July 20, 2017

Why being Mad at Ourselves will set us Free: 5 Myths about Self-Love.

I had too much coffee today.

I love coffee. It’s one of my morning indulgences—one way I enjoy being with myself.

I sip. I savor. I delight in the dark and bitter goodness.

But sometimes I have too much. I take that extra sip and my esophagus yells at me—and in the past, when it would, I would yell back. It’s a natural reaction to respond back to intense energy with more intense energy. What feelings and sensations do is trigger a reaction—of a similar, or completely opposite, (but equally intense) form.

Sometimes, intense love triggers intense love. Sometimes, like on my too much coffee mornings, intense discomfort triggers an inner fight—a why did I do that to myself again kind of energy. But my inner fight doesn’t always trigger more fight. In fact, it’s kind of triggering the opposite now.

Why? Because I’m choosing differently.

Today I had too much coffee, and I still love myself. End of story.

Well, we could end here, but then you wouldn’t know the down and dirty truth—the story behind the story. The story begins with that inner voice that we listen to—the one that swings between the angelic and devilish extremes within a matter of seconds; that voice that can be dialed up or toned down. 

How? With a choice.

I hate self-help books. Well, I do now. I hate them because they tell us how we should be. They tell us, if we only did things this way—the author’s way—then we will be happy and truly understand what it means to love ourselves. The day I gave up reading self-help books was the day I loved myself for having too much coffee. It was also the day I gave up trying to live someone else’s answer. 

It was the day I started to walk away from someone else’s truth. 

My occasional overindulgence makes me human. I sometimes stay up past my body’s desired bedtime watching Netflix or perusing Facebook or writing, doing yoga, or talking on the phone. And the next day, when I wake up and feel groggy or wired and tired, I know it was my choices the previous night that led to my current state. I know I caused some sort of suffering for myself—and I love myself for it.

Self-love isn’t what a lot of those self-help books profess it to be, according to my inner guru anyway. It isn’t about being in a constant state of perfection—eating just the right amount at each meal, and exercising before the point of fatigue, and not drinking alcohol at least two hours before bed, and not raising your voice when your best friend pushes your most triggering button.

Self-love isn’t about not having too much coffee. It’s something more than turning away from our humanness—it’s about accepting it.

But before we get there, we have to bust a few myths about self-love that have been floating around since the dawn of the term itself. Some might resonate for you and others might not. We are all guilty of embracing certain ones over others. We all have our preferred conscious and unconscious defenses against this thing that we feel so frightened about.

Let’s take a look at them:

Myth 1: Feelings can only be loving (a.k.a. New-Age coping mechanisms).

Self-love is about expressing that your feelings are hurt when your partner cancels your dinner date at the very last minute—not just “letting it go” because you know you’ll be happy being by yourself (because that book on learning to date yourself told you so).

Self-love does not mean sending white light to your partner instead of vengeful thoughts, because “it wasn’t meant to be for your highest self” that evening, and thus you need to let it go and erase those angry thoughts you have toward your other half.

Let’s look at the realistic truth here: if your partner cancels dinner, it obviously wasn’t meant to be, because it isn’t going to happen, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings about it. Acknowledging your authentic feelings in the moment—whether it be to yourself or to someone else, is part of what it is to love yourself in all your humanness.

And yes, I’m bashing New Age thinking a bit here, because it has hurt my feelings so much in the past. I have told myself to “just let go” when someone disappoints me, or angers me, or life throws me an unexpected curve ball that messes up my plans.

In those moments, it may have felt relieving to let go of that hurt mentally—kind of like that relief you get from taking a drink when you’re stressed or going for a long run when you’re feeling anxious. In those moment, there is a rush of warmth and numbing calmness, and the intensity of emotions quiets down. But those unfelt emotions haven’t disappeared. They didn’t just get washed away. 

Myth 2: Expressing feelings is toxic.

The feeling hangover is perhaps the worst kind of hangover. When we have unprocessed emotions, they settle somewhere inside of us and they just hang out, waiting for a time to be released. If we keep “letting go” in whatever way our self-help books or practices tell us to let go, then our feelings will just keep building up and eventually come out in a volcanic explosion—when the timing is just right.  

I’m not referring to the New Age meaning of “divine timing.” I’m being semi-facetious here, because those emotions will release whenever they are given an opportunity to do so—on some unconscious level—and that release may not feel the most comfortable or divinely timed when it occurs.

