Most of us have been conditioned into believing that ‘Love’ is something external. It just happens to us, we fall in love or someone falls in love with us. We don’t share any sense of responsibility regarding love. It’s a feeling that just takes us over and can leave us just as quickly.
I saw a post on facebook recently that stated, ‘don’t expect people to love you, sure they don’t even love themselves’. Is this true? I suspect in the majority of cases it is.
For me anyway it was kinda like that. My mum told me frequently in the early years how much of a surprise I was to her, she hadn’t been expecting to have any more children, she meant no harm in saying it, but I grew up not feeling wanted, not loved and somewhat abandoned emotionally. My parents didn’t find it easy to express love, they seemed kind of detached. It is said that we will seek what we’ve never had, so I sought love, I sought support, and I sought people who would prove to me that I was wanted. I played the same scenes over and over throughout my life, different faces, but the same disheartening results.
I would arrive at every new relationship armed with wants and needs, a giant gaping void inside my heart looking to be filled, looking to be made complete, looking for someone to give me what I didn’t have myself, but there was always something missing, and I didn’t know what that was.
It wasn’t until my marital relationship of 17 years broke up, that I began to question my beliefs about love.
I realized that I hadn’t viewed ‘Love’ as a verb, an ‘action’ word. I had seen it as something you got from others. Had I been seeking to ‘get’ not ‘give’, all my life? ‘Perhaps if I had brought what I could give, in more abundance, than my expectations of what I could get, would this have changed some of my experiences?’ I asked myself. But I also became aware that in my desperate need for love and acceptance, I had put everyone else’s needs first as I didn’t feel worthy enough to ask for what I wanted. I still couldn’t be sure, there was still that emptiness, the something missing inside me. Most of us just want to love and be loved in return, we want people to be nice to us, to respect us, to understand us, to support us when we need support. We want to feel wanted, not abandoned in our times of need.
But what if we are not loving ourselves first? What if we don’t support, respect or we abandon ourselves on a regular basis? What if we can’t even keep the promises we make to ourselves, let alone the ones we make to others? Can we really expect others to give us what we don’t already give to ourselves? Are we all just mirroring those unhealed parts of ourselves back and forth with others? And what if we only feel loved if others tell us we are? Is our worth tied up in that ?Then we’re in real trouble I think, you only have to look at the Jesus story to see that, one week people will be celebrating us, the next they’ll be wishing us a speedy demise ! How can any of us really be there for anyone else, if we’re not there for ourselves first?
It was with trying to find answers to these questions that I began to change my views about ‘Love’.
If I wanted to feel loved, I would have to learn how to love myself first. I needed to develop a strong central core of love inside of me, one that didn’t crumble at each rejection. That meant learning to like and accept who I was at that time. It was a difficult process. I had spent 44 years telling myself things like, I was ugly, not worthy of love, and that I was stupid etc. etc. There was nothing I liked about myself. Reading Louise Hay’s book, ‘You can heal your life’ really helped me at that time. She encouraged people to look in a mirror and actually like what they saw, among other deep work. It took me a long time to like and accept who I was. This work is emotionally painful but well worth it. I gradually accepted who I was and had been. I also became aware of aspects of my personality that weren’t serving me or anyone else for the better.
Learning to love yourself is a very transformative process. As you begin to love yourself, you stop and reconsider those things that might harm yourself, or others. You begin to observe your thoughts, your behaviours and your words. I took a personal oath to ‘Do no harm’. I began to see the sacredness of all life, mine and others, human, animal and environmental too. I began to see the effect that I was having on myself and others and I began to live, to think, to speak and to behave more consciously. I found what nourishes the soul.
And no, people didn’t suddenly come rushing into my life to support, love, respect and be there for me, some did, some didn’t, but it didn’t matter anymore, because I was there for myself, I respectfully stopped caring about peoples’ opinions of me, and while I recognised that emotional independence was better that emotional dependence, I still also knew that the best to aim for was emotional interdependence, which is when people are there for each other and themselves at the same time, both giving and receiving freely without conditions or expectations. Both wanting the very best for all concerned, celebrating life, not destroying it. From then on I chose to spend time with people who were living consciously more often than those who weren’t.
So to make Love a verb, I decided to just love. I began to practice listening better (stay with me, I’m a work in progress) I began to try to understand others before I expected to be understood. I sought to see what I could give in every situation rather than what I could get. Instead of looking at how useful people could be to me, I began to see how useful I could be to them instead, in every interaction. In the hope that I could leave others happier and better off than when I found them. A kind word of encouragement, a friendly smile, a genuine compliment. No, not to get anything, not to gain ground or friendship, not to get people to like me, or to be persuasive or manipulative, and not in a premeditative way, only ever spontaneously, just so that I could practice being loving to all, yes even those who were not nice.
We are all working within the realms and limitations of our current awareness. We are all doing the best we can with what we know, when we know better, we do better. Knowing this, helped me to forgive my parents. They did not know how to love themselves, so they found it difficult to show their love, and they didn’t know how I allowed that to affect me. This also allowed me to practice forgiveness in general and to cut people a bit of slack, are any of us ever fully aware of how we affect others? Those who are in deep emotional pain, who don’t love themselves, are the ones who cause the most distress for others with their words and actions.
When we practice loving, we are there for ourselves first, but not in a selfish way, we consider others, but we nourish ourselves from the well first, before we have enough nourishment in us, to give to others. We don’t feel we’re losing anything in being nice, and we can be more there for them, with much less resentment. When we love ourselves we can learn discernment, we can set up a healthy emotional bank account that has more deposits than withdrawals, for healthy balanced relationships, as regular attempts are made to meet everyone’s needs. And we can set healthy boundaries and not allow ourselves to be treated in ways that destroy our spirit.
So how can we begin? We must first make some space to get to know ourselves, to be able to watch and observe our thoughts, our actions and to notice the affects they have on ourselves and others. Create a sacred space or sacred time that’s just yours. Go out into nature, go into a room by yourself, or go to bed earlier or later than others to find that quiet time. Place your hands over your heart centre, the centre of your chest, close your eyes and breathe in and out slowly and deeply for a while, until you feel a measure of peace, and ask yourself, ‘How can I love myself and others more?’
I also found this very powerful visualization to help you put things into perspective. Close your eyes, breathe deeply a few times. Now imagine you are at the end of your life, you have one hour left to contemplate all that has brought you to this point. If you had the time over again, what would you do differently? How would you have treated the ones you loved? What would have said, that you didn’t say? What would you have liked to do in your life that you didn’t do? What regrets do you have?
Now open your eyes, you’re still here, you’re still alive, that last hour may be nearer than you think. You now have a chance to change what you will be thinking about at the end of your life, when it does come. What will you do differently from now on?
The answers may surprise you!