Making the Life Long Journey To Love Oneself
“To love oneself” is a phrase that gets bandied about a great deal in psychological circles, and also in the many varieties of spirituality that we encounter in our current world. It can seem to carry a great many shapes and colours.
It certainly does seem that we mean many different things when we use the phrase “to love oneself”. For one person, it may mean making the voice of the inner critic more positive and supportive. For another, it may be all about setting appropriate boundaries, to protect themselves from being swamped by the expectations and demands of other people.
Or, it may take on a very different appearance, as it does in a quotation from C. G. Jung that Jungians often find very compelling and arresting:
The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely. [italics mine]
Diverse as they are, these are only three aspects of the vastly multi-facetted jewel of self-love. What really is this wonderfully strange thing, to love oneself?
To Love Oneself: A State of Being, or A Journey?
Often when we see or hear references to self-love, they seem to have a kind of binary, “on/off” kind of character. You can get the feeling from peoples’ language that you either love yourself, or you don’t, and that’s the end of the story.
To see what I mean, consider these three very laudable quotations about self love:
To fall in love with yourself is the first secret to happiness.
If you have the ability to love, love yourself first.
How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. These are all wonderful quotations. They stress the importance of having love and compassion for oneself. Yet, maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help feeling from these quotations that love for yourself is something that you just either have, or you don’t have it. Is self love really like that?
Absence of Self Love; To Love Oneself NOT
Often when we talk about self love, we contrast it with experiences where self love is completely absent. Sadly, many if not all of us have real experience with states where self love just isn’t there.
For example, many people have experiences with perfectionism, which can lead them to mercilessly lacerate themselves with self-criticism and even self-hate. Or, individuals who have to deal with depression often have very low levels of self-esteem, and treat themselves in ways that genuinely lack self love, whether through intense self-criticism, ignorring their own needs, or projecting their own negative feelings about themselves on their interactions with others.
Often, individuals who have these very dark negative experiences—what Jungians would refer to as experiences of nigredo—can find it easy to contrast these desperately negative states with the experience with the experience of valuing themselves, and loving themselves. Understandably, the contrast between these states can feel very black and white.
To Love Oneself is a Journey
Yet actually, to love oneself is an experience that has many more dimensions and colours. Loving oneself is a process, and its a process that keeps opening up, growing and evolving. We’re never finished, never “there”; there’s always more to open up, and to find.
As we go through the various major transitions in our lives, and all the varied parts of our life journey, we can find that we come to a greater and greater appreciation of our own uniqueness. We can come to have a greater and greater respect for eveything we have experienced and been through, and to develop more and more kindness toward ourselves, as we see our lives more and more as a unique expression of the Self. In the words of another famous C.G. Jung quotation,
The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.
As the experience of “being in love” with another person opens up into greater and greater depth over time, so the same can happen in our relationship with ourselves. We can grow into an ever deepening relationship of truly valuing who we most fundamentally are.
Wishing you every good thing or your personal journey,
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and
Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario