Like a fool I strode forth, seeking to conquer Self-Love so that I may make a gift of her to myself … but she was nowhere to be found.
Everyone agrees that self-love is one of the main keys to happiness and a good life. We should all be kinder to ourselves, build self-esteem, and do deep listening of our inner hearts. Yet most of us end up doing the opposite. We berate ourselves for small mistakes, set up impossible to achieve goals, and never give ourselves a moment’s rest because nothing is ever good enough.
Why is that? Why are we so hard on ourselves?
All of us are born with a deep desire to love and to be loved. Because love is so precious to us we fear not having it, not possessing it. If we do not tend to this very natural fear and instead let it control us, then we develop a hyper-intention to possess love permanently, to own it for all time. Hyper-intentions, which are desires that are motivated by fears are extreme, outcome based, uncompromising, intolerant, and not in-step with reality. When we seek to own love, we push it farther away from us.
I believe that we are born with an unconditional love of self. Self-love motivates us to seek a good and happy life. We all try to listen to our inner hearts and to those around us, so that we may make ourselves happy. Unfortunately, due to lack of awareness, we spend more of our time listening to our demons of fear rather than our angels of love.
Fear says, “What makes you think you can defeat me, I have vanquished your parents and foes more worthy than you.”
Fear, I say, “My wish is not to vanquish you, but to pursue you and listen to your deepest dreams.”
Then Fear fell silent.
Am I Worthy?
One question we all ask ourselves is – Am I worthy (to be loved)?
This is a natural question for our rational minds. Indeed we are trained to search for reasons for everything, and so we need reasons to love. We need reasons to love others, and we need reasons to love ourselves.
My mind asks this question quite often. In the past I would run around searching for answers, and embark on self-improvement quests so that I may provide her with more and more satisfying answers. I am worthy because I was an A-student, I am creative, I am focused, I am curious, and so on. I will be even more worthy when I lose 30 pounds, get married, have two successful children, have 1 million followers, 2 million in the bank, get promoted to partner, can afford a big house, appear on television, and so on.
True love, however, is unconditional and not in our direct control. We cannot force someone to love us no matter what our internal or external achievements. Similarly, we cannot force ourselves to love someone based on their internal or external achievements. The good news is that we are all born with a gift of unconditional love for ourselves and our lives. Unfortunately, this gift gets covered up by our many hereditary fears and learned fears, leading us to doubt ourselves and to pursue paths that are motivated by fear rather than by love. It is fear or doubt that places conditions on our love of self and of others.
Self-Doubt – Why We Are So Hard on Ourselves
Self-doubt causes us to be uncertain and not believe in ourselves. Self-doubt is frequently an excuse that our mind creates in order to avoid facing our many fears.
I lost all three of my beloved dogs in the past 4 years. Needless to say, so much loss in such a short time was very traumatic. After I lost Shania, I started to really doubt myself. I did not know whether I was strong enough to handle life without her, I blamed myself for not doing more, not knowing more, I was not sure if I could take care of my other dogs properly, I was not sure if I could handle my grief and other emotions. When JJ passed away from cancer, my self-doubt and fear grew to such profound levels that I could hardly manage to live my life.
All this self-doubt comes from a fear of not being able to handle the tremendous grief and pain from the death of loved ones. Rather than facing this fear and this pain, my mind came up with many excuses for avoiding it. I am not capable of handling my emotions so let me binge watch Netflix instead. I cannot tolerate the emptiness of life so let me exercise until I fall into an exhausted sleep. Unfortunately, filling my days with doing this or that only worked in the very short term. Every time I avoided the pain, my fear grew and my self-doubt along with it.
The way to quiet self-doubts and to clear away the mud that covers our gift of unconditional self-love is to face our fears. I had to face my fear of grief, fear of emotional pain, fear of feeling bad, fear of suffering. To do this, I leaned into the fear instead of running away from it, which meant leaning into the pain. Every time I thought of Shania or JJ, I purposefully brought my awareness back again and again to the associated emotional pain. I did this by training myself on mindfulness and various self-soothing techniques including using the observer position (meta moment), CBT, analysis of self, journaling, and more.
