How To Stop Trying To Love Yourself, And Start Being Happy
Having spent a lot of my 20’s and early 30’s battling mild depression, I’ve read far too many self-help books in an attempt to figure out why I was miserable with my wonderful life.
At some point, almost every book cited self-esteem as the problem and learning to love yourself as the miracle cure for unhappiness.
Not one of the books actually had a step-by-step prescription for how to love yourself.
So, the question I’ve been asking myself for years is:
Exactly how the f#ck am I supposed to love myself?
Do I wake up in the morning and hug myself?
Do I look at myself in the mirror (with puppy-dog eyes) and repeat the mantra “I love you, Bruce. I love you, man. You’re awesome!” over and over until I believe myself?
Do I give myself long warm baths and take myself for a massage once a week?
I can tell you, I’ve tried all of these… and although some of them temporarily made me feel better, none of them ever made me love myself any more or magically altered my self-esteem.
So, how the f#ck do you love yourself then?
The answer is simple: You don’t.
Because you are Love.
You can’t love yourself, because…
YOU. ARE. LOVE.
Only, you’ve forgotten that.
OK, I know. I’m getting all existential on your ass… but this is important stuff, so bear with me.
Every mystical spiritual tradition worth its salt has essentially said the same thing:
- Everything is LOVE
- You are LOVE
- Get over it and everything will turn out just fine
OK, I admit. I may have simplified their teachings a little… Maybe, a lot. But that’s the essence of it.
Clearly “getting over it” and having a direct experience that everything is LOVE is easier said than done.
Part of the difficulty is that most of us incorrectly believe that LOVE is a feeling – not just any old feeling, but a good, nice, happy feeling.
If everything is LOVE, then by definition LOVE has to be both good and bad… light and dark… pleasure and pain…
Yet, new-age woo-woo voodoo would have us believe that LOVE is only good.
If I told the new-age crowd that LOVE was bad, love was dark and love was pain, they’d call me a heathen and digitally stone me to death with hundreds of scathing blog comments below this post.
So, we are faced with a problem:
As long as we’re only willing to acknowledge one side of LOVE’s coin, we only acknowledge half of LOVE.
And then we only feel half-ALIVE (i.e. we become unhappy). Ironically, the pursuit of happiness (the good side of the coin only) causes unhappiness.
How I Stopped Loving Myself
When I eventually “cured” myself of my bouts of depression, it wasn’t because I learned to love myself, but as a result of accepting parts of myself that I didn’t want to accept.
I stopped trying to change my jealousy, and when my lover told me she was attracted to another man, I breathed through it and allowed my jealous emotions to overwhelm me and move through me. My jealousy came and went.
When I felt needy, instead of trying to hide my neediness, I consciously began experiencing it. I’d tell my lover, “Honey, I’m feeling desperately needy. Please would you comfort and reassure me?” My neediness came and went.
“When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure”. – Rudolf Bahro
In essence, I stopped resisting the other side of the coin.
I consciously invited those darker experiences into my life: the bad feelings, the sad feelings, the scared feelings.
I welcomed them.
I allowed myself to feel my pain, my sadness, my depression. Not wallow in it, but experience it in my body, without needing to alter it, change it, or suppress it – until it left me.
Wanna know what happened?
Very soon, I began feeling good about myself more often than not.
Notice that what I didn’t do was try to love myself more. Instead, I focused on accepting myself as is without resisting my experience of myself in the moment.
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” — Carl Rogers
The Myth Of Loving Yourself Before Loving Another
According to this myth, until you can love yourself, you can’t love another…
This doesn’t stand up to critical thinking if you consider that it implies that a mother who doesn’t love herself can’t love her newborn baby until she learns to love herself? Sounds like more new-age woo-woo voodoo dogma to me.
This “love yourself first” dogma is so ingrained in our culture, I recently heard of a woman who broke up with her man saying that she needed time to “work on loving herself”.
“Good luck with that…”, was my first thought. Why? Because trying to love yourself is impossible and trying to change yourself in isolation never works. We do not exist in isolation. We exist inside the context of our relationships with others and the world.
Let’s land the plane…
If loving ourselves is impossible then how do we change our perception of ourselves – our self-image or self-esteem?
Good question. Glad you asked.
Ask a life coach (or read a self help book) about self-esteem and they will most likely advise you to go and “work on yourself” and your self-esteem will improve.
Where Yoga and Mediation Fail…
The “work on yourself” part is left vague, but usually involves one or more of the following:
Past life regression
Emotional release work
Etc, etc, etc…
I’m not knocking any of these disciplines. I’ve partaken in each of them had positive experiences with most. None of them created permanent results.
My point is that nobody seems to have a goddam clue as to what actually works when it comes to creating sustainable and meaningful positive change in your perception of Self.
