Do you love yourself just as you are? The way that people answer this question reveals a great deal about their upbringing. Well-loved children absorb from their parents a sense of self-worth that lasts a lifetime. But receiving mixed messages as a child is more common. These messages include the following:
I love you as long as you love me.
I love you as long as you are being good.
I love you as much as you deserve.
I love you, but don’t ask for too much or you’ll be spoiled.
You may remember such mixed messages from your childhood or not, but they all place conditions on how much parents love their children. Conditioned love is the norm, quite likely, even though unconditional love is the ideal. Can you change your inner image of how much you are loved and lovable? I believe so.
The path to unconditional love involves two things. The first is finding the place inside you where unconditional love exists. The second is removing the obstacles that block you from remaining in this place. They two are connected, because you can’t turn conditioned love into unconditional love by an act of transformation. It won’t work. But the world’s wisdom traditions speak of pure consciousness as containing bliss, joy, and ecstasy. It’s by contacting this quality, known as Ananda in the Indian spiritual tradition, that you culture an appreciation of how to love yourself.
Getting to the source of love isn’t difficult. It can be achieved through meditation. Any contemplative technique, in fact, including Hatha Yoga, that centers you in a calm, peaceful place, will connect you with the source. Yet lightly touching this place doesn’t keep you there, because old memories, habits, and beliefs pull your attention back to somewhere else.
It takes time and patient to accomplish any transformation, and this is no exception. The first and most important step is to take an attitude of self-compassion, being as kind to yourself as you are to those you cherish in your life. Starting today, you can begin to follow some dos and don’ts.
To be kind to yourself, DO
Smile at your reflection in the mirror.
Let others compliment you.
Bask in other people’s approval when it comes your way.
Be gentle with yourself over small mistakes.
Value who you are and stand up for yourself.
Get to know yourself like a friend.
Be easy about your personal quirks.
Be as natural as possible, not worrying if you are pleasing or displeasing others.
Speak your truth when you know you should.
The do list is centered on relating to yourself with a kinder attitude. The don’t list is about removing self-judgments that, because in the end, all lack of self-love is rooted in judging yourself.
To keep away from self-judgment, DON’T
Brush away compliments.
Reject other people’s appreciation.
Belittle yourself, even with self-deprecating humor.
Dwell on your faults as a topic of conversation.
Rationalize away the times when someone else hurts you.
Accept indifference from people who supposedly love you.
Associate with others who you can see have low self-esteem.
Silently swallow bad treatment when you know you should speak up.
If you wake up to them, the reflections of how you feel about yourself exist all around you. Even negative reflections are incredibly useful if you take them as guides for change. Are there people in your life who take you for granted when they shouldn’t? Rather than trying to change them, see this as a reflection of how much you value yourself—in this case, not enough.
You might even want to print out the following checklist, and over the next week check off each time something on the list happens to you. The list contains typical reflections in everyone’s life, both positive and negative.
How My Situation Reflects My Sense of Self
___ Someone appreciated me.
___ I liked the person I saw in the mirror.
___ I received a sincere compliment.
___ I felt proud of something I did for myself.
___ I felt as if I belonged.
___ Someone expressed love for me in a meaningful way.
___ I felt lovable.
___ I felt well loved.
___ The beauty of the life I’m living really hit me.
___ I felt like a unique person; there’s no one in the world quite like me.
___ Someone criticized me to my face.
___ I frowned at myself in the mirror.
___ I felt guilty or embarrassed by something I remembered from long ago.
___ I put myself down while talking to someone else.
___ I felt unwanted, an outsider.
___ I received what felt like an empty word or gesture of love.
___ I felt unlovable.
___ I sat through someone else’s litany of complaints.
___ Something pointless about my life really hit me.
___ I felt bored by my existence and the people I keep seeing every day.
Most people would resist these two lists because they’re too afraid of what they’ll find. Or they might think that noticing negative reflections is another sign of low self-esteem. It’s not. You are taking a major step toward self-compassion by looking around and being truthful with yourself. Being kind to yourself requires a decision to embrace change. Self-judgment keeps us from loving who we are right this moment. Every step you take to walk away from negative reflection is a step in the direction of unconditional love.
Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers. Join me at The Chopra Center’s Second Annual Global Meditation on July 11, 2015.