Now whenever I have any self-doubts, I call them out for what they are, which are excuses for not facing fears. I tell myself that whatever excuses my mind comes up with, I will continue to face my fears. Then I analyze each fear, face it, and repeat until the pattern weakens.
Self-Doubt and Childhood
All of us have self-doubts but some of us have more doubt than others. Self-doubt is a coping mechanism for fear and I believe that this became a deep habit for me during childhood mainly because of my mother.
I grew up in an invalidating and often traumatic environment for the first 17 years of my life. My mother had a very difficult childhood herself and was filled with fears and self-doubts. When I was about 9 years old my parents got divorced and my mother’s condition worsened. She did not know how to deal with her difficult emotions and projected much of her own self-doubt, self-loathing, and fears onto me. She taught me that I could not do most things right, and needed her to do them for me. I cannot remember any positive memory with my mother after the divorce, but there are many painful ones.
Growing up in such an environment made me develop many fears including a deep fear of abandonment as well as the incorrect core beliefs that I cannot manage on my own and that I am not worthy. I also became hypersensitive to my emotions, especially to fear. Very likely I started to develop a fear of fear, which is a fear of the physical symptoms of anxiety (e.g. tiredness, insomnia, digestive issues, food sensitivities, and more).
Childhood is an important part of our lives because many of our habits or brain pathways are formed in our early years. We mimic or mirror the actions of adults around us and may also inherit brain wiring from our parents. This too occurred with our parents, so problem behaviors may accumulate and get passed down across multiple generations.
As a result, using self-doubt as an excuse became a deep habit with me, as it did for my mother. With awareness and understanding, however, I now see self-doubt for what it is, an expression of fear. It can therefore be addressed by facing my fears.
For much of my adult life I was quite angry with my mother for her constant guilt trips, invalidation, and verbal abuse. I was also in deep fear of her, and every time she called I would almost have a panic attack. I later realized that all of this came from a fear of my own emotions. In particular, interacting with and thinking about my mother always brings up a lot of emotional pain, sadness, self-doubt, and fear. I feared those feelings and I feared that my childhood had messed me up so badly that I would not be able to cope with life’s stresses (more self-doubt).
Many self-help gurus and websites suggest that we can build a positive self-image by using happy talk or replacing negative emotions with positive ones. “Just believe that you are awesome”, they proclaim. This never worked for me.
To build a positive self-image, I needed to face my fears and look at myself with total honesty.
I needed to look at my past, my pain, my fears, my incorrect beliefs, my correct beliefs, my weaknesses, my strengths, my mistakes, my failures, my successes, everything, from a non-judgmental perspective. I cannot change my past and I cannot change my parents. My parents are not capable of giving me unconditional love because of their own neuroses, and I have to accept that. They are human. I will likely have a greater hypersensitivity to fear and I have to accept that as well.
Reality is flawed and imperfect, so is being human. By facing myself and accepting my perceived “flaws”, I can start to look past them and develop ways to adapt and perhaps even convert them into strengths. By facing my fears, I can start to dismantle negative ways of thinking and start to respond to my emotions in a more healthy and positive manner. By weakening fear patterns I start to clear away the mud that covers my unconditional self-love, so that it shines through again. This unconditional self-love is the root of a positive self-image.
I was only able to get at that unconditional self-love by clearing away the accumulated fears that plagued me. This requires time, practice, repetition, hard-work, mental discipline, and some necessary suffering, but the rewards are deep and plentiful. Facing my fears and my pain allowed me to uncover my inborn gift of unconditional love, reengage with life more fully, be more authentic with myself and others, as well as be free to explore my entire mental landscape.
I looked into my mind and saw myself for the first time,
I shouted in anger, shook in fear, wept in sorrow, and collapsed in pain,
There is no longer any need for self-blame or self-doubt,
For the first time in forever I am in-love, happy, and free.