“Where we deprive ourselves of love is where we need it most.” ~ Sarah Blondin
When asked what you love most about yourself, what sorts of things come to mind? For many of us, it’s likely to be the best parts of ourselves…or at least the parts we believe to be most acceptable.
Maybe you love the color of your eyes, even if you’re not so thrilled about the shape of your nose. Maybe you love how deeply you think about things, even as you dislike how long it takes you to figure out what you want to say. Maybe you love how well you fit in with your friends, even though sometimes you feel the urge to share an opinion that would really shock them.
In this world where it’s so easy to get caught up in all the ways we wish we were different or better, it’s good to take some time to remember and appreciate what we love about ourselves.
But what happens if we flip the question around? What if, in addition to appreciating parts of ourselves we love the most, we also consider which parts of us need the most love?
The parts we love most are often also the parts we like most and that others like most about us. They are the parts we feel less need to change or hide.
Instead, it’s often the parts of ourselves we long to change that need love the most. Our impulse is to shame the parts of ourselves we don’t like—to avoid them, to hide them, to disown them. But no matter how harsh we are, they are still a part of us. Shame and hatred are not what leads to healthy transformation.
I think many of us balk at the idea of extending love to the parts of ourselves that we wish were different. We may fear that if we show love to the parts of ourselves we don’t like, then we will be showing approval and lose all motivation to make changes. But loving something is not the same as saying it’s exactly as it should be.
Part of the problem might be that the word love carries a lot of baggage. Let’s talk about what loving those parts of ourselves really means and maybe we can find some words that resonate better.
Shame and harshness are painful. They may seem like a way to motivate ourselves, but all too often they drive us to try to hide those parts we’re afraid don’t measure up in an attempt to protect ourselves from further hurt. We might do what we can to make them look good on the surface while avoiding the deeper issues or ignoring them completely.
Far from camouflaging imperfections or ignoring flaws, loving the parts of ourselves we don’t like is about engagement and support. It means treating all parts of ourselves with kindness and gentleness. Love means that we are willing to stand by ourselves and give those parts what they need to transform and grow without demanding that they first earn our care and attention.
I don’t know about you, but love I have to earn doesn’t really feel like love. If I’m treated harshly or neglected until I can prove I’m worthy of being treated better, then I tend to get discouraged and retreat even more. On the other hand, when someone offers support and is willing to believe in my potential before I’m able to believe in myself, then I feel motivated to do my best and safe to risk expanding outside my usual comfortable patterns.
It’s wonderful when we have people in our lives who care enough to engage and encourage. We forget that we have the opportunity to offer ourselves that same kind of loving support.
When we have a history of harshness, it can take time and practice to shift into a new way of interacting with ourselves. It can be hard to trust that we’re not just letting ourselves off the hook. There are so many ways we can start engaging more kindly with those parts of ourselves—journaling with dialogues or lists or unsent letters, asking better questions, finding ways to inhabit our bodies more fully, etc.
Right now, can you take a first step and ask yourself which parts of you need the most love (or compassion or kindness or support…)? Can you identify a part of yourself that is feeling rejected or judged? Maybe you’re not ready to extend love just yet. Can you start with acknowledgment? Try saying I see you. I see that you need love.
I appreciate that it’s hard to share those parts of ourselves we most want to hide. Did you find any parts that you’ve been depriving of love? Were you able to acknowledge them? How did that feel?