There are tons of advice floating out there on how to start loving yourself.
Here is a typical example:
It reads: “Begin your day with love (not technology). Remind yourself of your worthiness before getting out of bed. Breathe in love and breathe out love. Enfold yourself in the light. Saturate your being in love. Talk yourself happy. Use affirmations to train your mind to become more positive. Put a wristband on your right wrist. When you’re participating in self-criticism, move the band to your left wrist.”
As you just read, there is a common thread to most “Love Yourself” advice. It is primarily a mental exercise that is so common in modern day yoga classes:
- Breathe in Love and breathe out Love!
- Enfold yourself in light!
- Saturate your being in love!
- Feel love hugging your liver!
Have you ever thought about what in the world is “Breathe in Love”?
I can breathe in early morning fresh summer air, and it has a wonderful aroma.
I can breathe in moist air at a waterfall.
No matter what I do in the real world, the process of breathing in stimulates my sensory receptors.
What is “Breathing in Love”? What sensory channel do you use when you “breathe in love?”
I suspect that some people intuitively try to do the following. You remember a time when you were in love. Maybe you can remember the inner body sensations you felt. And while you are trying to reawaken these same sensations now, you inhale.
Most people I’ve talked to about their experience of “Breathing in Love” use no sensory channel and hypnotize themselves by repeating “I am Breathing in Love.” This separates you from reality and pushes you into wishful and ungrounded thinking.
Moreover, mentally hypnotizing yourself into “loving myself” will likely lead you to suppress your feelings and, ultimately, to not being authentic with yourself.
Love is not a thought!
Love first and foremost is a feeling!
It is a wonderful and sweet feeling emanating from your body. Love starts in the body and there is a very clear and specific way to create this feeling within your body.
As you might have already guessed, this process has nothing to do with mentally hypnotizing yourself into loving yourself.
To understand how you can learn to love yourself, let’s draw a parallel and look at a relationship between Jack and Mary, who adore each other.
How do I know they adore each other? Well, that’s simple!
I see how Jack’s eyes light up when he looks at Mary. I see how she smiles when she hugs and kisses him. I also see what happens when Mary needs or wants something.
When she is exhausted with work, it brings pleasure to Jack to surprise her, make her day lighter, and even take her on a mini-vacation. Although you never hear Jack and Mary publicly proclaiming their love for each other, there is no doubt in your mind that they do love each other!
What did we learn from this example?
First, Jack has a particularly wonderful feeling inside when he is with Mary. Maybe this does not always happen, but then it does a lot of the time.
Second, when Jack feels that Mary needs something, he tries to fulfill her needs. The same goes for Mary.
Let me describe a different scenario.
Tom and Natalie are always gloomy around each other. When Natalie shares with Tom how exhausted she is, and how much she would like to see sun and sea, Tom brushes her off and tells her to go to the store and buy herself a cake. There is one thing they are really good at – they always say how much they love each other.
Would you, as an outside observer, feel that they love each other? I bet you would not!
We feel emotions experienced by other people through the process of perception. Our brain automatically registers dozens of variables, like the energy in the eyes, posture, tension in certain muscle groups, a smile, body movement. Based on this reading, we perceive Jack’s state of being and assign it a label: “Jack loves Mary”.
When I perceive Tom and his behavior, it is not congruent with loving Natalie.
Now, let’s translate what we have learned so far about the way we perceive other peoples’ emotions to the way we perceive our own emotions.
How do I know that I experience a particular emotion?
I know this from a very similar process, but this time the process is called “self-perception”. I perceive all the inner sensations, my posture, muscle tension, energy in the eyes, and based on this, my brain self-perceives myself in a certain way. Just like with Jack and Mary, my brain self-perceives myself as loving myself when:
– I have a particularly wonderful feeling inside. This feeling stays with me when I am alone as well as when I am with somebody else. Maybe I don’t experience this wonderful feeling all the time, but it comes to me pretty often.
– When I hear a need from my body and mind, I pay attention to it and try to fulfill it.
Let’s look at an average modern U.S. professional, let’s call her Jen.
Does she have a wonderful feeling inside?
Yes, she might get a wonderful feeling when her kid wins a soccer match, but she does not have this feeling without an external stimulating circumstance. For most people I have worked with through seminars and individual therapy, they don’t many wonderful feelings inside of them that are not tied to external circumstances. This applies even to people who religiously practice yoga and mindfulness meditation.
This also applies to other “professionals” who coach people in positive psychology or on how to be happy!
Most happiness coaches I have encountered house a lot of pain and tension within their bodies.
Does she have inner body sensations?
It isn’t that Jen does not feel wonderful sensations inside, but she has a dramatically reduced awareness of her inner body sensations. This happens because she has trained herself for decades to overcome signals of bodily discomfort by ignoring and suppressing them. In general, her body is not a very nice place for her to come back to as it houses muscle tension and pain.
