Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Loving yourself through change

There is a lot of conflicting emotions running wild at this point in the year.  We feel the pull of the brand new year, the need to make big goals and to set our sights on change and growth.  Spring has come, calling us to break free from our shell, to stretch and challenge ourselves.  And now, Valentines day has come!

Valentines day is hard for a lot of people.  Whether you are in a relationship or not, it the day of the year when focus is most on how lovable we are.  We often find ourselves questioning our own self-worth, especially in the light of the recent focus on changing the things we don't like about ourselves.  If we have a partner, we may feel insecure and wonder what they see in us.  If we don't perhaps we worry that we are unlovable and fear no one will want us. 

This is reinforced by the pure amount of media pressure to constantly improve, to want to be perfect and to need to cover up any and all faults "So that someone will love you."  And yet, many of us do a lot of inner work.  We focus on learning to love ourselves, to accept the parts of our being that we may wish were different, and to be happy where we are...and who we are.

So how do you reconcile those two sides?  The part of you that wants to grow and improve and the part that wants to love yourself, as you are, flaws and all?  Can you truly love parts you find undesirable?  And is it somehow a betrayal to yourself to want to change and to let go of the parts of yourself that aren't exactly as you want them?

It may sound bizarre, but I recently read an article about this very topic, specifically in regards to weight.  It brought to light the juxtaposition that many people feel, and I think especially women.  We are told that to be mentally healthy and happy, we need to learn to love ourselves, where we are at today, and not not put our sense of self-worth or acceptance on some desired weight or aesthetic.  And yet, at the same time, we are told that in order to be physically healthy we need to meet a certain level of weight and fitness (and media tells us that if we aren't skinny, we can't be beautiful).

Part of setting a goal to change often involves recognizing a dissatisfaction with the current state.  Most of the time, when I want to change and grow, it's because there is a part of my life that I don't like or that I think could be better.  Of course, sometimes I am driven by seeing something wonderful that I want to have (or be!), but I think that I am motivated more by my dislike of things than by my desires.

It is a very fine distinction, to be able to love yourself, to be happy with where you are...and still want to change things you might not like or grow and become more.  I think the common misconception is that you have to completely love all aspects of a thing to love it as a whole...and I think that is so untrue!

Think about a young kitten.  When a kitten is young, it hasn't yet learned how to do certain things:  use a litter-box, not scratch up the furniture, that people don't have fur and are fragile to little teeth and claws.  But we love the kitten!  In fact, it is that very love that often makes us more patient and more gentle when we teach the kitten all the things we want it to learn.  We show it the litter-box over and over, so it knows where it is and what to do with it.  We take away things we don't want it to chew on or play with and replace those with toys or treats.

We need to learn to treat ourselves with that same kind of consideration!  We can love ourselves, truly love ourselves, and still want to correct bad habits or things that we may not care for.  This type of change in perspective doesn't hold us back from changing, in fact you may find that it is easier to grow and change when you are approaching change from a perspective of love instead of hate.

We are often kinder to others than we are to ourselves, and when we remember this, we can use it to our advantage.  If you struggle finding things about yourself that are lovable, try describing yourself as if you were someone else...literally pretend that you were someone else, specifically someone you care about.  If they were having a bad day, what might you tell them to make them feel better?  What could you say to show how much you cared about them?  If you aren't used to thinking about yourself in positive ways, this might be very hard at first.  Start small!  Pick one thing about yourself for each category (body, mind and soul), and give yourself a single compliment. 

You may find, at first, that you really struggle with this.  Remember, every time you do this, you are building up your capacity for self-love.  Even small things, like telling yourself you love the color of your eyes or how you are really good at math or that you can remain calm when other people get angry, these are all tiny love notes to your soul.

As you get better at finding things you like about yourself, start to challenge yourself.  Each time you do this exercise, add one more compliment to each category!  Try to find things to love about the parts of yourself that you are unhappy with.  Even kind of odd compliments are fine!  For example, I may not like my belly area, or the stretch marks that live there...but they remind me of being pregnant with my son, which I am proud of, and they kind of look interesting (when I look at them up close and you can't really see what they are, just the shapes and textures).

This leads me to my next exercise:  finding ways to turn negatives into positives.  This is a bit more tricky than the first one, but definitely rewarding!  The idea is to find things that you don't like, and find some aspect of it that you can re-frame as a positive.  This works especially well for things you may not have any option of changing (like your  height or age).  I may not like getting older, but I definitely appreciate being in a more stable place in my life.

But, you can also use this technique for things that you dislike and are wanting to change.  With things you are wanting to change, your positive might be something more elusive, like how your current state motivates you towards that very change you want to have.  I don't like how sedentary I am, or how it makes my body feel when I am not active enough.  But I love how my body responds to exercise, how it literally yells at me when I don't do enough, and how doing physical things (even simple stuff like a few core exercises) can make me feel better.

And I think this definitely helps shift your mental outlook from a "this OR that" to a "both" standpoint when it comes to contemplating loving yourself as you are and wanting to change.  When we start to see ourselves as both positive and negative, as a complex and amazing person, we can find love and joy in the moment and still desire growth and change.  We can set our eyes on where we want to be without judging who we are now.  Everything we are, right now, in this moment, has brought us to the start of our journey forward, and it will become part of our transformation.  We can be tender and kind with ourselves, we can embrace our faults as if they were necessary, because in a way they are.  We wouldn't be complete without all of our rough spots and all of the places we shine.

So, start looking at yourself with new eyes!  Don't judge harshly because it's you, but practice being loving and being kind and find those things that are nifty and special about yourself!  Know, really know, that you can be flawed and perfect at the same time, because you are!

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