I went to an amazing workshop a few weeks ago by one of my favourite humans on the planet, Dr Gabor Maté. I wrote pages of notes as he shared wisdom on psychosomatics, child development, trauma, addiction and healing. Many things he taught struck a deep chord with me. What stuck out in particular were two things he said about the seemingly elusive experience of self-love:

1. Self-love is not a gooey proclamation of self-appreciation

Those are my words, not his; but, the message essentially was that Gabor had never experienced self-love as a gushy feeling about himself. I resonated with that because neither had I. Yet, I was seeking that kind of self-love, I thought that was what it is meant to look like. You know that feeling you get when you look at another human or animal that you love? I thought I was meant to feel that way when I looked at myself. I also thought I was meant to become so self-assured and believe that I was worthy of all the goodness in the world. I thought that was self-love; and for the most part, I was trying – but largely failing – to achieve it.

Maybe that is part of self-love but, Gabor awakened me to something much more subtle, profound and less gooey: his experience of self-love was being able to be present with his own pain. Instead of trying to avoid pain – which is not just sadness/ hurt but could also be insecurity, anxiety, fear, frustration, shame or anger – or, trying to wangle out of it with the latest self-help methodology, he identified self love as making space for that pain; letting it be without judgement and with compassion. That sounds like the warm embrace of love to me.

2. You do love yourself, actually

Some of my work involves helping people who’ve experienced childhood abuse. Through their experiences, they have been conditioned into patterns of negative self belief, self rejection and understandably, they often think they’re not lovable and certainly find it hard to love themselves. I thought I was in that same boat until, Dr Gabor Maté said (slightly paraphrased):

The fact that you are here [in the workshop] means there is a part of you that loves you. It thinks you are worthy of help and healing and that’s why it bought you here. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here.

That hit me somewhere very deep.

Something inside cares. Something inside makes you and I seek out this kind of blog and other self-help material because, something inside thinks we’re worthy of progress.

This led me to consider our bodies too. When they are hurt, on most occasions, they heal. What about when you’re in danger? The body fights or runs. Something inside you thinks you are absolutely worth keeping alive.

That sounds like the warm embrace of love to me.

We forgot what it truly means to love

Perhaps we watched too many rom coms and got caught up in society’s hype about finding love in a relationship and flaunting it as some joyous, ecstatic experience. We forgot that actually, for those whom we truly love, we also hold them in their pain. We look after them in unglamorous times, we help them when they are sick, we offer compassion and support when things are tough for them. In fact, it is in all these expressions where true love really shows up. It’s easy to ‘love’ someone when everything’s going well, but to handle them in their dark times is the greatest testament to how you really feel.

And so, this brings us back to Gabor’s words about what it truly means to love yourself – it’s not in the warm and fluffy stuff, it’s in the heavy and difficult stuff that you nurture yourself through. And, the fact is that your heart is beating, you’re breathing and billions of cells in your body are working tirelessly to keep you alive whilst you read this blog. To me, this means that the search for self-love is over. It’s already here.

About the author: To find out more about Pinky Jangra, please click here.


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