Do you shove yourself aside?
Do you think it's selfish to love yourself—or even wrong?
Learn practical steps you can take toward improving one of your most important relationships, your relationship with YOU.
In this episode, we'll cover:
- My story of shoving myself aside
- What does self-love really mean?
- Can I love myself and love God?
- 2 reasons you don’t love yourself
- 4 messages that teach you *not* to love yourself
- An exercise you can do each morning to start loving yourself.
Questions for Reflection:
- What messages have you received about loving yourself?
- What is one action you can take toward honoring yourself this week?
- Try the MEPS exercise mentioned at the end of this episode. What did you notice? Were you surprised by anything?
What if you loved yourself. . . as you loved others?
Dr. Alison: Hi everyone, I'm Dr. Alison Cook, and I'm here to help you discover what brings out the best of you. This podcast is all about helping you break free from painful patterns, mend your past, and discover your true self in God.
I'm so grateful you're here and I can't wait to get started as we learn together how to become the best version of who we are with God's help.
Hey, everyone, welcome back to The Best of You Podcast. I'm Dr. Alison. I am so grateful for the ways you all have been showing up for this podcast. For the comments, the feedback, the questions you've been sending me. And I'm so excited to grow with you through this podcast.
So, today, I want to move into what I see as a foundational building block in these psychology buzzwords, and it's this idea of self-love. What is it and should I really love myself? Can I really love myself?
This buzzword we hear a lot. We hear it in advertising campaigns, we hear it in memes is "You can't love others until you love yourself." But what does that really mean? And how do I really do that? It's really abstract.
So in this episode, I want to tell you a little bit about my own story, as we dive into today's topic. Because I think this idea of self-love can get really misconstrued and misunderstood in today's world.
So in my own life, I cannot remember a time when I didn't know and love God. When I didn't try to care about the people in front of me. But here's the problem, I had no clue what it meant to have a relationship with myself.
Forget about the idea of loving oneself, whatever that means. I didn't even have a sense of who I was at all. I didn't even know that having a relationship with myself was important. In fact, I had this idea that focusing on myself was bad, that it was selfish. I thought that I should bypass myself, deny myself, so that I could always stay focused on other people.
It's as if I thought anything that came from inside of me maybe an idea, or a preference, or even a desire, or an emotion was something to shove aside. I should always stay focused on the people in front of me. And I see this reality so often in most of the women, in particular, that I counsel. Although it's often true for men as well.
We see it as our job, we understand that we want to be kind, and good, and helpful to others. But the truth is on the inside, so many of us are walking around lonely, overwhelmed, feeling unseen, uncared for, and frankly, a little bit resentful.
Sometimes even angry at the fact that we're caring for everybody around us and do not receive that same care we're giving out. We're working on maintaining this divide, which is on one hand, keep it all together, show up for others. While on the inside, we don't have a clue how to show up for ourselves.
So that was my story. I've come through this the hard way. I had to take an essentially three-year break from my work as a counselor, from my work in graduate school. To learn how to take what we call a You-turn and do the work of getting to know and caring for myself.
So this is what we're going to talk about in this episode. Are you someone who has struggled to turn the focus inward? To get to know the contents of your own soul. To learn to honor your own emotions to learn to listen to your own body. These are all key ingredients of this buzzword we're calling self-love.
Okay, so here are the key questions for today's episode. First of all, what does it even mean to love myself? To love yourself? Second of all, can you both love God and love yourself? Okay, if you grew up in faith communities, that question will resonate with you. You might have been taught that you shouldn't love yourself. That it's bad to love yourself.
Well, let's start with the words of Jesus to answer that question. Jesus said, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, soul, and mind.'" And the second commandment is like it. "'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
The idea here is that we treat others as we treat ourselves. And the key assumption is that we know how we ought to treat ourselves, right? That we know how to love ourselves. Which means that we will know how to treat others well because we're already treating ourselves well. This is Jesus's commandment.
But what I've found is that we don't always know how we should be treated. We don't always know how to tend ourselves. We don't always know how to be in a healthy, nurturing relationship with ourselves.
So why don't we treat ourselves well? Why is this such a deficit? Well, for a couple of reasons. First, many of you are walking around with some pretty significant childhood wounds, a lot of us are. If your parents or caregivers didn't treat you well, maybe they did their best. Maybe they tried to clothe you, and feed you, and give you some opportunities in life.
But if they didn't treat you well, if they didn't mirror you, as psychologists like to say, hold up a mirror and help you see who you are. What you like, what your preferences are, what kind of person you want to become.
If they didn't help you learn how to treat yourself with kindness, with love, with compassion. If they were critical of you, maybe shamed you or constantly picked you apart. Or even they were hard on themselves and you picked up that habit of beating yourself up.
