The Healing Power of Self-Love

Seven Principles to Guide You

Sacred Heart, Odilon RedonFor more days than I can remember now, when my wife and I are taking our lunch break, I have remarked to her, “I am going to click on the computer for a minute and check the ‘bad news.’” Perhaps this little bit of irony props me up to see the events invading our lives. Beneath all we are experiencing, I am haunted more than ever by Dr. Jung’s statement: “Where love stops, power begins, and violence and terror.” (C.W. Vol. 10, par. 580).

In the same volume (par. 454) we find Jung writing that, “The individual’s feeling of weakness, indeed of non-existence, was thus compensated by the eruption of hitherto unknown desires for power.” Again, and again, I have seen the truth of the first statement illustrated before my eyes in personal and societal ways. I can say the same for the second quotation as a motivational force in life. These statements are ever present in the background of my mind.

Then, not long ago I was rereading The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. It had been years since I discovered it the first time. Early on, as I was being drawn back into it, page 22 actually, I read these sentences: “White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this — which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never — the Negro problem will no longer exist for it will no longer be needed.”

I was stunned to read these sentences. This is one of the most profound passages I have ever read. In a few sentences he shifts the ground of our racial problems and the responsibility of white people into a challenge I had never thought of and whose truth is beyond dispute. He also challenges African Americans to love themselves in a similar way.

Two thousand years ago a revolutionary called Jesus gave us a great commandment the second part of which is, “…to love your neighbor as yourself.” We have paid a heavy price throughout history for not learning what this simple sounding, but incredibly profound commandment means if we seek to live by it. When I was young, I thought self-love was the most natural thing in the world. But it is not. With maturity I learned better. Self-interest and self-denial may seem natural, but they are more likely driven by our complexes and wounded hearts. Self-love is another story. Self-love is in reality one of the most difficult things in the world to achieve. This commandment in a simply straight forward way challenges us to a series of quests that demands, and yet promises, more than we can easily imagine. Dr. Jung, as I quoted him earlier, explained where failure in these quests leads us. The writer James Baldwin outlines the promise of these quests when self-love becomes the foundation for mediating our relationships.

Self-love, in its fullest sense, becomes a burning necessity when we open ourselves to our wholeness and it becomes the foundation for our love of life, the family of humanity and its future. I want to share with you seven principles that I have used in my lectures and books that are necessary to open the door to self-love one day at a time.

1. Remember, love is difficult, the poet Rilke explains, in contrast to the sentimental way we like to think about it. Review your thoughts about love. Do you think it should just bring happiness, ease, or at least security? Do explosions, struggles, and failure make you think love has failed? Life isn’t easy and love can’t be easy either.
2. Cultivating self-love is an odyssey with moments of difficulty and joy. It’s an excursion into knowing ourselves, into asking whether what we are doing is adding to or diminishing how we feel about ourselves.

3. Self-love challenges the boundaries of how we have fenced ourselves into practicality, conventional wisdom, and other people’s perspectives. We must gently ask ourselves: whose voice are we really hearing in our head? Is it the voice of our heart or of our true Self?

4. Self-love isn’t self-indulgent. It isn’t shopping sprees, outlandish vacations, sneaking sweets, or pouting moods. It is the commitment to growing in self-knowledge and our capacity to love. Remember, taking the time for reflection isn’t egocentric. It is the key to having the kind of vitality that overflows.

5. Self-love is the foundation that determines how strongly we can give and receive love. Without it, our relationships will crumble under the slightest storm. Take the responsibility for understanding your fears and needs, and for facing them in a loving way.

6. Self-love rests on self-forgiveness, on being able to understand who we were when we failed ourselves, and what needs, hurts, fears, and deprivations were driving us. Only then may we meet ourselves with compassion and kindness. This is why our growth in self-understanding brings healing and reconciliation with our essential selves.

7. Self-love is learning how to be tough with ourselves and to take the driver’s seat in our life when we need to break a destructive mood or habit. We must remember that being tough with ourselves means being committed and energetic, having high standards and tenacity. Being tough with ourselves is the opposite of being hard on ourselves, which means being perfectionistic, self-critical, self-punishing, and unaccepting of our mistakes and weaknesses. It is important for us to remember each day that to embody love, to be love, begins with a foundation of self-love and self-compassion.

Love, as you can easily imagine from reading these steps, takes courage. As the pandemic, economic, and political chaos keep staring us in the face we must remember that, throughout history, to have the courage of the heart is one of our noblest virtues. Facing this journey we have been thrust into we must turn it into a quest by having the courage to learn and seek. Even if we become seekers out of desperation it still takes courage, because it is easy to fall into despair, bitterness, and helplessness in the face of our difficulties.

Courage enables us to look into the darkness in our lives, in ourselves and to search for the light of new meaning, new purpose, new directions and the path to grow beyond our current situation. When we love ourselves, when we feel the love and support deep within us, we find the courage and the energy to imagine new things, new lives. The experience of being loved creates in us the desire to be transformed, a softening toward, and an increased awareness of, others.

In the end of The Fire Next Time James Baldwin imagined that relatively conscious whites, and relatively conscious blacks, could lovingly create new consciousness in others and change the history of the world. And, he said we must dare everything. True self-love is the foundation that gives hope, purpose and direction to a reimagined future and the courage to dare everything for it.

art credit: Sacred Heart, by Odilon Redon



Categories: Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris
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4 Responses to “The Healing Power of Self-Love”

  1. Randy Siegel

    Thank you, Bud! Another very helpful article. I especially loved the quote: “Self love is the foundation that determines how strongly we can give and receive love.”

    Reply
  2. Anne Caruso

    I appreciate your posts very much. This one is extremely helpful for those of us who are strangers to self-love. It is like a map in the wilderness, hard to decipher but essential. Thank you for your commitment to this work.

    Reply
  3. Nancy Buchanan

    Thank you! You have taken my breath away……..inspiring, profound and deeply moving! I plan to read it many times and ponder each sentence.

    Reply
  4. Agneta Hallgren

    Thank you so much for sending me the seven principles. I really didn’t understand what self-love was about until I read them. Specially nr 6 & 7 meant a lot to me.

    Reply
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