Oddly, loving and caring for others is often easier for many of us than loving and caring for ourselves.
I have come to see and understand that this issue is often core to people overcoming their problems. Finding and strengthening love for ourselves is essential in finding our ways out of the deep holes of hurt we carry inside us that are frequently covered over with layers of fears, distrusts and angers. Love is one of the most powerful energies we can muster on our paths of recovery from our wounds.
The Greeks had words for love:
“agape”: selfless love of one person for another, unconditional love expecting nothing in return. A love that is spiritual in nature.
“philia”: the love one holds for a friend. Aristotle gives examples of philia including: “young lovers, lifelong friends, cities with one another, political or business contacts, parents and children, fellow-voyagers and fellow-soldiers, members of the same religious society, or of the same tribe.
“erros”: a physical intimate love, sexual in nature.
What I am addressing here in this article is self-love. This is the unconditional acceptance of oneself, with all one’s faults, foibles and issues that invite forgiveness of oneself.
Releasing resentments, angers and fears one holds towards others is a major challenge in therapy. What is often more difficult, however, are these same feelings one holds about one’s own feelings and towards oneself.
The most common example is in grief over the loss of someone close. Grief includes mixtures of feelings of sadness, abandonment and emptiness; anger and resentment; and guilt. These feelings alternate and may cycle through many repetitions, in unpredictable order.
A woman lost her father when she was 15 years old. He had a single-vehicle accident late at night, hitting a tree on a curve while driving home on wet roads from the bar. At first, the woman felt all of these feelings in relationship with her father: anger that he had finally ended a life marked by many previous alcohol-related misbehaviors and mishaps; anger that he had, essentially, abandoned her; guilt over having angry feelings towards her now dead father; sadness and grief that he was no longer there, in his sober moments, for paternal support and guidance.
After several months of sorting through and releasing these feelings, the woman came to a place of needing to forgive herself: for things she had said and done that might have added to his stress levels and perhaps contributed to his drinking more, and guilt over not having done more to be supportive to him; sadness over not having told him she loved and appreciated him for the ways he had cared for her; and angers at herself for her own quick temper. These self-blame issues were harder for the woman to process and release than her feelings about her father’s behaviors.
In the end, the woman came to a place of acceptance of her father and of herself. A major help to the woman were repeated affirmations of love for herself, and a feeling that she was loved unconditionally by God, regardless of what she had done or not done, said or not said.
If you are working on problems of any sort, with approaches of any sort, you will find much benefit from adding affirmations of loving yourself and of being loved by others, including a sense of God’s love.
Above all, remember that you have the power of love to help yourself as well as to help others.
Chaplain Allen Tanner