If any of these things were true of your childhood. You grew up not knowing how to treat yourself well, not knowing how to care for yourself. And this is common, I see this with so many people. How would you know how to treat yourself with kindness, if nobody ever taught you how to do that? And even further, if no one ever treated you that way.
Secondly, if you grew up in a faith community you might have picked up messages that encourage you to treat yourself poorly. And these messages might have even been conveyed as biblical messages. Here are some examples, "You should sacrifice for others." "You should die to yourself." "You should ignore your emotions, emotions are bad, they're not helpful." "You can't trust yourself."
Okay, raise your hand, out there as you're listening, if you heard any of these messages from a faith community, from your family, from the culture at large. "Sacrifice yourself, for others, die to yourself, ignore your emotions, you can't trust yourself."
Now, there's a heart in this message that isn't all bad. But they can get really misconstrued in such a way as encouraging you to ignore, disregard, or bypass yourself in a way that God did not intend.
So we're going to unpack that, but I just want you to pause there. Notice those lingering messages in your mind if you received them, and how you've tried to live from those messages. In a way that keeps you focused only on other people, and not doing the work of caring for yourself.
Now, there's another extreme to these messages in our world, in our culture, especially right now. So there's sort of this backlash, and I want to just name these right off the forefront. Because this is not the direction I'm trying to take you in today.
But you might have heard another extreme which is, "Just do you, it doesn't matter what anybody else thinks." "This is my truth, too bad if you don't like it." "Myself over everything." That is not what I'm trying to get across here. That is not the message that I want to give you.
Neither of those extremes is healthy. It's not healthy to bypass yourself altogether and it's not healthy to put yourself as the only thing that matters. There's three key relationships that we have to pay attention to, that we have to hold intention.
The first is loving God, our relationship with God, our relationship with the spiritual realm. And then these other two love of others and love of self, and those two in particular, just as Jesus said, have to be held in balance. We will love others as we love ourselves.
And you might even flip that and say, "I've got to learn how to love myself, as I love others." It's actually easier for some of you to care well for others. You can turn that spotlight on others, you can listen well to others.
You're going to have to learn how to take that light that you hold up for others and turn it on yourself and treat yourself with that same loving attention that you treat others in order to hold those two key relationships in tension.
So I want to be very clear, here, I don't think you can separate out the love of yourself from the love of others, they go together. And today we're going to highlight this self part, this how do you love yourself part.
Because, in my experience, that's the part we don't get taught. And because we haven't been taught how to do it well, I believe that's why we're seeing this backlash toward narcissism, toward selfishness.
It's not, remember when we talked about narcissism, it's the lack of a strong sense of self, that was in episode one. It's not a healthy sense of self, it's the lack of a strong sense of healthy self-love.
So when we start to see these extremes, hear me say, I'm not pushing you toward another extreme. I'm saying let's learn how to have a healthy relationship with ourself. What if you're somebody who was never taught how to honor yourself in a healthy way? What if you're someone who was never taught how to acknowledge and honor your emotions in a healthy way?
What if you're someone who was never taught how to care for yourself, care for your body, care for your mind with compassion. This is deeper than self-care, or this idea of taking a bubble bath, or telling yourself, "I'm a good person." You know these feel-good platitudes. Not that there's not a place for those.
I'm talking about something deeper. I'm talking about a relationship with yourself that is kind, that is loving, that is compassionate, that is honest. Getting to know yourself which is, I believe, the fundamental counterpart to getting to know God. And it's the one we're not talking about enough. And it's why we're seeing such a problem, culturally, with these unhealthy examples of narcissism.
Your relationship with yourself is your most important relationship to honor, it starts inside of you. Change starts inside of you. Love, loving others, loving God starts within you. If no one taught you how to care for and nurture yourself. You will wind up defaulting to shaming messages that you no doubt picked up along the way. You will default to pleasing and performing for others. To co-dependency patterns, which we're going to get into in a future episode.
You're going to struggle with boundaries because you don't understand that you are worth protecting and that you are the best person equipped to protect yourself. You're going to struggle with loneliness because you won't know how to show up authentically with other people. You might struggle with feeling invisible, or like you're sort of a sideline on your own life.
One of the reasons I kicked off this whole series with the toxic side of things, with narcissism, with gaslighting is because these things demonstrate the fruit of a lack of self-love.
When you don't care for yourself, you will spend all your time trying to get that care from everyone around you. You know it's true, you know when you're picking fights with your spouse, or your friend, or anyone in your life.
You know that, that's coming from a part of you that desperately needs to be seen, and heard, and loved. And that's how you're trying to do it. The more you know how to be seen, heard, and loved.