Does she take care of her body’s needs?
The answer is again a resounding ‘No’. For one, due to reduced awareness of her inner body sensations, she is not aware of most sensations. Life is oftentimes tough for her. She is frequently sleep deprived because she needs to take care of the family, house and her job is stressful.
She has neither the awareness nor time to care about her fundamental needs: getting a good night’s sleep, living in a body that has no pain, feeling that her partner takes care of her, and feeling a desire to take care of her partner.
The thing is that most of us are really awesome at overcoming life’s challenges, and we do this by suppressing SOS signals our bodies sends us.
Now, you might ask, how does Jen’s brain self-perceive her attitude about herself? Does it perceive that Jen loves herself or does it perceive that Jen is not that much in love with herself? Is Jen more like the genuinely-loving Jack and Mary, or more like Tom and Natalie, who hardly love each other but keep hypnotizing each other into thinking they love each other?
I think you know the answer.
The mental game of fooling yourself with phrases such as “saturate your being with love” or “breathe in love” is just one example of the fragmented and misguiding approach that is so common these days. I am not saying that words and affirmations have no value. Many words a create wonderful and useful sensory experience.
For example, try to close your eyes and slowly repeat several times the word,
When I do this, I start smiling and feel the warmth spreading throughout my body. This is how one word can trigger a whole-body experience that includes physical sensations and emotions. If you decide to use a word to initiate a sensory experience, the key is to carefully observe how your body responds to that word.
In my experience, for instance, while the word “Love” creates a pleasant sensory experience in many people, the sentence “I love myself” actually creates a feeling that they are forcing themselves into loving themselves. And some people actually have it the other way around. *
So, it is not just the words that are important. Rather, it is your ability to feel how you experience these words with your entire being. There are several dangers lurking with the super positive words and affirmations such as “saturate your being with love” or “I love myself.”
Many of us have a fragmented ego. For example, I might deeply regret something I have done in the past and experience a deep sense of shame. Or I might dislike something about myself; maybe I think I am not as smart or witty as my friends, or maybe I learn things very slowly. In other words, I have a very hard time accepting myself the way I am. When I do not accept myself, one part of myself judges another part of myself.
For example, when I, in my present state feel ashamed of my past actions, the current “me” judges the past/previous “me”. When I feel that I am not witty enough, I start judging myself for not being witty enough.I can even try to hypnotize myself with affirmations like “I accept myself,” but if my spirit has a yearning to be witty, I will still end up judging myself.
This demonstrates that positive affirmations and words have tremendous power to suppress our spirit’s yearnings and dreams. This suppression may result in even more powerful self-judgment. Positive words and affirmations can also create or strengthen an internal conflict without offering a way to resolve it.
Let’s say my body is full of muscle tension, and I always try to escape the unpleasant feelings coming from my body by going into my mind. Naturally, I don’t listen to the SOS signals my body is sending me, I am ignoring my body’s requests for help and don’t fulfill its basic needs, such as eating good quality food and getting sufficient sleep. Moreover, I consistently ignore my body’s yearnings. I want to paint or go horseback riding, and my mind says: “No! You need to clean the house!”
Then I read about positive affirmations, and I start repeating, “I am full of love, I love myself.” But the reality is that I am not full of love, and I do not love myself! This creates an internal conflict. My mind keeps repeating “I love myself,” but through self-perception, my mind knows that I do not love myself. I have just managed to introduce yet another internal conflict into my BodyMind, thus putting it under even more stress.
I think the key thing to understand is that the feeling of love does not live only in your head.
The deep experience of loving yourself spreads through four kingdoms: bodily sensation, emotions, thoughts, and spirit. I love myself when:
– I feel pleasant sensations within my body. These pleasant sensations create a sense of deep safety in my body.
– I feel emotions of joy and love within myself, irrespective of whether I am with somebody or I am alone.
– I have either a blissful lack of thoughts or thoughts full of satisfaction and energy.
– I fulfill my needs, aspirations, and yearnings. I am aware of my inner body sensations and the corresponding action impulses. And I recognize these action impulses in the real world. For example, if I feel my body wants to rest, I allow it to rest. When I feel I want to paint, I allocate time for painting. When I feel an urge to talk to an attractive person, I go ahead and talk to her/him, instead of telling myself, “Eh, I am not that interesting, why bother?”
This is exactly what you learn to do in the initial stages of practicing soma system®. You learn to discover the ocean of inner sensations, and then you learn to create an ocean of pleasant sensations. You also learn to observe behavioral impulses your body sends you, as this is the way your body communicates its need, like, I need rest, I need more food, I need more emotional warmth.
The process of learning myself does not stop there. The second step is to integrate one’s ego and then start rebuilding all the major psychological, emotional, and social functions into the Body-Mind to maximize your quality of life! *
 Laird, J. D. (2007). Feelings: The perception of self. Oxford University Press.