The Big Self Help Lie That Keeps You Stuck (and buying more self-help books)
After a few years of pondering this topic, I stumbled upon a fundamental flaw in the way we’ve been approaching self-help (and particularly self-esteem).
It dawned on me that the entire focus of the self-help industry is on changing the internal aspect of our experience – our inner game.
The implicit promise of the self-help industry is that if you change your inner world your outer world will shift.
While I agree with this premise, it is not the whole picture.
If changing yourself was simply a matter of tinkering “inside” yourself, we’d all be actualized already and the billion dollar self-help movement would be out of business.
What the self-help movement doesn’t acknowledge is that if you work on your outer world, your inner world also follows suit.
Inner world and outer world are two sides of the same coin. They are interdependent. Working with one to the exclusion of the other is counterproductive.
Yet this is exactly what most people attracted to self-help do. When it comes to the outer game of getting your hands dirty, they run a mile.
If we want to change any aspect of ourselves, we’ll get better results if we work with both our inner game and our outer game.
So… what is the outer game of building self-esteem?
How To Actually Build Lasting Self-Esteem
Here’s how: Cultivate nurturing relationships with supportive people.
Why would I suggest focusing on relationships with real live humans?
Because our self-esteem was originally created through our interactions with real live humans – our parents, our teachers, our bosses etc….
We didn’t wake up one day and consciously choose to have low or high self-esteem.
We learned who we are by absorbing the feedback we got from the people in our environment.
Nathaniel Branden (in 1969) defined self-esteem as “the experience of being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and being worthy of happiness.”
It makes sense then that the outer game of high self-esteem is to cultivate relationships with not just anyone, but people who make you feel competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and worthy of happiness.
How do you do that?
Hang around people who have high self-esteem and are willing to support your growth. These could be friends, family, colleagues or mentors.
The most important thing is that you regularly interact with these people and ask them for their support in building high self-esteem.
I wrote an entire report on how attract highly esteemed people into your circle of influence here. Its free, so go download it.
Having said all that, we can’t neglect the inner game of self-esteem either…
The inner game of self-esteem might look like this:
- Choose who you want to become. It helps to write down traits of people you admire. The people we admire usually have the traits we believe are missing in ourselves.
- Write down a detailed description of who you want to become using as many of the senses as possible – at the very least paint pictures, sounds and feelings with your words as you write. A page should be enough.
- Visualize yourself as this person daily. My Relaxation For Manifestation program is affordable and designed to help you with visualizing your ideal self and life.
- Work with a therapist or coach to help you get complete and make peace with your past. Landmark Education’s programs are great for this.
The Ultimate Self-Esteem Enhancer
Branson was on his Caribbean island hosting a summit for some of the greatest leaders on the planet today – Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter to name a few.
He asked Jean to study and interview these giants (all of whom have incredible self-esteem) and discover what they all had in common.
She could only find one common trait among them: A supportive, committed romantic relationship.
Think about it.
If our sense of self is sculpted by our interactions with others, then the one person who has the most influence over our sense of self over time is the person we spend the most time with.
And that person is usually our romantic partner.
What do you think might happen to your self-esteem over a 5 year period if your romantic partner:
- Celebrated with you when you won and soothed you when you failed
- Encouraged and supported your personal growth and learning
- Told you they loved you and demonstrated their love in actions
- Provided a soft shoulder for you to lean (or cry) on when you felt down, insecure or could not soothe yourself
- Gave you behind the scenes support in achieving your dreams and goals (without interfering), in a way that empowered you to take your own initiative
Imagine how different you’d feel about yourself if you had that kind of external validation and feedback every day for 5 years.
Do you think your self-esteem would improve?
You bet your goddam life it would!
Do you think you’d still need to “learn to love yourself” more?
Of course not!
STOP trying to fix yourself.
STOP trying to love yourself.
STOP trying. Period.
You’re wasting your precious time on this planet doing shit that just plain doesn’t work. If it did work, it would have worked already.
Burn Your Self Help Books
I don’t really mean that literally… I mean I hope I’ve persuaded you to stop sitting at home with your self-help books trying to make yourself feel better about yourself. Go get in the (outer) game and start playing on the field of life.
Go share yourself, feel your feelings, cry for no reason, laugh for no reason, play with yourself and others, and get down and dirty, face to face with other supportive people who love and believe in you.
There are 7 billion of us, so you’ve got lots of cool people to choose from.
And finally, I’m secretly hoping that you’ll go build a romantic relationship with someone you love (and who loves you back) that nurtures your growth, respects you and makes you feel worthy.
When you spend that much time with another person who sees you as the incredible person you are, it rubs off.
In my opinion (and some other pretty smart people), that’s the fastest way to learn, grow and evolve as a human being.
If you’re currently in a committed romantic relationship and you don’t feel loved, respected and nurtured, you may want to check out my next online Relationship Repair program. In 7 weeks, it will turn your relationship around.
Thanks for reading.Bruce
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