I will never forget the day I read a letter from a cousin out loud to my friend and mentor, and they spontaneously erupted into a violent flurry of expletives and fiery anger the likes of which I had never seen before.
By the time their eruption was over, I was on the floor, face and chest drenched in tears, heaving deep, guttural sobs that rocked my whole body.
The contents of that letter seemed pretty unremarkable to me: It was filled with neediness and clinginess, fear, paranoia and projection. Obviously it wasn't nice to receive, but it was also nothing unexpected. My cousin was coming from a toxic place, barging into my life with their unprocessed emotions and heaping them onto me. There was no acknowledgement or understanding of me as a real person - to them I was merely a character in their illusion. In other words, it was pretty typical of most of my familial relationships, and although it was incredibly toxic, I'd spent decades becoming inured to it. That was just normal to me.
Not to my friend, though. He was totally disgusted by what I had read to him, and let loose fully and completely, tearing into the toxic dynamic within it, tearing into its author, and, most importantly, protecting my heart from what really was an assault - though I'd grown so numb to it, I wasn't capable of actually seeing and acknowledging that (little own protecting myself).
I wept uncontrollably on the floor that day because something profound had happened: I'd been protected. I'd been validated. A toxic dynamic that ran like a vein through my life got called out, and a very innocent and wounded part of me got told loud and clear: This is not normal. You do not have to feel this way, ever. I care about you.
Coming from an environment where feeling overwhelmed and broken hearted was the norm, and having that status quo so deeply inculcated in my being, it took someone totally removed - and someone a few steps ahead on their own healing path - to hold the bigger picture for me. At that time, it took that compassionate other to care for and act as guardian of my broken self, because I didn't even know such a thing was possible, my own capacity to do so had been so eroded.
FORGETTING HOW TO LOVE OURSELVES
I share this anecdote because it illustrates something I think is incredibly common: The loss of our ability to love, protect, validate and nurture ourselves at a deep level. It's so very common for this muscle to be eroded in some way, which of course makes the task of cultivating self-love a little more interesting and nuanced.
To put this another way - when we've been wounded in certain ways, overly simplified prescriptions for self love aren't very effective - and that's putting it very mildly.
An example of this would be the positive affirmation: Repeat "I love myself" one hundred times in the mirror daily, and watch the miracles unfold!
For self love to really have teeth, it can't be merely a cognitive performance. It requires that we actively take care of the parts of ourselves in need. Saying I love you to yourself and simultaneously perpetuating a life that betrays your essence (whether through toxic/disconnected relationship or any other means) is like having a lover say I love you, baby and then go and cheat on you behind your back. Actually, it's not like that, it is exactly that. They are empty words from a bullshitter.
So self love requires embodiment and action. Saying nice things to yourself is good too, if it's part of a cohesive whole - like when you have a lover who says I love you, and they really mean it, and show you in their actions that they mean it to the core. Hell yes that feels good!
The real distinction I want to zoom in on here, however, is that for many (if not most) of us, self love is not something that evolves just from our self in isolation. Or, perhaps this is a truer statement: The role that others play in contributing to our capacity to love ourselves can be monumental.
Of course I'm talking about very specific and special others here - those who have walked the healing path we're on, who are trustworthy and capable of holding the hand of our vulnerability.
Allow me to explain: I'll use me as an example again - my ability to love myself was massively shattered early in my life. I learned to live in shame, I learned to live with a closed heart, and I learned to accept rejection of my heart as something normal, something to just live with.
After years of deep introspection and serious (though somewhat misguided) seeking, the pattern of self betrayal - of rejecting my own heart and soul - still ran rampant through my life. There were times (usually through prolonged solitude) where I connected to a place of deep unconditional love, but my capacity to hold that in the world was woefully underdeveloped. My pattern remained to throw my heart under the bus, and to passively let others do this to me.
It wasn't until someone outside of me, someone who was much further along their own path of healing and awakening their heart and truth, stepped in and protected me, that a change really began.
They showed me what I'd forgotten. They validated my heart when I simply didn't know that was an option. They held the light for me until I developed the fledgling strength to hold it for myself. And once that strength built in me (what a glorious process), I was able to continue that process by doing the same thing with others.
Through this journey, there have been many other friends who have helped, who have reminded me and shown me when I'm betraying myself, who have held the bigger picture. In fact, I began to surround myself with only such people.
The truth is, we often learn self love from others. When we've been eroded and beaten down on this level, having safe, trustworthy people hold our hand, help us see the bigger picture and protect us while we rebuild, is incredibly powerful.
Is it absolutely necessary? Probably not as an absolute - there are countless paths. But it is, much of the time, one of the most powerful resources in our healing.
This can come through a therapeutic relationship, a guide, counsellor or coach, an intimate partner or a deeply trusted and special friend.
For me personally, there's no way of over-stating how much others have been and continue to be instrumental in teaching and reminding me how to love myself.
So, if you've been wondering why those daily affirmations seem to have a limited bandwidth, perhaps it's because what you're needing is at a deeper level. For me, that has often come in the form of others who have walked through their own healing, who were gracious, safe and capable of validating my heart, until I began figuring out how to do that for myself. And as my own inner resources developed, I found I could hold the same strength for others - amazing how it spreads like that, isn't it?
Over to you: Do you have any thoughts, feedback or similar experiences? Let me know in the comments down below or drop me a note!