“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere.” ~ Unknown
Buddhism, Greek mythology or Hinduism all point to loving ourselves, not in the purview of Narcissism but in healthy ways.
There is a difference between feeling good about ourselves all the time, even at the expense of others (which is narcissistic) and feeling we are valuable (which is healthy self-love).
When we know we are valuable, we have a solid sense of self and are secure inside; we do not seek external validation. Our interactions are not based on who can be our narcissistic supply.
We move through life with a wide open heart, sharing our love and compassion with everyone. Finding this sweet spot of healthy self-love is difficult.
We mostly oscillate between narcissism on one extreme and pseudo humility on the other. The quality of love that we feel for ourselves is a direct reflection of what our “sense of self” is.
When we are born, we have no sense of self. We can’t tell ourselves as being different from our mother. Our sense of self is totally enmeshed with our primary caregivers.
As we grow up, we gradually realize that we are a separate individual, and we start developing a sense of self or “ego”.
If we have received consistent love during childhood, we grow up with a healthy ego, strong internal sense of self, ability to solve problems and relate with others in a healthy way and an overall sense of well-being and security.
If we’ve received inconsistent love or face excessive humiliation or trauma during childhood, we grow up with an unhealthy ego.
Our unhealthy ego is basically our inner child that didn’t get love and affection, and therefore it shows up in dysfunctional ways to cope up with the hurt and protect itself from further pain.
Unhealthy ego shows up in the following ways:
- Feeling inadequate or not good enough.
- Getting defensive, passive-aggressive, and reactive or gets triggered easily.
- Fear of facing challenges head-on and finding ways to escape it.
- Taking what others say or do personally.
- Having high expectations of self and others, and chasing perfection.
- Using escape mechanisms like blame, criticism or denial to deal with difficult situations or people.
- Having a sense of grandiose or entitlement.
- Seeking external validation
- Inability to show compassion or empathy.
If you resonate with some or all points on this list, I want you to embrace your inner child or wounded ego with love and compassion, acknowledge that it is hurting and showing up in dysfunctional ways and that there is some amount of genuine healing required before you can begin to practice healthy self-love.
Here are three ways to practice healthy self-love
1) Re-Parent the inner child
Your inner child looks for love and validation that it didn’t get. It longs to be cared for by someone who has its genuine well-being at heart, and that’s you.
Embrace it, soothe its pain, celebrate the little victories; motivate it, discipline it with love and compassion, and show it the unconditional love and acceptance that it never received.
Re-parent the inner child. It will learn to develop a solid internal sense of self and help you to move from dysfunctional ways to healthy ways of loving yourself.
2) Seek Therapy
If you didn’t receive love and affection as a child, you grow up feeling a constant void that you always seek to fill, with no time left to focus on your dreams, goals or life, because you’re preoccupied with thoughts of how incomplete you are.
Therapy helps you to heal the early experiences and fearful subconscious patterns that created the unhealthy sense of self. It will give you a safe and nonjudgmental space to discover your strengths and embrace your shadow side. You gradually learn to embrace yourself in totality.
3) Self-discipline and healthy boundaries
Unhealthy ego makes you operate in extremes:
– You overwork chasing perfection or procrastinate endlessly (due to a feeling of not being good enough).
– Clinging too much or remaining too detached in relationships (due to fear of abandonment).
– Inability to delay gratification (due to lack of trust in future). Or being too harsh with oneself and foregoing all fun (due to the feeling of not deserving enough).
“Everything in moderation, including moderation.” ~ Oscar Wilde
Since now you are aware of the unhealthy patterns, you need to choose self-discipline to find a balance.
Create healthy boundaries in work and relationships. Learn to discern when to put yourselves first and when to extend yourself to others. Schedule work and fun, my time and relationship time, and avoid the tendency to operate in extremes.
However, self-love is not a one-time activity of healing our inner child or taking up therapy. It is a lifelong journey of self-discovery.