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Self Love: It's Not What You Think It Is

Self love is talked about a lot these days with perhaps little understanding of what it actually is.  We often think it’s about having a good self esteem or self confidence.  You may have that when you truly love yourself, but you may not.  It’s bigger than confidence, self acceptance and self esteem. 

I want you to reflect on the following lines from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself.  They’re out of order from the actual poem but just let yourself feel his words.  

“I dote on myself, there is that lot of me and all so luscious…” 

“Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from, The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer,  This head more than churches, bibles, and all the creeds.”

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself…”


What’s your reaction? Are you amused? Uncomfortable? Envious? Think Mr. Whitman is quite full of himself?  Interestingly this very long poem is actually about his desire to connect with his fellow human beings.  It is out of this love for himself that he wants to deeply love others.  We learned when we were very young to temper our love for ourselves.  For the most part, babies are completely consumed with themselves, discovering their toes and fingers and playing with the sound of their voice. They are curious and delighted. They are the essence of self love.   Where did this delight with ourselves go? 

If you google “self love definition” the following will pop up in the results:   

1.  regard for one's own well-being and happiness (chiefly considered as a desirable rather than narcissistic characteristic)- Oxford Languages Dictionary.   

I find it fascinating that the Oxford dictionary needs to add the qualifier that it’s a desirable, not a narcissistic trait.  But that qualifier demonstrates perfectly our uneasy relationship with “self love.”  It communicates:  we can love ourselves but not like LOVE ourselves.  It’s also a pretty lukewarm definition in and of itself: “ a regard for one’s own well being and happiness.”  I want more than a regard for my own well being and happiness. I want to LOVE myself, wildly, unabashedly LOVE myself.   Self love actually is a love emanating from one’s essential self (or higher self, or soul).  It’s the little flame, like a pilot light, that’s always on no matter what. It exists because you exist.  Self love is always loving even when you don’t feel confident.  It’s loving you even when you don’t particularly like yourself or your thighs or the way you live your life.   Of course it’s easier to find happiness and fulfillment if you have good self esteem and confidence.   But what happens when you’re not confident or full of esteem?  It’s actually the constancy of self love that deeply supports the trials and tribulations of this human existence.  We just need to learn how to recognize it and take in the nurturing of its constant support.  Somehow we have to roll back the layering of socialization and trauma and life experiences, to get back to this essential loving self.  

How we do that is…a process. Some of you already understand this.  Perhaps your early life experiences were largely supportive and you can feel this love that’s always there.   For some of you, it requires a lot of trauma work. For most of us, it’s definitely learning how to shut down the inner critic so we can hear and feel  the pulse of this flame.  It requires dedication to shifting your thinking and behaviors and thus your experience of yourself.  You may have to read inspiring books and study and commune with other folks who are on this journey too.  It very often requires a spiritual journey that leads you back to yourself through the support of something bigger than you.  But it starts with an opening, an invitation to be on this journey.  So I invite you to play and delight in Walt Whitman’s words to see if you can feel the pulse of that little flame, however fleeting.  It may take a long time to find it or you might be surprised at how quickly you find it.    It’s there, I promise.