Love from the Outside In

I’ve always heard that you can’t love others until you love yourself, but I disagree. I’ve only learned to love myself in the last few years, but I’ve loved other people all my life.

When I was in the beginning stages of my healing journey, I tried what a boyfriend suggested—say the affirmation “I love you” to myself over and over every day. It was another snowy winter and I remember walking along roads beside white fields saying this to myself, and feeling absolutely no connection with the words. I just kept repeating “I love you” on faith that it would eventually get through to me.

A couple years before I’d had a bit of an epiphany. I would speak kindly and lovingly to friends, but I was really critical and mean when I spoke to myself. I realized that I was much nicer to others than I was to myself, so I decided to treat myself like I treated my friends—kindly and considerately. It took me a lot of years to fully change my “self-talk”, but now I rarely say anything belittling or mean to myself. Now it upsets me when I hear other people belittle themselves, and if you’re around me, I’ll say something to you about it! No, not “How can you be so stupid! (to speak to yourself like that)” but “Hey, you’re o.k., please say kind things to yourself.”

Facing the issue of loving myself when I was in the mid to late stages of my healing/recovery journey, I started thinking about how to love myself. I had started to accept parts of myself that were very hurt and damaged, not “nice” at all. I could feel occasional love and compassion for them.

I thought a lot about loving myself, and that saying about not loving others until you love yourself. It didn’t make sense to me, because I knew I loved other people—my daughter and dear friends—and I didn’t think it wasn’t genuine love just because I didn’t love myself. I remembered about teaching myself to be kind to myself, and I decided that maybe I could do the same thing with love: since I knew how to love others, I could learn to love myself, from the outside in.

And that’s what I did. I continued to talk kindly to myself, as I realized more of the nasty things I still said to myself, and I practiced feeling the love I felt for my friends for myself.

I also started blessing myself when I did something stupid, instead of damning myself. And I’d say “You only feel stupid, you are not stupid,” as much as I could to get rid of my awful feelings of shame or insecurity.

I knew I really got it a year ago. I started finding that when I did something that worked, thought ahead, got something right, I would say to  myself “Oh, Iris, I love you!” and I could feel it inside.

So, I want to tell myself how much I love myself for figuring out how to love me from the outside in. And I want you to know that you can do it too. Here’s to love from the outside in!