myself I began to love others differently than I had before. I learned that the way I interacted with almost everyone had more to do with me than them. Did they confirm something positive or negative that I already felt about myself? Did they make me feel something that I needed to feel? Did they challenge my beliefs? What can they do for me? Sounds totally self-absorbed, doesn’t it? It is because it is self-absorbed. When you don’t really love yourself, everything becomes about you seeking love and acceptance. 

When you do love yourself, other people are no longer tools for you to meet your own needs. YOU meet your own needs which really makes you free to explore those around you. You began to see them more clearly. You began to meet them wherever they are and not where you need or want them to be. Your love for them is about loving them as they really are. Understanding them becomes more important than them understanding you. I for one can tell you this alone has made me far and away happier.

So as Valentine’s Day approaches and you are searching for a way to show the ones around you that you love them, I suggest that instead of searching Amazon, Hallmark or even Etsy, that you search yourself. Start the process of finding real and complete self-love and you will be giving them and you the best gift of all.