Steps To Loving Yourself

Steps to Loving Yourself

When we've been hurt or we've experienced loss, we often lose more than the person or a relationship. We lose a part of ourselves. We may even have abandoned ourselves in order to throw all of our energy and our heart and our passion into caring for our kids. Now, we know as Christians that we are supposed to love others, but we often don’t know how to love ourselves. What is self-love and how can we show it to ourselves?

Today we are going to cover three main points. Number one, we're going to talk about losing our value and why it's so important to have it. Number two, we're going to talk about loving our whole story and letting it all be true. And then finally, we're going to talk about some practical steps to loving yourself.

When we think about love, we often think about loving others or loving God. But one of the most important aspects of love is self-love: loving ourselves. Our whole selves. Solo parents often experience a loss of value in self.

What causes us to lose our value and how can we get it back?

I can see how not only in my marriage, but every relationship that I had at the time, I was always putting others before myself. And that's what we're taught to do. I was taught to put others and their needs in front of my own. Especially in the Christian tradition. When I got on the other side of divorce, everything was stripped away, and I had my child 50% of the time. Then the other 50% of the time, it was just me and I only had to care for myself. It’s like, “Oh, wait, I don't even know what I like. I don't know who I am. I don't know my value. I don't know so much.” And then in the midst of that, all of this stuff was bubbling up to the surface from the shame of not only the divorce, but childhood stuff, abuse, all of these things that I hadn't been forced to look at until the divorce happened. And looking back, I can see how there was never any focus on myself and valuing myself and understanding the need for that. It was all about other people.

I was taught that self-love is selfish. That was kind of the nonverbal, although it probably was expressed at some point. Growing up in Africa as a missionary kid, it's like, “We are here to serve others.” And we spent zero time going through the idea of our value, how beautiful and wonderfully we are made. This idea of self-love was so foreign to me. It wasn't even in my vocabulary.

Growing up in a Christian home, as one of 11 children, I was constantly taught to serve others and put others first. It made sense at home: That's how you got along. And there's a people-pleasing tendency where seeking approval from others can really cause us to lose love for ourselves when we elevate others but don't hold ourselves in high-enough regard. I think about what makes up our inherent worth and value, and it's our intrinsic design from God. He says we're loved. He says we're valuable just being us. But culture, whether it's Christian culture or society, tells us that it's what we do, our performance, who we are, the attributes we have, or if you're smart or tall or good looking. It’s about getting approval from others. And instead of being grounded in inherent love for ourselves, we get stuck finding value in those other things.

I wasn't the one that left the marriage. My ex was, but I was very aware of my failings in the marriage. And that just compiled. Not only was I very critical of myself because I failed at marriage, but I was also very aware of the ways I didn't measure up. And so self-love was not something I thought I needed to work on. It was something that seemed not just selfish, but also not true, because of what I started believing about myself.

Why is it so important that we understand our value as a starting place of self-love?

I think it's super important because after the loss of our relationship, we feel rejected and can turn a really negative spotlight on ourselves. Even though it was my ex-husband who brought our marriage to a crisis point through specific behaviors of his, I felt as if somehow I wasn't good enough. That maybe his behavior was because of something I did or didn't do. I think that lens of rejection and hurt caused me to really question my value. If I didn't have God's word and truth to stand on, to continually remind me of that and to have other voices in my life who said, “Amber, yes, you can own your part and we want you to, God wants you to. But you can't own and feel the weight of failure and rejection because of someone else's choices.” Many of our solo parents—whether they're the one who's failed or caused harm or whether they've been on the receiving end of harm—their value gets questioned.

We're going to talk about codependency later this month, and I'll have lots to talk about there, but I'm thinking about alcoholism in our marriage, and there was nothing I could do to fix that. And not just the alcoholism, but all of the things wrapped around and buried underneath the alcoholism and that being his coping strategy. There was nothing I could do to fix it. And that spoke lies into who I was and my value in the relationship because I wasn't able to fix it. I had to learn that those were issues that I could never fix. It was on him. He had to deal with it. But that's a deep-rooted lie: that I wasn't important enough to him to change, our relationship wasn't enough for him to figure it out and put aside the things that don't matter. It was a big source of pain for me early on.

I asked myself the same question: “Why wasn't my ex willing to do the work to make our relationship healthy and strong?” He must not love me enough. I must not be good enough. I must not be worthy enough. And that was a very painful question for a long, long time. I even asked him at one point, “Why am I not enough for you?”

Starting with this value point is really critical. The upside of what brokenness brought me was understanding what value really was. I think that we can jump so quickly to what you were talking about in order to remedy not feeling valued or we jump to those defaults. When you've lost so much and encountered so much pain and devastation, you don't feel like you can rely on that. You just feel devastated, whether by someone else's actions or your failings. There is actually a gift in the brokenness of going, “Okay, this is a good place to start in building true authentic value.” That's so important. Having things stripped away and yet feeling a sense of, “Wow, I'm still loved, I'm still valued. God created me for a purpose. Yes, this is painful, but my pain doesn't negate how important I am, how significant I am, and how much more is ahead for me.”