The more you know what you need to feel those things the better you're going to show up with other people. You're going to be able to ask for what you need. You're going to be able to shrug it off when someone can't give you what you need. Because you will know how to meet those needs yourself.
This relationship with yourself matters to the health of your relationships with everyone around you. And it matters to the health of your relationship with God. So let me just start with a baseline exercise on how we learn how to love ourselves. So let's just dive right into how do we do this? How do we learn to love ourselves in this really deep way?
Well, it's really simple love is an action. Love is not primarily a feeling. It's not about conjuring up these good feelings towards yourself, or, frankly, toward other people. If you've been a parent, or a friend, or a spouse, or a daughter, or any of these roles, you know that love is primarily an action. It's not about this feeling of, "Oh, I just love myself so much all the time." That's not what it is.
Think about how you show love for others, and I want you to think about this right now as you're listening. How do you show love for others? Take a minute to think about that. How do you show up for people?
Do you show up for them with encouraging words when they're hurting? Do you show up for them with activities to try to cheer them up, when they're down? Things you know they'll enjoy, a gift that's thoughtful, that's picked out just for them.
Do you remember the things that they've told you and follow up, and ask them about them? And make a point to reach out to make sure they feel like you've paid attention to them, that they're seen, and heard, and known.
How do you show up for other people? Maybe you prepare food for other people. Maybe you nurture them physically. Maybe you help them when they're sick. Maybe you remind them to take some downtime? Maybe you invite them to play or have fun. Maybe you respect their "Yes" and their "No".
Maybe you even hold them accountable and remind them, "Hey, I think you're stretching too far. I think you should slow down." These are all things, I'm guessing, you do for the people that you love.
So I want you to think about that list that you made. The many, many ways that you show up to care for the people that you love. And now I want you to think about what it would be like to do those things on that list for you?
What would it be like to make a list very similar to the one that you just made, but substituting your name on that list? Well, I show up for myself when I'm hurting. I set aside time to journal so that I can get to the bottom of what I'm feeling. I ask myself, each day, "How am I doing today?"
I spend time with myself. I try to remember the things that I like. I try to give myself good gifts. I try to remind myself to play and have fun. I try to respect my body when I need to say, "No" when I cannot say, "Yes", I try to hold myself to that.
Can you imagine if you treated yourself, the way that you treat the people in your life that you love? Can you imagine if you gave yourself those good things that you need? This is the beginning of self-love. It's treating yourself the way that you've learned to treat others. It's flipping that script and it's saying, "How can I do more of these things for myself."
So to close out today, what I want to do is teach you an exercise to help you get started on this journey. And it's one of my favorite exercises. You've probably heard me talk about it before if you follow my blog posts these last couple of years. But I call it a MEPS check-in and it's something you can do every single morning.
It's a very short inventory of how you're doing. It's checking in with yourself. Now, this is a great tool to use with your spouse, or your family members, or even your kids. It's a great inventory to use with other people but I want you to promise me to start using it with yourself. To get a sense of your own soul of how you're doing each day.
So what does MEPS stand for? The M - stands for mentally. The E - is emotionally, P - physically, S - is spiritually. So it's this holistic way to get a read, to get a pulse on how you're doing in each of these areas.
And all you do is write that M-E-P-S down on the left side of your journal every morning. And next to M for mentally, ask yourself, "How am I doing mentally? What am I thinking about? What thoughts are floating through my brain? Am I scattered?
Am I worried? If I'm worried, what am I worried about? If I'm scattered? What are three to five of those thoughts that are racing through my brain?" So just a little inventory.
You can start with just one word if that's helpful to you. But the key question is, "How am I doing mentally? What am I thinking about?" This is when you'll start to notice those negative thoughts, those worries that just float around your mind without anybody ever taking the time to pause and go, "Wait a minute, what am I thinking about?"
This is that Scripture that says, "Take every thought captive?" Well, you might not be able to take every thought captive. If you're like me and you have about a billion of them. But get to the root of a couple of them. I am worried this morning about my kids. Just name that. That is the state of my mental health this morning. I'm worried, I am overwhelmed.
There are so many thoughts racing through my mind that I couldn't even begin to piece them together. That's okay, just notice that I'm overwhelmed. That's how you're answering that M question.
Then we go to E - emotionally. How am I doing emotionally today? What am I feeling? What's going on inside of me? Am I sad? Am I angry? Is there any resentment lingering at the corners of my soul? Is there any envy?
Do I feel sort of activated or tweaked by something and if so, what is it? What was it that somebody said? what happened that's leaving me with this raw feeling inside, this sort of, Agh! Like you've got a thorn in your side and you can't quite get it out? What is it? What happened?
So you start to do this inquiry by answering these questions. And you can keep it as simple or you can go into more deep, if you begin to notice something. Just get curious about that. All right, so then we go to the P - physically. How am I doing physically? What's going on in my body? Am I tense? Am I sore? Am I tired? Am I really energetic? Am I, actually, feeling great healthwise?
