I think it was about two years ago that I really realized that I wanted to learn to love myself fully. I had noticed this term being said many times, but I wasn’t really sure how to go about it, and I definitely heard my inner dialogue being very self-critical most of the time. This is the third part of a series where I share and unravel what helped me along on my journey towards self-love.
Ingredients: a romance - anxiety attack - compassionate friends
Nothing has been able to bring out my insecurities like intimate relationships with men – especially the whole part where it’s appearing and building up, and you don’t really know where it’s going. It taps into the core insecurities around being lovable and worthy. And I’ve felt how it triggers all these sides in myself that I’d rather not have.
Last year I found myself in one of these intimate relations. After having dived fully and fast into it; opening my heart and being vulnerable, we parted, and it was not sure when, where, or if we would reconnect again. Part of me was really insecure about the whole thing, and another part of me just wanted to control the future and have a fixed guarantee of the outcome. I’m sure you know though that there are never any guarantees in life!
My close friends will attest to how emotionally affected I was, but what was causing me even more suffering was that I was having a really hard time accepting the emotions it brought up. In terms of self-love you might feel great love towards yourself when you are happy, successful and on top of things, but what happens when you feel sad, needy, lonely, anxious or jealous?
I basically rejected these feelings and told myself that I shouldn’t feel like this. Saying to myself ‘oh it’s ridiculous that I’m feeling like this’ or ‘I’m not a teenager anymore, why am I freaking out about this?’ and so on.
Then one night I woke up with my heart pounding like mad and my whole body feeling tense with a strong sensation of anxiety. I had a mild anxiety attack. In retrospect, I believe this was partly because I tried to suppress the emotions, but they needed to come out some way or another. What helped me that night was my mindfulness practice enabling me to stay aware and breathe deeply while the anxiety was racing through my body.
The incident sparked several conversations with my friends – quite a few of them having experienced anxiety themselves. What became clear to me was that even thought I saw myself as being in touch with my emotions and not afraid to express them, I realized that I really didn’t accept certain parts of myself. I began to look at and try to understand how I could start to embrace myself fully.
My beautiful friend Laurence shared how she holds herself as if she were a small child when she experiences anxiety, and how she meets the emotions with compassion and care. I loved the sound of this! It made so much sense: if we take a step back and see ourselves as the vulnerable child we have all been (and still are deep inside), then it becomes clear how violent it can seem to try to push away our emotions.
Not long after I listened to a talk by the inspiring Buddhist teacher Tara Brach. In her talk she sheds light on the layer of self-judgment and self-aversion that often accompanies our strong emotions. She suggests that by befriending the emotions – even including our resistance – we can truly meet ourselves with love and compassion.
I started practicing to meet myself with compassion whenever I would feel ‘negative emotions’. I would basically put a hand on my heart, breathe deeply, and say to myself ‘I love you with your sadness’ or ‘I love you with your loneliness’ or ‘I love you with your anxiety’ or whatever emotion that came up.
Slowly by doing it regularly the self-judgment began to disappear when I was taken on an emotional ride. The practice allows the emotions to pass through, without attaching to them – neither with aversion nor desire. And the emotions? – oh they do still surface – but I feel much more compassionate towards myself now. I think that if we can embrace and love ourselves even when we are triggered then that is another step towards a true and deep self-love.
How do you feel when you get emotional? Next time it happens can you bring in a layer of compassion towards yourself?
Read the earlier posts in the series here: