“The finest thing in the world is knowing how to belong to oneself.” -Michel de Montaigne
I am convinced that the most significant and meaningful change we can make within all of our relationships begins with our foundational ability to relate to our selves. This teaching is ancient and lies at the heart of every spiritual discipline. The Buddha summed it up saying: “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” Not only is our capacity for self-love the most challenging healing for most of us to master, but our inattention to this critical inner struggle is often the silent and invisible root of what goes wrong in our other personal and intimate relationships.
I know that I am not alone in my misinterpretation of life’s painful events as something wrong with me. I sometimes wonder if there is not some universal weak link in the human genetic code that predisposes us to the long and sticky tendrils of self-doubt and unworthiness that seem to catch us in our most difficult moments or in our most challenging relationships. We routinely abandon ourselves in our moments of need as we fall for the false and erroneous belief that we are separate, unworthy and unlovable. We witness the falsehood of this thinking for those we love, but often miss it in ourselves.
I am not advocating for more self-esteem here. In many ways, our drive towards self-esteem is one of the trap doors we slip through, in a constant effort to measure up to some external standard, or worse still, a comparison with someone else’s digital profile. Real self love and acceptance comes through striving for self compassion. It begins with simple practices like giving yourself the opportunity to accept life experiences without having to like it. Instead, we often resist what life is giving us and make up elaborate stories that justify our resistance yet unknowingly get us stuck.
What we resist persists. It is easy to give up our story lines when we recognize that a deep part of our identity gets attached to what we refuse to accept in life and the more we push something away or try to run from it, the more our sense of self is linked to the experience or relationship.
Many people cannot tease out the pain of the experience from the resistance they have to it. We confuse the judgments we make about ourselves and the situation with the experience itself. The emotional layers melt together and what gets sacrificed is our ability to hold onto ourselves. Learning to release our storyline of judgments for a practice of mindful attention opens us to an ability to relate to our own pain. This practice enlarges our sense of self and the overwhelming story line turns into feelings that are manageable. We find that life and relationships are workable when we are not trying to escape from painful feelings, but want to create the internal space to experience them, which allows them to change.
The work of cultivating enough self-love to create and sustain healthy intimate relationships is directly proportional to your ability to have compassion for yourself and your life. Giving up our resistance to the way things are and the aspects of ourselves that have yet to evolve is a mighty first step. It opens the door where life changes by itself and gives us a soft place to come home. Healing your life and relationships begins in your own heart. No one deserves it more than you.