Lessons in Love
I thought I knew about Love. I was brought up a Christian, my father being a Church of England vicar, with the concept of "Loving thy neighbour" and I understood that this was demonstrated through action and attitude to others. This was very challenged when a parishioner came to the house in distress as a friend of hers (a man) was suddenly homeless. Her husband would not allow him to stay in their house and she asked my father to help.
I was about 5 or 6 at the time and to me, the solution was obvious. We lived in a large vicarage in which we had 3 spare bedrooms, though one was damp and so wasn't useable. Clearly, I believed, my dad would let the man move in with us until he got back on his feet and found a place of his own to live in. That, to me, was the Christian response. That would have been loving our neighbour.
That was not the response my father gave. Nor my mother. My understanding of Christianity was challenged. My father was not practicing what he preached - or maybe I had just misunderstood (again).
My mother was not a big hugger or utterer of love declarations but she did show love through taking care of me. It is apparent to me now - having seen my mother with my nieces and nephews - that once I was starting to have opinions and challenge her she didn't know how to deal with me.
So what about loving oneself?
I have, like many of us I am sure, heard lots and lots about loving myself, self care, and all of that. But I have always imagined loving myself (and others) to be about a warm fuzzy feeling. I have believed that love was a feeling and often, as a young person, would question if I loved someone by using the test 'How would I feel if they died'.
So I have struggled with loving myself all my life as I didn't really get a warm fuzzy feeling when I thought about myself. In October last year I went on a retreat and found myself stroking my own leg and saying I love you and I guess that did make me feel accepted and a bit warm and fuzzy, but to what end?
When we think about the love parents gave us (or should have given us) or the love we may bestow on our own children it probably isn't a warm fuzzy feeling we think about. Because just saying 'I love you' is meaningless if your actions don't demonstrate that the words have meaning. A parent of a baby demonstrates their love through meeting every need that baby has; feeding, changing and bathing, cuddling, keeping them warm, the list could go on. This makes the baby feel safe and nurtured. And, as a baby grows up into a child and then a teenager, they gradually learn to take on these nurturing tasks for themselves - in an ideal world, of course. We learn to dress ourselves, bath ourselves, take care of our appearance, feed ourselves and even make meals.
Something went wrong in this learning process for me. What I did learn, and have recently realised, is love is not safe. As a teenager I did everything I could to make my Mother not love me. I was not successful and my Mother continues to love me in her own way but I am still coming to terms with that relationship and my personal responsibility in how it has been. As a result of this belief it has never occured to me before that self love is not about a fuzzy feeling.
Self love is about nurturing oneself.
I am sure that many of us often wish we felt looked after. That someone had done the chores for us. We had a lovely tidy clean house to live in and delicious nutritious food cooked for us. That someone was looking out for us and making sure we remembered things we were supposed to be doing and prepared us for each day. How marvellous, then, to realise that I could have all of that. If I just did all those things for myself, the result would be that I would feel looked after. I would feel nurtured and cared for. I would feel supported and encouraged to be myself and go out in the world knowing that I was loved.
I don't really want someone else to come in and do all those things for me - If I am paying someone it's not like they are actually loving me. I mean I do think that now I realise what loving myself actually is that I could pay someone, as an act of self love, to help me achieve the regularly cleaned home as time is always an issue. Actually doing those things for myself because I want to feel looked after, and focusing on how I will feel if I do them (when I am feeling resistance) is really working for me. I don't mean by any stretch of the imagination that I have everything sorted but I have started. I have begun doing the washing up every evening before I go to bed. I have started tackling the clutter in my house in a relaxed rather than manic way. I feel comfortable just doing a little bit most days when I think about it whilst also maintaining the cleared areas so they don't slip back.
I have been shocked by the impact on my life of realising just what loving myself is truly about. And interestingly, now I have started loving myself in a practical way, I have started to get a warm fuzzy feeling!