Love Is All Around Us

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I’ve been thinking about this post for the past few weeks. Then, with Valentine’s Day falling this past week, I thought about it a bit more.

I’ve been thinking about love, and how we seem to compartmentalise it. There are people we ‘fall in love’ with; people we are ‘expected’ to love, as a matter of duty, people we are assumed to love, and even deities that are demanding of our love. The idea of ‘self-love’ is bandied about – and we are expected to know how to love ourselves before we can ‘truly’ love another. I dispute this, as it happens. I know that I loved my children long before I loved myself. In truth, I think my children were instrumental in teaching me how to love myself.  But I digress.

While there are people we are ‘expected’ and ‘allowed’ to love – love is treated as something that is in short supply: We’re not encouraged to be too flaithúlach (an Irish word meaning ‘overly generous’) with our love, and declarations thereof. As if, somehow, declaring love for someone not on our ‘permitted / expected’ list is somehow an aberration. Like you, I’ve also heard that old saw that you can’t love someone you don’t know, and it takes years to get to know someone well – and well enough to know that you love them.

Here’s the thing, though. I love a lot of people – and, in part, I’ve only realised that, or allowed myself to recognise my feeling for these people as ‘love’ in the past year or two. There is a very long list of people I love, and I have started (only recently, mind you!) to tell them.  I’m newly confident. That confidence is as a result of a number of things that have happened to, and because of, me in the past year or so.  I’ve started telling people I love, that I love them. I don’t expect them to respond in any way but to hear me and to believe me. When I tell you I love you, I’m doing so in all honesty and sincerity. I’m doing so even though I may not have known you for years. I’m doing so even though I may not know every facet of your personality. I’m doing so even though I may not know or love everything about you. In a way, it’s similar to the Sanskrit greeting ‘Namaste’ – which means, essentially, that ‘the Divine in me recognises the Divine in you’.  The essence of love in me recognises the essence of love in you and wishes to acknowledge it.

 

Life is short, and the things that really matter have been brought into focus for me quite sharply in the past week or two. I’ve read what Dr Alistair McAlpine learned from his terminally-ill, paediatric patients. I’ve witnessed the horror that is yet another mass shooting in the US, that left seventeen beautiful children dead. Closer to home, I’ve read Emma Hannigan’s touching and dignified farewell post on Facebook, with tears coursing down my face.

 

Life – even the longest of lives – is short. What matters is other people, and spending time with them. Spending time loving them. Eat the ice cream. Eat it with someone you love. And tell them that you love them.

 

Love

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Love is the one non-physical thing we all need to live. Of course, the love of family and romantic love are important, but the person’s love who is most important, is our own.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am fed up reading self-help books that tell you you must love yourself in order to love someone else; live the life you deserve; live the life of your dreams; have successful relationships etc. I got sick of hearing this on self-development courses that I attended when nobody can answer the question ‘How?’

So about three years ago, I started this quest in earnest and tried to answer my own question – ‘How do you love yourself?’ (These days, I even run workshops on the subject). Of course, I am not the font of all wisdom – I don’t have an answer for every question, and I still have ‘off days’, days when I don’t feel too much love for myself. But I’m a lot better than I was – I’ve clawed my way back from feeling suicidal because I didn’t think I deserved love (so I didn’t love myself) to a place where I really do love myself.

Part of what helped me in my journey from self-loathing was having my daughters. They saw how I treated myself. They heard how I spoke to myself. They flinched when I punished myself. This self-abuse, this self-loathing was not something I wanted to pass on to them in any way, shape or form. In order to create a better future for them, I had to construct a better present for me. Not that I felt (or feel) that anyone should – or indeed can – live for anyone else, but I think that having girls to raise really trained the spotlight on me and what I was modelling for them. Being children, of course, they see through bullshit. They won’t be fobbed off if I pretend to love myself. I have to do it. It has to be the real deal.

You know the way babies are born as what child development experts call ‘ego-centric’ ? They believe that they are the centre of the universe and that the whole world revolves around them. And they’re right. Babies love themselves. They are born fully convinced that they are love, that they are loved, that they deserve to be loved by everyone who comes in contact with them; and the second they feel they may be around someone who doesn’t love them truly, madly and deeply, they react. They cry, they squirm, they look for Mum… Well, you were once a baby. You mightn’t remember it, but you were. And all that love that babies automatically, naturally, have for themselves, you had for your self, too.

Now, do you want the really good news? That love hasn’t gone away. It’s still there. It’s still inside you. That’s the good news. All we have to do is figure out how to access it. That’s the harder part.

If the love you have for yourself has gone into hiding, you need to figure out where it’s hiding, and who chased it there.  I think that, as sexually abused people, we fall out of love with ourselves because we start to believe what other people – those who abused us, especially – tell us tell us about ourselves. And then we think that ‘everybody’ holds this vision of us. And if ‘everybody’ believes that, then they must be right. And we are, therefore, unlovable. We start to believe things that aren’t true about us. We allow other people’s treatment of us, and the messages they send us (verbally, non-verbally, in pictures, and in full-stereo) to  influence us, and tell us a new story about who we are; less lovable than we really are. Recognising these stories, and learning how to change them, is the first step in our journeys to love ourselves.