What I have found over and over again while helping people to recover from complex post traumatic stress disorder, symptoms of depression, feelings of emptiness, and unresolved anxiety… is that we expect ourselves to know.
We expect ourselves to know how to be happy, we expect ourselves to know how to love ourselves, and we expect our selves to be healed already.
The truth is, you can’t do what you were never taught. This goes for self-love as much as tying a shoelace. We are often so well conditioned to perform and be productive, that we can get away with holding down a job while being completely unhappy and unaware of how to truly self-love.
Then the self-blame switches on, “Why can’t I just be happy, what’s wrong with me!? Will this ever stop?” Yes it can, and it will with the right information, support, and strategy.
The 7 Rules of Self-Love and Why You Don’t Have To.
Rule #1 – Understand
The first rule is understand. Understand that there is a good reason why you feel the way that you feel, why you struggle the way that you struggle. It’s not your fault either.
Most mammals are up and running within hours of birth. Human beings are born prematurely so that we can fit through the birth canal. Human babies still have a lot of growing to do, and this means a huge part of our learning happens outside the womb. If you weren’t shown love, or did not feel loved as a child, it is going to be hard to know how to do that or to know what self-love even feels like.
When love is provided in a distorted way, in a painful way, in a way that is not totally loving – it is unfair to expect yourself to know how love yourself.
Rule # 2 – Go Easy on Yourself
The second rule is forgive yourself for not knowing. Forgive yourself for not being what you expect. It’s ok to not have the plan. If you can accept what you feel, you can start to move forward instead of feeling trapped in a chronic inner pressure.
The second rule is forgive yourself for not knowing. Forgive yourself for not being what you expect. It’s ok to not have the plan. If you can accept what you feel, you can start to move through it. This can break the cycle of being a chronic inner battle. Don’t punish yourself the way you were punished for feeling something.
Rule #3 – Experiment
The third rule is experiment. What is the closest thing to feeling loved you can think of? What does it compare to if you don’t know what love feels like. Is it comfort? Is it recognition? Is it respect? Is it company? Is it a warm cup of tea? What do you crave, and how can you meet that need.
There is a good chance that you are already doing things to meet the natural needs for love, support, and encouragement. You might even find that some of your so called ‘bad habits’ are actually motivated by positive intentions to feel loved.
Arguing, defensiveness, anger, isolating, self-harm, addiction, toxic relationships…these are all examples of trying to meet genuine needs in distorted ways. Making the positive intention of so called ‘bad habits’ or ‘problems’ conscious can start you feeling more in control.
What’s nourishing for you personally? You may not know exactly what you need or want. That’s normal if you’ve not felt properly loved. Use the check-in described in rule 4 to see what you want to add to your self-love toolbox, and what doesn’t work for you.
What’s nourishing for you personally? Nature? City? Music? Time alone? Time with people? Sharing your talent? Caring for others? Reading? You may not know exactly what you need or want. That’s normal if you’ve not felt properly loved. Use the check-in described in rule 4 to see what you want to add to your self-love toolbox, and what doesn’t work for you.
Rule #4 – Attunement
The fourth rule is attunement. Part of loving someone else and loving yourself is attunement. Can you “tune in” to what is required. For example, if your friend is telling you a story and you sense that they are sad and want affection, you’ve attuned to their emotion and can respond accurately.
Something that happens to us in childhood that makes it harder for us to feel love, is that we don’t get proper attunement. The result is that we learn that we don’t matter, and can get disconnected from our inner life. You are getting signals from within every day about what’s right for you and what’s wrong for you. The message matters, and so do you.
You can practice hearing the message by tuning in to your body every time it’s decision time. Do I want this or not? Orange juice or a glass of water to drink? Walk home or take the bus? Stay in tonight or meet a friend for dinner? Sense the feedback from your body. If you get a pleasant sensation that’s a yes. If you feel something unpleasant or a contraction, that’s a no.
Rule # 5 – Imperfection
The fifth rule is Imperfection. There is no chance that everybody is always self-loving all of the time. You’re going to make mistakes and that’s ok too.
Rule # 6 – You’re the Boss
The sixth rule is to follow your lead. It’s so important that you listen to your personal edge. Don’t push. Many of us living with cptsd have lost touch with our limits. This is because our personal boundaries were not honoured, so we are less aware them now. Use rule 4 to learn where your edge is.
If you feel resentment, anger, fear in particular about certain situations, it’s very likely you’ve had a boundary failure.
Rule # 7 – Support
The seventh rule is that if you don’t want to do it alone, don’t. Isolation, loneliness, and lack of support add present day stress to your past pain. If you had to do it alone when you were little, asking for help today can feel daunting.
If you’ve sought professional help, but don’t feel comfortable it’s important to raise that. You get to choose who you let in, and to decide how you will meet your needs. Do what feels right for you, to build your own strength back up.
Having the trust to open yourself up to others, and allowing yourself to feel the vulnerability to make new connections can be a struggle. Remember, you are learning how to love yourself and trust others all over again. If in doubt, remember rule six – listen to your edge. Find ways to connect (if that’s what you want) that feel safe for you (groups, activities, animals, online, hotline, apps, friends, nature?) There are no wrong answers.
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Rachel is a psychotherapist, soul path coach, and energy healer practising in Sydney’s Northern Beaches and remotely online. Formally trained in Social Work (BSW, MSW) and Psychology (BA), Rachel integrated spiritual awareness into psychotherapy and inner work. This enables her to practice in tune to your soul and provide healing facilitation on higher levels than conventional healing modalities.