Most of us have an intellectual understanding of what self love means. But do you know how to do it, and what that feels like? Hint: Your parenting skills may by transferrable.
When we go through tough times, especially involving heartbreak, we all get the same advice: love yourself. For a long time I aspired toward that goal but had no idea how to actually do it. It was sort of like waiting for God to speak to me when I was seven years old the way my mom said he spoke to her. “What does it sound like when God speaks to you?” I’d ask.
After the umpteenth time of reading Codependent No More, I began to understand just how important it is to love myself, but I still didn’t have any concrete steps for doing it other than the self care tips in the book. I started feeling better by setting my own life goals and making self care a priority. But there was still something missing.
Feel the Love
My understanding of how to love myself went one step further when I stumbled onto a post by astrologer Mimi Clark. Remember what it felt like the last time you were in love? Mimi drives it home when she says:
What you felt…was something that exists in you at this very moment. The light you felt was light within magnetized to the surface by the connection. It’s not up to your [partner] to fulfill you…it’s not up to your [partner] to bring you your joy. What you feel in that connection is a reflection of who you are, and a glimmer of the energy you are capable of. It’s time to notice how you feel, and where you may be relying on energy outside of you to feel good or feel better.
How Self Love Really Works
Building on Mimi’s insight, my big self love ah-ha moment came during a conversation with parenting coach Christina Cline Schneider. The focus of our discussion was co-parenting, but when she explained the connection between feelings and needs, I stopped her mid-sentence. Something had clicked in my head:
True, feel-good self love comes from recognizing and meeting our own needs.
This kind of self love is beyond bubble baths and pedicures. It involves targeted self care. Here’s how to do it:
1. Acknowledge Your Feelings
Like Mimi said, it’s time to notice how you feel. This is something I helped my three-year-old learn to do by reflecting his feelings back to him in concrete language. When he throws himself on the ground and cries, I say “You seem upset.” When he runs in circles and laughs, I say “You’re happy today!” As adults we can refine our vocabulary even more by sitting with our feelings and trying on different names for them—uncomfortable, overwhelmed, anxious, rested, peaceful, content.
2. Identify Your Needs
Behind every feeling is a met or unmet need. Christina uses the five As to sum up our children’s needs: acceptance, attention, affection, appreciation, and autonomy. As adults going through divorce or other traumatic life change, some of our common needs are sleep, touch, safety, exercise, nourishment, community, and humor.
3. Meet Your Own Needs
We’re really good at figuring out what our children need and how to give it to them. What if we parented ourselves with that same level of attention and love? We’d probably feel better and act better, just like well-cared-for children. Some of us may need to start with the basics of three healthy meals per day, eight hours of sleep at night, and a bubble bath or pedicure to make us feel like functioning, sane humans. But don’t forget about those more advanced needs like safety and love.
Self Love in Action
One of my biggest challenges is meeting my own need to feel safe, worthy, and loved on my own two feet with my boys at my side with or without a partner. I’ve written earlier in Happily Ever Anxious about my constant craving for approval and reassurance in the dating arena. Part of meeting that need has been reading books like Codependent No More and writing articles like the one you’re reading right now to better understand what it means to love myself.
Christina gave me another concrete tool for meeting these needs. During our conversation she asked if I would be willing to place sticky notes on my bathroom mirror with phrases like “I’m okay. I’m good. I’m safe. I’m worthy. I’m loved.”
It may not sound like much, but part of self love involves rewiring our brains and our lifelong patterns. We have to learn to speak kindly to ourselves and not feel guilty for showing ourselves so much attention.
Meeting our own needs can be transformative in mastering our feelings and understanding our behavior through life’s difficult transitions. We spend so much time focusing on others—our children, our exes, and our current partners. It’s time to find out what’s possible when we finally master the art of self love.
If you’d like to learn more about understanding feelings and needs for yourself and your children, check out this free Feelings Inventory and Needs Inventory from the Center for Nonviolent Communication.
How are you feeling right now? And what is your biggest need in this moment?