This is why we cry in yoga. It is true that our issues store themselves into our tissues. If those stored emotions are given an outlet—enter yoga asana—then they will release.

It’s like the yoga asana, whether on the mat or in the grander asana we call the unpredictability of life, is the valve on the pressure cooker of emotion. Once that valve is opened, the emotions rush out—sometimes in a huge rush, which can trigger an avalanche of emotional expression like tears or laughter. Other times the release might happen in a smaller stream of steam, leading to a gentler expression of emotions—floating through our bodies, minds, and hearts with the subtlety of softwispy clouds.

Whichever way it happens, the expression of emotion is a healthy part of being a sentient being—a human being. Feeling is a gift and a blessing and not an uncomfortable curse. And a myriad of feelings is part of the human experience. If we try to control what we feel and how much we feel, then we restrict ourselves—and restriction of authenticity is the straightjacket of the soul.

Myth 3: Straitjackets are the answer.

When we start to treat ourselves as flawed projects that need to be broken down to be built back up again, we suffer. When we completely reject parts of ourselves—certain feelings or thoughts—or even our physical form, we block ourselves off from our true nature. Ignoring, binding, and tying up those parts of us that disgust us doesn’t get rid of them. In fact, it makes those part roar louder.

When we straitjacket our souls, they will find a myriad of ways to escape. The soul is tireless in its longing to be freed. But for a short period, locking those disliked parts of ourselves up seems to give us the illusion that we have changed. We think we’ve defeated the darkness and we try and hide the key to its escape. Change suddenly seems like the answer. 

Myth 4: If we just change, we’ll be happy and okay.

If we knew the key to loving—accepting—who we are isn’t changing who we are, then all those self-help gurus would be jobless. If only we knew that this fact will set us free. Back to my morning coffee. I sip one too many sips and my upper chest burns. My burning chest suddenly triggers a self-critical thought: 

Why did I do this to myself again?

I acknowledge this thought. I don’t ignore it. I watch it. I see it. I let it breathe.

I don’t wad it into a pretty ball that says “next time I will do better” or try to deny it with words like “my esophagus is healthy and free of pain.” Yes, all those words sound good in the moment, but they are turning my awareness away from the truth of my present experience: my overindulgence has caused my body pain.

When I acknowledge the truth of the moment, I’m acknowledging me—in my current state. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say simple acknowledgment of self is the master key to unlocking the self-love door. But before we go through it, we have to be okay with what that master key unlocks: the truth of the moment as it is. 

Myth 5: The truth is going to harm you.

When we can just be honest with ourselves, we discover something unexpected: honesty breeds self-love.

I know, you probably think, how is that possible? How could admitting that “I caused myself pain—fact” be, well, loving?  The answer is so simple it sounds stupid: the truth just is. If you asked how my chest and throat felt in this moment, and I told you they felt wonderful, I would be lying to you—and to myself. I would be doing all of that stuff I talked about earlier—trying to find solace in all of those self-love myths.

So go ahead, ask me how my chest and throat are feeling right now as I write this. Heck, I’ll just tell ya—they are slightly uncomfortable. And as I admit that, I feel a sense of relief wash over me. Why? Because I’m here with myself. Being here is loving myself. I’m with me right now in my discomfort, and it actually feels really nourishing. Has it taken away my physical discomfort? No, but that hasn’t made me want to run yet. 

Truth breeds self-love. Why? Because it supports presence. Presence might not always be comfortable, but it will always feel supportive. I personally love to be supported—that word and the feelings it stirs up in me really foster that sense of self-love I just didn’t understand not so long ago.

My friends, it’s a process. We all have our too much coffee or too much fill in the blank days. We all have them and always will—not because we don’t love ourselves, but because we’re human.

Being human can be really hard, just as it can be really f*cking amazing.

Being human means falling, just as much as it means soaring high.

Being human means having restless days, just as much as it means having grounded, in-the-flow ones and everything-in-between ones.

Being human is being flawed.

I don’t know about you, but I find beauty in the imperfections—because without them, this would be a very boring, one-dimensional life.



Pema Chödrön vs. Self-Help.




Author: Sarah Lamb
Image: “Mr. Nobody
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Leah Sugerman
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

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