Loving Yourself

Carol Plummer
Sermon Date: 
Sun, 07/29/2012

Thadeus Golas, philosopher wrote, “Whatever you are doing, love yourself for doing it. Whatever you are feeling, love yourself for feeling it.” This quote is what our sermon is about today. It is about making peace and appreciating who we are just as we are and loving ourselves no matter what we are doing or feeling.
Wikkepdia defines Self-love is the love of oneself and explains….
In 1956 psychologist and social philosopher Erich Fromm proposed that loving oneself is different from being arrogant, conceited or egocentric. He proposed that loving oneself means caring about oneself, taking responsibility for oneself, respecting oneself, and knowing oneself (e.g. being realistic and honest about one's strengths and weaknesses). He proposed, further, that in order to be able to truly love another person, a person needs first to love oneself in this way.
Even the bible supports the concept of self love with the famous "Love your neighbor as yourself". If you think about this it assumes that we love ourselves and admonishes us to treat our neighbors just as we would ourselves.

How many of you feel not good enough or that you aren’t doing enough or that you don’t deserve something? Do you beat yourself up? Is there a running critical commentary in your head about what you did or didn’t do? In preparing this service I thought a lot about the topic and became very aware of how self critical I was…Why did I say that? How could I have done that? How could I do something so stupid! Why didn’t I….In fact, I woke one morning Haranguing myself about something I failed to do. It didn’t make any sense…since I didn’t do it and it was too late now to correct it. Why continue to feel guilty? I finally let it go but it was amazing how hard I was on myself.

So why are we so critical and self judgemental? Is it because our parents didn’t give us unconditional love?. Did some teacher or other adult in our childhood undermine our self confidence? Is it our competitive culture that supports these patterns with the focus on winning and being better than the Jones. Is it because we think that self-criticism is necessary and useful for staying motivated and striving to succeed.

Actually the opposite is true, Kristen Neff, in her book Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and leave Insecurity Behind, says, “When you make mistakes or fall short of your expectations, you can throw away that rawhide whip and instead throw a cozy blanket of compassion around your shoulders. You will be more motivated to learn, grow, and make the much needed changes in your life, while also having more clarity to see where you now and where you’d like to go next. You’ll have the security needed to go after what you really want as well as the support and encouragement necessary to fulfill your dreams.”

So, how do we become more self loving and compassionate? First we must recognize that loving and believing in ourselves is an attitude and a choice. We can choose to love ourselves. Now, how do we do that? One way is with self-compassion. According to Kristen Neff there are 3 steps or components. By using these steps we can stop self-criticism in its track and start being more compassionate. The first is Mindfulness. The idea is to be present to what you are saying to yourself and feeling. Neff says It takes a “balanced, Mindful approach to watch how you treat yourself.” To avoid getting dramatic and blowing things out of proportion. To begin mindfulness you ask yourself “What am I feeling right now?” Focus on the feelings and name them them…I feel sad, disappointed, confused, curious…etc”

The 2nd step is the recognition of common humanity. It doesn’t matter whether you caused your suffering or not…Neff remind us “The human experience isn’t perfect, no one’s perfect, everyone suffers. You don’t need to feel cut off and separated from others when you suffer. In fact, that’s precisely the time when you can feel connected to others. “You can be a better friend to yourself…by telling yourself, “It’s OK. Everyone makes mistakes. No one’s perfect.”

The 3rd step is to be kind to yourself. For Neff this means not just letting go of self criticism and judgment but actively “soothing yourself.” Neff says, to “actually take the conscious decision to soothe and support yourself when you are in distress” in the same way you would a friend. One way to do this to give yourself a hug – cross your arms in front of your upper arms and gently squeeze your upper arms with your hands. Then say soothing word to yourself like, “Poor darling, this is really hard for you right now”.

Numerous studies have shown that greater self compassion has led to less anxiety and depression, better psychological and physical health, Increased emotional intelligence, happiness, wisdom, optimism, competence, life satisfaction and the ability to learn grow, and overcome challenges. Self-compassion is unique in that it provides a safe and nonjudgmental context to confront negative aspects of the self and strive to better them resulting in more effective method of motivating change.

Kristin Neff has some exercises for improving our self compassion

Identifying what we really want

1) Think about the ways that you use self-criticism as a motivator. Is there any personal trait that you criticize yourself for having (too overweight, too lazy, too impulsive, etc.) because you think being hard on yourself will help you change? If so, first try to get in touch with the emotional pain that your self-criticism causes, giving yourself compassion for the experience of feeling so judged.

2) Next, see if you can think of a kinder, more caring way to motivate yourself to make a change if needed. What language would a wise and nurturing friend, parent, teacher, or mentor use to gently point out how your behavior is unproductive, while simultaneously encouraging you to do something different. What is the most supportive message you can think of that’s in line with your underlying wish to be healthy and happy?

3) Every time you catch yourself being judgmental about your unwanted trait in the future, first notice the pain of your self-judgment and give yourself compassion. Then try to reframe your inner dialogue so that it is more encouraging and supportive. Remember that if you really want to motivate yourself, love is more powerful than fear.


