You have the option of —
School A where they teach your child to self-criticize, fear the judgements of others, and surround themselves with people or engage in activities that are energy draining.
School B where they teach your child the power of self-compassion, self-acceptance, and the importance of life-giving people and activities.
Which school do you choose?
Most would say School B but what we may fail to realize is that we make this choice on a daily basis. Our modeled behaviors are our children’s greatest teachers and self-love our most powerful lesson. Whether it’s calling ourselves “stupid,” criticizing our appearance, or hyper-focusing on the future, each behavior witnessed by our children teaches them a new lesson. When we model self-love, we offer them armor to withstand life’s circumstances by teaching them to honor their bodies, minds, spirits, peers, and the world.
Self-love is not a one dimensional concept that you possess or you don’t, it is a multidimensional learning process that requires daily attention. If we, as parents commit to modeling the X dimensions of self-love, our children will learn to live them.
Self-awareness is the foundation of self-love. What we think about ourselves, others and the world, influences how we feel and show up in our children’s lives and in our life. When we tell ourselves that we are unworthy of love, or not good enough, we show up in ways that support this belief. The first step towards self-love is to gain insight into how you talk to yourself.
Eavesdrop on Yourself. Sit still for at least five minutes and just pay attention to the phrases that enter your mind and the feelings that surface as a result. Do the phrases feel gentle, harsh, skeptical, soothing, hurried? Do not try to challenge or eliminate the thoughts, simply notice them. Then ask yourself, “how does this phrase or belief lead me to show up in my child’s world? My work? With friends? When I’m alone?” These answers provide insight into the dimensions you may need to transform to enhance your self-love.
If love is the package, compassion is the delivery truck in which it travels. According to Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion means “you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings.” Ironically, it often seems easier to extend compassion to others while criticizing ourselves.
Externalize. The next time you experience self-criticism, ask, “if my child were in my exact position, what would I say to them? Feel towards them?” Write these statements and feelings down in a letter and then read them back to yourself. Notice any shifts you may experience when you hear words from your more compassionate self. Lastly, replace the hindsight question, “what was I thinking?!?!” for the kindsight question, “what was I learning?” In most situations, we make the best decision we can under those circumstances given the knowledge and tools we possess in that moment.
3. Self-acceptance/ Self-expression:
If self-compassion and self-awareness mated the offspring would be self-acceptance—our ability to non-judgmentally embrace all aspects of who we are including those we believe to be less admirable. When we judge our personal traits or behaviors, we assume others judge us along those same lines. This fear of judgement leads us to say, yes when we really mean, no; it keeps us from exploring our passions, celebrating our accomplishments, or embracing our creativity, fun loving etc. You cannot control what others think and your worth is not defined by the thoughts of others. When you react as if it is, self-love will continuously allude you.
Abilities—Celebrate your accomplishments! Don’t minimize your victories, but take care not to be defined by them either.
Shortcomings—We all have them. Commit yourself to learning from them instead of and embracing them.
Mishaps—we all make mistakes is key to this process.
Be who you are (creativity); don’t minimize yourself for who you should be.
Would you consider changing the oil in or tires on your car as selfish? Of course not, it’s responsible. Your family’s well-being is impacted by the care you give to your vehicle. Similarly, our family’s well-being depends on our well-being, however we avoid physically, mentally, and spiritually caring for ourselves because it feels selfish or a waste of precious time. In reality, the best gift we can give to our family is a healthy body, mind and spirit.
Make Three: List three things that give you physical release, mental peace, and spiritual increase. Below each section list something you could do this week to achieve one thing on each list. Try to avoid naming things you “should” do (e.g. eat a salad for every meal) and focus on things you may enjoy. This increases your likelihood of following through.
Teach your children to explore their passions. The saying goes, do what you enjoy and you’ll never work a day in your life. Some of us We may feel selfish Develop a passion project. What do you enjoy doing so much that it causes you to lose time? What topics or areas could you talk about or study for hours? If money were not an issue, what career would you seek? What is one step you could take to feed that passion this week? Buy a small canvas and paints? check-out a book on ____ from the library? Join a writing club?
Self-love is not solely about what you say to and think about yourself. It is also about who you open or extend yourself to. Some of us believe that to be loving we must be open to all relationships no matter the consequences to our physical, emotional or spiritual well-being. As Dr. Brené Brown puts it, “daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” We can set limits and respect someone as a divine creation.
Find your tribe. Make a list of people with whom you feel supported, connected, and safe. These are people who may challenge you; however, their challenges will often leave you feeling clearer as opposed to drained, afraid, anxious, or confused.
First printed in Creative Magazine, February 2015