There's all sorts of things that might be going on in your body. And again, this helps you begin to separate out well, "Maybe I'm feeling really worried mentally, but, actually, physically I feel pretty good." Right there, you begin to get a larger sense of yourself.
And then we get to the S - and the S is how you're doing spiritually. How are you doing when it comes to your relationship with God? Am I feeling connected? Am I feeling loved? Am I feeling a little bit frustrated, or distant, or disconnected, or annoyed?
This is your time to be honest with yourself and with God. God is right there with you seeing this also. You might as well be honest.
As you go through this list of how you're doing Mentally, Emotionally, Physically, Spiritually, you're taking an inventory. You're starting to notice, you're starting to name different things that are going on inside of you. And here's the key you want to extend compassion towards yourself.
If you notice any shame or any judgment, those are important cues to pay attention to because right now you're just taking inventory. And imagine if you were talking to a child or talking to a friend, and they were sharing these things with you. You wouldn't shame or judge them, you would listen.
So, that's what I want you to do with yourself. It's okay that I'm feeling jealous. It's okay that I'm feeling angry. I'm just noticing right now. I'm not going to act on it, I'm just noticing it right now. So this is an exercise you can start to do every single morning. Just as a way to check in with the state of your body, of your mind, of your emotions, of your soul, to notice what's going on with you.
This is part of our job as humans, to be aware of ourselves to be aware. Because then, guess what, when you go into your conversations with other people, you can say, "I just need to let you know I'm a little off today." "I'm a little tired." "I'm a little tender." "I'm a little irritated." "And I'm aware of that, and so I may react or respond in ways that don't bring out the best of me. And I just want to let you know that in advance."
You can start to show up in a more authentic way, as you pay attention to yourself. This is a form of self-love. This is a form of self-compassion, it's giving yourself time, attention, care, it's giving yourself a listening ear.
It's giving yourself that sense of presence that you're so good at giving out to other people. This is what it means to begin to love yourself. It starts off very simply just paying attention, just paying attention.
Now, we are just scratching the surface of this relationship with you. In these next few episodes, we're going to get into why this can be hard for people. Why this idea of being tender with yourself, being loving towards yourself is so hard.
But I wanted to lay that baseline and give you that exercise as homework, to see what happens. See what happens if you start checking in with yourself each morning.
When you become someone who is compassionate towards yourself, who cares for yourself, you become more of the person God made you to be. And you set yourself free to show up with others far more authentically, far more intentionally. You will care for others as you care for yourself.
Thank you for joining me for this episode of The Best of You. Be sure to check out the show notes for any resources and links mentioned in the show. You can find those on my website at dralisoncook.com. That's Alison with one L- cook.com.
Before you forget, I hope you'll follow the show now so that you don't miss an episode. And I'd love it if you go ahead and leave a review. It helps so much to get the word out. I look forward to seeing you back here next Thursday. And remember, as you become the best of who you are, you honor God you heal others, and you stay true to your God-given self.
I’m starting to see that I’m having relationships issues when I start showing up for myself. When I ponder this (and mind you, I doubt this ponder somewhat, because I don’t trust myself) I see that the other person shames me because I’m not showing up for them as usual ( codependent showing up) and then I start to think it’s because they are so used to me breathing for them and not myself. Because I don’t trust my self, I then believe them that I’m selfish and I have a victim attitude. Then I go into a deep depression. I’m having a hard time breaking free from this.
At the end of your podcast you talk about why being tender and loving to ourselves can be so hard. Well, for me one reason might be because others that are around me (family) don’t love me if I love myself.
Thank you for sharing how to be authentic .and how the Bible verses connect. Now that I know the depth of love the Lord knows me I want to do this exercise
Hello Dr. Cook,
I discovered your podcast seven days ago and Episode 3 was the first one I listened too. During the hearing, I felt some weight lifted off my shoulders. It’s as if I was granted permission for the first time in a long time to take time to love myself. To discover myself. That it’s OK to do so, even if I am a stay-at-home mom of two and homeschooling them.
It was refreshing to hear that it is biblical to take time to recharge so we can be filled up with more love to share with others.
I also have started the MESP exercice and in only seven days, I am happy with the confidence I am gaining each day in affirming my need of time alone. Even if it’s just 20 minutes before breakfast, to say no to my kids and sit down to talk with myself has been really energizing. I feel I am on a path to lasting changes with some of my negative patterns.
Thank you for making your work and expertise available through these podcasts.
Looking forward to listening other episodes.
Alison Cook says
Thanks so much for leaving this note, Patricia. I’m so grateful to hear these tools have been helpful for you!