“How do I get out of the rabbit hole of self-rejection and self-doubt?” many people ask. “How do I learn to love me?” It’s a life-long question I struggle with too.
Self-Doubt: Like the Common Cold
Eighty-five percent of the world’s population suffer from self-doubt, according to Dr. Joe Rubino, author of Restore Your Magnificence: A Life-Changing Guide to Reclaiming Your Self-Esteem .
Low self-esteem can have devastating consequences. It can:
- Create anxiety, stress, loneliness, and increased likelihood of depression
- Cause problems with friendships and romantic relationships
- Impair academic and job performance
- Lead to increased vulnerability to drug and alcohol abuse
These negative consequences can take a person into a downward spiral contributing to unproductive and even self-destructive behavior. (See the article “Self-Esteem: University of Texas”).
When Did It Become Bad to Love Ourselves?
Jesus gave us these simple commands: Love God. Love others as yourself. There are no commandments greater than these. (Mark 12:30-31).
Although he doesn’t give a specific command to love yourself, his instruction to “love your neighbor as yourself” confirms we are created in God’s image. Having a healthy sense of self-worth allows us to embody that truth.
But somewhere along the line, many of us learned it was wrong to love ourselves. We were taught self-love is selfish. It’s bad.
Perhaps we took the saying, “It’s better to give than receive,” much too far. Maybe we became overly-focused on serving others solely to get an Atta boy or Atta girl pat on the head to pump up our egos. We might have learned we could protect our inner world by keeping everyone around us happy.
The Myths That Block Self-Love
Kristin Neff, in her article, “The Five Myths of Self-Compassion—What Keeps Us from Being Kinder to Ourselves?”,says we need to embrace our true identity and give ourselves the gift of happiness by unlearning these false beliefs:
- Self-compassion is a form of self-pity
- Self-compassion means weakness
- Self-compassion will make us complacent
- Self-compassion is narcissistic
- Self-compassion is selfish
When we adopt the untruth that loving ourselves is bad, we fail to give ourselves even a breadcrumb of self-love. We waste headspace ping-ponging between self-contempt and self-aggrandization.
However, like first putting on an oxygen mask during an aircraft emergency before we assist others, we have to embrace God’s Divine Love before we can become life-giving vessels filled with the Creator’s compassion for others.
Learning to Unlearn
So, how do we unlearn the false beliefs we picked up as we grew? How do we embrace Christ’s three-part command? How do we learn to love ourselves in a healthy way?
Here’s a way teachers much wiser than me have suggested:
Scientists have discovered that our brains establish belief systems through the connection of neuron pathways. For example, if we continuously tell ourselves we’re incompetent, the neurons in our brain will create a pathway to reinforce that belief. Over time, we create an increasingly negative self-image. It may evolve into self-doubt or even self-hatred.
If we tell ourselves we are good, loving, and competent, we wire our neuron pathways to form belief systems that support self-respect and compassion.
Neuroplasticity is the fancy term that describes the ability of the brain to adapt to changes in our thoughts that literally rewire or create new neuron pathways. Neuroplasticity is sometimes called “brain plasticity.” Aspects of our brains are pliable, meaning they are adaptive and can be altered in response to environmental or structural changes. Neuroplasticity explains how the human brain can adapt, master new skills, store memories and information, and even recover after a traumatic brain injury. (See: Neuroplasticity).
What You Practice Grows Stronger
Following the above science, my teacher invited me to view Shauna Shapiro’s TEDx Talk, “What You Practice Grows Stronger.” She suggested I adopt Shauna’s daily practice to rewire my “I’m not good enough” brain with a new truth.
Each morning, I stand in front of the mirror, place my hands on my heart, and greet God and myself with these words, “Good morning, God, I love you. Good morning, Brian. I love you too.”
When I started this practice it felt weird. I didn’t feel much on the inside.
But after a few days of placing my hand on my heart and making my affirmation, I experienced what Linda Graham, MFT, says is an oxytocin release. Oxytocis is the neurotransmitter of the calm and connect response. It’s the neurochemical that gives us a sense of safety and trust, of connection and belonging. It reassures us everything is okay; everything will be okay.
As I continued my daily practice, I felt a release of warm love flowing within my heart and into my body. I felt the neurons in my brain forge a new pathway connecting me with the ability to embrace self-love and respect.
During the last few weeks I’ve noticed a shift in my perspective. My inner critic is quieter. When it rears its dastardly head, I calm the critic with the soothing words, “I love and respect myself.”
Congrats! Science & Spirituality Are Getting Married
The good news today is that science and spirituality are uniting to teach us new ways to embody Jesus’ command to love ourselves, God, and others. When we rewire our brains to accept the truth we are good, worthy of self-love and respect, science confirms we create neuron pathways that reinforce the truth spirituality teaches us: we are made in the image and likeness of God. We are good.
And as we adopt a healthy, balanced approach to loving God, others, and ourselves, we experience happiness. We find joy.
A Spiritual Practice
This week, consider starting each day by standing in front of the mirror, placing your hand on your heart, and speaking these words to yourself, “Good morning, [insert your name]. I love and respect you.”
Notice how your inner self, God, and maybe even your neurons, smile as you give yourself the gift of self-respect.
How do I love me? It’s definitely okay.
—brian j plachta
PS: May is Self-Esteem Month—In celebration, next week, I’ll write about the stages of spiritual and personal growth that can help us gain self-respect and compassion.
The next Finding Flow Zoom Webinar on Monday, May 10, titled, “Reclaiming Your Authentic Self” will take us deeper into how to let go of our negative self-images and develop the self-love God invites us to embrace. Register for this Free Zoom Webinar by clicking the link below. And consider inviting one other person to join us.