Why is it so important to love our whole story related to how to love ourselves?

That is such a complex question. And hearing you say it out loud, I'm like, “Whoa, that's a big one.” I think for me, I need to embrace my whole story because I'm in it. I'm part of it. If I reject part of my story, I'm rejecting part of myself—the things that shaped me and my family of origin, the experiences I've had that have been hard or painful or negative, or those that have been positive and supportive. But if I reject or deny any part of that, it seems like I'm rejecting or denying part of who I am or who I've become through those things. I need compassion to say, “Wow, Amber, I love all of you.” And even figuratively wrapping my arms around the whole of my story, like, “Hey, you've been through some stuff, and you're still loved, you're still valuable.”

If we deny part of our story, we tell ourselves that if people found out that part of me or my story that I'm ashamed of, or those pages I don't read out loud, they wouldn't really love me. I find so much freedom when I say, “You know what? Good, bad, or indifferent, I am valuable.” And there have been mistakes made. There are things I'm not proud of. And the opposite is also true. Wrapping my arms around all of it has felt really healing.

I'm wondering if it's really the shame or our stories that we're rejecting. Or are we rejecting the pain that comes with our stories and just trying to get away from the pain of it? Whereas, if we put our story in one bucket with the pain right next to it, and learn to deal with and struggle through the pain, does that make it easier to accept our stories?

I think the short answer is yes. I think that I reject part of my story when it's painful and I don't want to look at it, deal with it, confront it, or accept the grief that goes along with the pain. But it's also shame; I want to avoid the shame of it. A lot of it for me is fear: “If people knew X, they wouldn't like me or they'd think differently about me; I might be embarrassed.”

You two know parts of my story that are very shameful, very painful. It's hard to deal with and hard to look at. But as soon as I was able to bring trusted people into that story with me and talk through it, struggle through it, be loved through it, it totally changed everything for me. Even now as we sit here, I look back on that part of my story and I don't carry the shame that I did for so many years. I don't even feel pain from it honestly, because I know it's been brought into the light and things have been handled. I've been loved well through it. Now, are there other parts of my story that still have some shame, some pain, still have some “Why God? Why did that happen?” But this one little blip of my story that carried so much shame and pain unraveled, I owe that to the people around me and God. I can live fully in it and look at it as part of my story.

As you look at your story, what's harder for you to wrap your arms around: the pain that was done to you or the potential pain you've caused?

For me, the pain that was done to me from my childhood stuff, I still am in that “Why God?” situation. I still cannot wrap my head around why that had to be part of my story and why it was allowed to happen.

It’s the knowledge of things I've done to cause harm that has been hardest for me and made me feel a lot of deep regret, sadness, shame, and disappointment at myself. And I've seen some of the fallout and the consequences of that. Leaning on God's mercy has been such an antidote for that. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I have needed that reality and truth and also the reflection of others. It's interesting that in talking about loving ourselves, there's a sense of inherent worth, but there is also the idea of the reflective value of God's gaze on us—that he delights in us and sees us as beautiful. And then seeing that mirrored in his family—we need that. We need each other.

I was just talking to someone about owning trauma, whether it's trauma inflicted on you or trauma that you created (knowingly or unknowingly). I would rather face the pain that was done to me than the things that I've done. That part of my story is harder to embrace. But when I do go to that difficult spot and give myself empathy and grace, I start to recognize the big picture of how God is forming me. And it gives me more compassion, not just to myself, but to others.

I've never really felt a major breakthrough in getting past harmful things that I've done or things done to me in a counseling session. But it happens the more we sit in a trusted place and embrace our story little nuggets at a time. It doesn't just happen by head knowledge. It is very much a process, and it happens in relationship and community.

I'm struck by the idea of bringing our things into the light with someone we trust and care about, a safe person. And ultimately thinking back to when God called Adam and Eve after they'd messed up and he was like, “Hey, come out here. I want to talk with you.” He called them toward him. We often hide because of fear, shame, and the pain of our brokenness. A big part of loving ourselves well is bringing things into the light.

Let’s talk about some steps we can take to actually exhibit loving ourselves.


I feel like that's an everyday practice. We're not getting it right all the time. I think part of accepting and loving your whole story is forgiving yourself for things that happened and having empathy and compassion for yourself. You can't do that unless you're able to forgive those parts. My therapist played a huge role in that for me. My very first session with her, she asked me a whole series of questions that were very shame inducing. She asked me how I felt and I was like, “I'm embarrassed to tell you about this.” And she said, “Well, I just need you to know that you were doing what you needed to survive.” And she reminds me of that all the time: These are normal responses to the trauma and you're not alone in this. A lot of people do it and it's okay.

