Emotional Health

Feeling Lit from Within: The Power of Self-Love

This is an essential part on any relationship, of course. We all rely on our partners and friends to help us through their compassion and love to reinforce our sense of self and self-worth. But if “self-objects” are our only reliable source of self-worth then we are in trouble. Self-objects can fail us. In fact, the failures of a mother to adequately respond always to our needs are what set the stage for the internalization of her function. It’s part of the normal process of development. We learn that Mother will not always be there, but we can learn to emulate her and soothe ourselves.

If this doesn’t happen (and the process is never ideal or flawless) we are dependent on others to support us. That is a precarious position, because the danger of failure is ever-present, and inevitable.

Consider the difference in the following relationship scenarios:

While Caroline and her husband Bart are usually on the same wavelength, sometimes he misses her cues and fails to be supportive and attentive. Having an internal sense of self-worth, Caroline does not rage against Bart and the world’s unfairness when this happens. She has inner resources that are available to her to soothe and comfort her. Also, she is able to stay centered enough to think through the various reasons that make Bart sometimes unavailable.

Donna, in contrast, does not have the same resources. When Jeff is not “there” for her, she falls into a pit of despair and worry. Maybe he doesn’t really love her? Perhaps he’s having an affair? “I am really not attractive enough for him so wonder he ignores me,” she worries. “I am going to lose him sooner or later.”

 While there may be instances when musings like Donna’s have the ring of truth, all other things being equal, when you have a generally loving partner the occasional failure is meaningless and forgivable. More important, when that happens, a person with stable self-love can keep her equilibrium and evaluate the situation more evenly. By dong so, she can prevent further problems in her relationship by given her partner the benefit of the doubt and not accusing him of things that are far-fetched. Reasonable discussion and negotiation is more possible.  She can also demonstrate that she is able to take care of herself, even though she welcomes his care when it is available.

If you suspect you are a person with a non-working or unreliable pilot light, what can you do? One solution is to focus on activities that allow you to feel connected to your feelings of self-worth. None of us completely lack self-love. What sorts of things, not dependent on other people, make you feel “good” about yourself?

Studies have shown that people who volunteer and help others in some way experience a boost in self-esteem. Similarly, people who exercise regularly feel more positively about their bodies and more connected to them. Creative pursuits, especially if you are expressing some personal goal or drive, also serve this function. They remind you of your unique self, and help one feel its expression and development.

Another tool is keeping a self-appreciation journal. Just as the use of gratitude journals can help remind us of how much we have to be thankful for, a record like this can help you focus on your strengths, rather than your weaknesses. While we all need to be aware of our weaknesses and faults and try to improve, approaching them from a position of strength and self-respect works much better. If you are having a problem with a task, for example, it is much more useful to be able to say to yourself, “I am smart enough to figure this out,” rather than doubting your abilities and giving up.

Naturally, no one is entirely immune to the outside world when it comes to a sense of self-worth. There are very few people who don’t feel wounded when criticized or let down when misunderstood. The more able you are to keep your own pilot light “lit,” to not allow anyone else to blow it out, the faster you will recover from these setbacks. When it comes to feeling right with yourself, no one can be a better friend than you.

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