Changing your critical self-talk

This exercise should be done over several weeks, and will eventually form the blueprint for changing how you relate to yourself long-term. Some people find it useful to work on their inner critic by writing in a journal. Others are more comfortable doing it via internal dialogues. If you are someone who likes to write things down and revisit them later, journaling can be an excellent tool for transformation. If you are someone (like me) who never manages to be consistent with a journal, then do whatever works for you. You can speak aloud to yourself, or think silently.

1) The first step towards changing the way to treat yourself is to notice when you are being self-critical. It may be that – like many of us - your self-critical voice is so common for you that you don’t even notice when it is present. Whenever you’re feeling bad about something, think about what you’ve just said to yourself. Try to be as accurate as possible, noting your inner speech verbatim. What words do you actually use when you’re self-critical? Are there key phrases that come up over and over again? What is the tone of your voice – harsh, cold, angry? Does the voice remind you of any one in your past who was critical of you? You want to be able to get to know the inner self-critic very well, and to become aware of when your inner judge is active. For instance, if you’ve just eaten half a box of Oreo’s, does your inner voice say something like “you’re so disgusting,” “you make me sick,” and so on? Really try to get a clear sense of how you talk to yourself.

2) Make an active effort to soften the self-critical voice, but do so with compassion rather than self-judgment (i.e., don’t say “you’re such a bitch” to your inner critic!). Say something like “I know you’re trying to keep me safe, and to point out ways that I need to improve, but your harsh criticism and judgment is not helping at all. Please stop being so critical, you are causing me unnecessary pain.”

3) Reframe the observations made by your inner critic in a friendly, positive way. If you’re having trouble thinking of what words to use, you might want to imagine what a very compassionate friend would say to you in this situation. It might help to use a term of endearment that strengthens expressed feelings of warmth and care (but only if it feels natural rather than schmaltzy.) For instance, you can say something like “Darling, I know you ate that bag of cookies because you’re feeling really sad right now and you thought it would cheer you up. But you feel even worse and are not feeling good in your body. I want you to be happy, so why don’t you take a long walk so you feel better?” While engaging in this supportive self-talk, you might want to try gently stroking your arm, or holding your face tenderly in your hands (as long as no one’s looking). Physical gestures of warmth can tap into the caregiving system even if you’re having trouble calling up emotions of kindness at first, releasing oxytocin that will help change your bio-chemistry. The important thing is that you start acting kindly, and feelings of true warmth and caring will eventually follow.

Identifying positive aspects:

Another exercise you can do when you feel you need shift from a negative view of yourself is to ask yourself these questions or fill in the blanks:
What’s special and unique about me? These are your special skills or qualities.
People tell me they’re amazed I can……(fill in the blank)
I’m really good at… It may be hard to admit it because we don’t usually brag about what we are great at.
No one else seems to be able to ……….like I can. Hint: What do other people come to you to do because they can’t or they are not at good as you are?
You can write these down in a journal or on a note card refer to them for a boost to your self loving and confidence.

I hope I have encouraged or inspired you be more compassionate and loving of yourself. You deserve it.

Exploring self-compassion through writing
Part One:
Everybody has something about themselves that they don’t like; something that causes them to feel shame, to feel insecure, or not “good enough.” It is the human condition to be imperfect, and feelings of failure and inadequacy are part of the experience of living a human life. Try writing about an issue you have that tends to make you feel inadequate or bad about yourself (physical appearance, work or relationship issues…) How does this aspect of yourself make you feel inside - scared, sad, depressed, insecure, angry? What emotions come up for you when you think about this aspect of yourself? This is just between you and the paper, so please try to be as emotionally honest as possible and to avoid repressing any feelings, while at the same time not being overly melodramatic. Try to just feel your emotions exactly as they are – no more, no less – and then write about them.

Part Two:
Now think about an imaginary friend who is unconditionally loving, accepting, kind and compassionate. Imagine that this friend can see all your strengths and all your weaknesses, including the aspect of yourself you have just been writing about. Reflect upon what this friend feels towards you, and how you are loved and accepted exactly as you are, with all your very human imperfections. This friend recognizes the limits of human nature, and is kind and forgiving towards you. In his/her great wisdom this friend understands your life history and the millions of things that have happened in your life to create you as you are in this moment. Your particular inadequacy is connected to so many things you didn’t necessarily choose: your genes, your family history, life circumstances – things that were outside of your control.

Write a letter to yourself from the perspective of this imaginary friend – focusing on the perceived inadequacy you tend to judge yourself for. What would this friend say to you about your “flaw” from the perspective of unlimited compassion? How would this friend convey the deep compassion he/she feels for you, especially for the pain you feel when you judge yourself so harshly? What would this friend write in order to remind you that you are only human, that all people have both strengths and weaknesses? And if you think this friend would suggest possible changes you should make, how would these suggestions embody feelings of unconditional understanding and compassion? As you write to yourself from the perspective of this imaginary friend, try to infuse your letter with a strong sense of his/her acceptance, kindness, caring, and desire for your health and happiness.

After writing the letter, put it down for a little while. Then come back and read it again, really letting the words sink in. Feel the compassion as it pours into you, soothing and comforting you like a cool breeze on a hot day. Love, connection and acceptance are your birthright. To claim them you need only look within yourself.