We’ve all heard the pop-psychology proverb: love thyself before loving another. Okay, but how? Ciska Thurman unpacks the principle of self-love
Imagine the following scenario: the international arrivals hall at your local airport, 3 am. For some, such as drivers who are sent to collect arriving passengers they don’t really know, this situation is dreary, tiring and stressful. For others – lovers about to be reunited after a long separation – it’s exhilarating, nerve-racking and romantic.
There are exactly the same external factors at play, but two very different internal monologues going on.
What we tell ourselves
‘The single difference between feeling awful and feeling great is what you tell yourself about the situation. All of the emotion you feel is governed by your interpretation of that given situation.’ This example of how self-talk operates is quoted from Margaret Fourie’s self-help book Talk: Improve self-talk and communication for better relationships. In the book, Margaret investigates the power of positive self-talk, and how this facilitates effective communication in all relationships. The narratives that we create mentally, ‘the pictures that our self-talk creates in our mind … these become the blueprints for our living,’ says Margaret.
Claire Holden, a Johannesburg-based personal development and business coach, agrees: ‘If someone doesn’t love themselves, they are consistently filled with self-doubt and continually giving in to the people around them in order to try and win their love and approval. In this situation, you prevent yourself from contributing your true personality and uniqueness to the relationship; you are merely a version of what you think someone else wants you to be.’
Claire emphasises the importance of taking time, regularly, to evaluate your life – what is working well and where you would like to see things improve. By neglecting the opportunity to self-reflect, we push ourselves further and further away from our real selves – the process of relating to others becomes more about fulfilling their ideal version of you, rather than your ideal version of yourself.
‘Studies have shown that, on average, 50% of our emotional predisposition is genetic, 10% is due to various external circumstances and 40% is based on the choices we make. In fact, as we become aware of the impact our decisions make in our lives, our own experience of their impact increases,’ says Claire.
In the absence of emotional illness, you can choose how you feel. ‘You can change your levels of happiness, your self-esteem and, as a result, your levels of success.’ Here are some day-to-day ways to achieve this:
• Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself.
• Perform acts of kindness for others, as this usually makes us feel much better about ourselves. (But also remember to care for yourself as much as you do for others.)
• Intentionally cultivate an inner voice that is positive and affirming, as well as empowering.
• Exercise – this has proved effective in improving brain chemistry and mood.
• Practise gratitude. Start or finish off every day by counting your blessings and being grateful for them.
• Focus daily on achieved successes, big and small.
• Maintain your boundaries; do what you need to do to be you.
What we tell others
It is often difficult to communicate our weaknesses and flaws to a partner without us feeling vulnerable. Claire recommends the following principles to help you facilitate open and safe communication with your other half:
Practise reflective listening This will ensure that you confirm whether you have understood the entire message correctly or not. Example: ‘What I hear you saying is …’
Practise using ‘I messages’ Avoid accusing by starting with ‘You …’ Example: ‘When X happens, I feel …’
Exercise your receptive mind Try to channel all your effort into properly understanding the other person, as opposed to thinking of your response. Example: Listen with a mind that is still, calm and open to new ideas and information. Understanding someone does not necessarily mean you have to agree with them.
Say ‘thank you’ to affirm the speaker Example: ‘Thanks for telling me. Now I know what you think and how you feel.’
Manage your expectations Neither your boss nor your family know what you’re thinking and feeling. Don’t expect them to understand what you want or need if you don’t articulate these things.
Don’t project on to others Projection is taking your own model of the world and believing it to be the same for another person. Example: To maintain a healthy sense of perspective, keep reminding yourself that your life experiences are unique to you and that what you are saying or hearing will inevitably serve as a reflection of that. ‘These tips create a climate of respect for each other’s feelings as well as your perspectives. As you learn to cultivate this, having the difficult conversations becomes less threatening,’ encourages Claire. But above all else, remember that self-acceptance and loving yourself is the key to creating a passionate, fulfilled and joyful life.