As Valentine’s Day approaches, we may get the message that – rather than seeking love and approval from others – its healthy to focus on loving ourselves.
That, the theory goes, makes us more able to find or develop happy relationships.
After all, how can we expect others to value us if we don’t value ourselves?
Great advice – but if we don’t love and value ourselves already, how can we start to do so?
Often the difficulty is identified as “low self-esteem”. But the problem with this definition is that self-esteem is usually tied to how well we feel we are performing in the world – are we good or bad, competent or incompetent, kind or selfish?
And no-one can get it right all the time. We all make mistakes – sometimes major ones with serious consequences. Or we’re tired or bad-tempered or a bit dishonest.
Many of us have expectations of ourselves that are always a bit beyond our reach, so we have a constant low-level nervousness about how we are doing. Others feel we fall so far short of family or social expectations that we’ve given up even trying, and may live with a crushing sense of wrongness that keeps us isolated from others.
Wherever we are on that scale, “chasing worthiness” can be a futile, exhausting treadmill.
Instead, let’s try some self-compassion. This means accepting the realistic idea that we are fallible and imperfect human beings – and that’s OK. Nature (or God) didn’t design us to be perfect.
What’s valuable about us – each and every one of us – is that we are that very rare thing in the universe, a conscious being. We experience fear and sadness and pain despite wanting love and contentment. And we deserve compassion purely for that reason.
Perhaps we can consciously challenge our belief that we “ought to” be something different from what we are. There’s a short exercise to help do this here: https://www.karenbray.co.uk/self-compassion/.
And when we’re kinder to ourselves, we’ll become kinder and more comfortable with others – and that can improve our love life, too.
Karen Bray (MBACP) is a counsellor with a private practice in Bath. Her website is at www.karenbray.co.uk.