There's real beauty in learning to accept yourself as you are. That's one of the key things I've come to through some painful reckonings—embracing who I am, knowing I'm not better than anyone else, and I'm not less than, but I'm equal. Accepting who I am has been a big part of learning to love myself.

I was talking to someone who had minimized their trauma so much, they didn't realize what a big deal something was, and how many layers there were. In order to love themselves or work towards healing, they needed to assess where blame belongs. Because this person said, “I realized that when this happened, my mom did this or my dad did this…and I never thought about that. I just thought about this isolated traumatic thing that happened. But there's so many layers to it.” I'm not bringing condemnation towards anyone. I'm just saying that's not your stuff. Self-love is not carrying other people's stuff and attaching it to our value. It’s going back to this idea of community and bringing things out of the shadows and into the light, being brave enough to assess that your dad wasn’t there for you. Or your mom failed you. Part of self-love is going, “I've been carrying this around. This isn't mine.” And letting responsibility be rightfully assigned, whether it's genuinely on me to take on and make amends for—or letting it fall on someone else. I think it's really worth saying that this takes practice.

I don't know how to just sit back and trust that, because I'm me, it's enough. I'm loved. Not for any other reason except for me being me. Self-love really starts with an understanding of the inherent love God has for us. Until we start understanding this idea of self-love, it feels like motivational talking to ourselves.

Takeaways

1. With the loss of a person or a relationship, it's very easy for us to lose ourselves and we can't remember or recognize our own value. We need to try to find our value again.
2. Loving our whole story and letting it all be true is vital in loving yourself and having empathy and compassion. And if you can start showing that to yourself, it’s easier to show it to others.
3. Loving ourselves takes work and includes forgiving and accepting ourselves and knowing that we are deeply loved by God.

Listener Question

My ex is dating someone and my kids are huge fans. Sometimes it seems like they're everything I'm not. And I'm afraid of being replaced by my ex's new partner. Ouch. How do I deal with this?

Well, listen, I feel your pain because my ex is dating someone, living with someone. However, I think I'm better than her. No, I just know that my and Jax’s relationship together is something that can't be beat. And I don't really see it as a competition, but I would be lying if I said that there wasn't some little twinge of jealousy or comparison. I don't want this woman in my child's life. I have to remind myself that it takes a village and that there's probably some good in there that she's bringing. That's really hard though. It's really hard because let me tell you all about a conversation I had. I think I mentioned this on a podcast recently, that I like to ask Jax questions like, “hey, what's one thing you love about your dad's house? What's one thing you don't love about your dad's house? What's one thing that you love that your dad does with you? How do you know you're loved by your dad? What are things you don't like that your dad does?” And so I went around, I asked him about his dad, asked him about me, asked him about his dad's girlfriend, asked him about the guy I'm dating. “What are those things that you love about them? What are the things that you don't love even about me? What are things that I do that you hate? So, when we got to his dad's girlfriend, I asked, “What are things that she does that you don't like? ‘Oh, she's perfect.’ Exact words. ‘Oh, there's nothing I don't like.’” Yikes. I was sorry I asked. So, I was like, okay, that's fine. She hasn't done anything to make him mad yet. Maybe she keeps her distance. It's coming. It's fine. But I did ask what she does that he likes, and apparently she cleans up after him. She cleans his room. So apparently, he doesn't have to lift a finger, which I would think is perfect too as a 10-year-old. But anyway, comparing yourself as your ex moves on is a real thing. It’s a natural thing to feel that twinge of comparison.

I think it comes back to what we just talked about and knowing your value in their lives and knowing that you cannot be replaced. I don't know if this is a mom or a dad who wrote this question in, but you have more value for your child. You have more influence with your child than anyone else other than the other parent. And sometimes in my case, I feel like I probably have more influence with Jax and more of a relationship because I've been more intentional with having those things. But if you're intentional and you build that relationship with your child, there's nothing or anyone that's going to replace that. Yes, your kid will have other influences. Yes, they will have value outside of you, and that's normal and natural, and that's okay. It's okay for them to like other people.

Jax has an older brother and sister. I was their stepmom and was with their dad for 12 years; we were married for nine. I still have a great relationship with them, and I feel like I shaped them into who they are today, and I'm very proud of that. But I know I was part of a larger village that was helping raise those kids into who they are today. And so, I try to remember that I had the gift of my two step kids and being able to speak into their lives. And I want that for Jax. I want him to have multiple people speaking into his life. I know that I can't give him everything. But if we can work together, then he's going to be great. We just have to put our own egos aside.

If you want to send in a question, please go to our website@soloparent.org/talktous and you'll find directions on how to email, call, or leave a voice message. Or contact us through Instagram or Facebook.

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