What’s Love Got To Do With It? Self-Love and Healing

I am continuing with my 2010 resolution to write about learning to love yourself after trauma. You can check out the earlier posts in this series Shame and Self-Blame After Trauma and Overcoming Negative Self-Talk.

What does it mean to love yourself?  What are your reactions to the idea of loving yourself?

Do you equate it with being selfish? Narcissistic? Stuck up? Do you think it is okay for others to love themselves, just not you? (The last concept is something I commonly encounter with trauma survivors).

Loving yourself means having compassion for who you are. It means understanding yourself in the context of the environment and experiences that have shaped you. It means accepting your real self and all parts or aspects of you. For those that have dissociative disorders, that may literally mean understanding and accepting the different parts within your internal system. It means valuing them even if you do not agree with everything they do.

Loving yourself includes loving and accepting your body. As it is right now in all their glorious imperfection. as compared to  if only it were smaller/shorter/taller/a different size.

So why is loving yourself important? Why might your therapist bring this up as an issue to address in trauma therapy? I see loving yourself as both one of the core goals of trauma therapy and something that makes the hard work required possible.

Loving yourself means wanting what furthers your health and growth, learning how to tell the difference and choosing accordingly. Can you see how important this is then, to further your healing? How can you stick with the hard work of recovering from trauma if you do not feel like you are worth the effort? It is hard to heal if you feel undeserving!

I’ve already written about negative self-talk and the damage your inner critical voice does. You certainly wouldn’t talk that way to anyone else you love or value, I bet. Negative self-talk reinforces the messages you received in childhood. It can leave you stuck feeling to blame for the abuse you experienced. Repeating their messages is like continuing their abuse of you. It can feel empowering to choose another way.

We have all heard the oft repeated conventional wisdom that you cannot love others until you first love yourself. There really is something to this. Certainly, actively hating yourself or seeing yourself as undeserving of love may well influence your choice of friends or romantic partners. Hating and blaming yourself can make it difficult to choose and develop healthy relationships in the present.

A therapy relationship may be an important place to learn about caring for yourself. Connection with healthy others in general can help you learn to value yourself. Ultimately, no other person’s care or love can substitute for loving yourself. Until you get there something will continue to feel like it is missing.

If love feels like too big or foreign a concept, maybe you can start with the idea of caring for yourself. I will talk about the “how tos” of caring about or learning to love yourself in an upcoming post. For now maybe just try considering the possibility that loving yourself matters.

Kathleen Young, Psy.D.

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11 Responses to What’s Love Got To Do With It? Self-Love and Healing

  1. Kerro says:

    Kathleen, this is such a great series – thank you so much. I can see how loving yourself (at least caring for yourself) is fundamental to healing, but not easy for those of us who have spent years not believing we’re worth it. I long for the day when my healing reaches a point that I can do it. For now I accept that it’s important and that others don’t see me as I see myself. That’s progress for me, even if it’s small steps.

    Thanks again.

    • Kerro-

      I actually think it is huge progress, so YAY! for you! 🙂

      I cannot emphasis enough that I get how challenging this is for those with deep seated beliefs to the contrary. That is one of the dilemmas in writing about loving yourself after trauma. Too often it sounds like the author thinks it is something you just snap your fingers and change. If only that were possible!

      Every step you make matters. It is a journey.

  2. God Whispers In The Wind says:

    Kathleen, appreciate your post. This is one area that will take some time with me. Blessings.

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  4. I surrounded myself with people who really loved me until I could start loving myself. This is a wonderful article on loving yourself. Thanks.

  5. As I said over at Patricia’s self-love post, I am still working on this issue, but have made great progress. I’ll repeat what I said there about being self-centered. Where did we get the idea that this was a BAD thing? Being centered in the self FIRST, we can then radiate out to others.

    Great post! Thanks for letting us use it for The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse. I am really appreciating your on-going support of and participation in this carnival. Let me know if you’d like to host it some month. You’d be great!

  6. Pingback: Learning to Love Yourself After Trauma « Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Chicago

  7. Your series is so insightful, thanks.

  8. Jessica says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    I just wanted to say thank you for writing such amazing words. For many years I have struggled with my issues that stem from being mentally and emotionally abused from my mother growing up. I have been seeing a counsellor for the last 10 years of my life. The first time I realized how much my counsellor helped me grow as a person, and how good it felt to be self-aware, I had decided that I wanted to help others better understand themselves how she had helped me. I had started going to school for social work, Little did I know the journey I had set myself on would involve so much self-discovery and self-healing. I am usually very self aware. But this evening after a typical arguement (which I started because I am used of abusive situations and if they are not abusive I will than become the abuser because it is the only thing that feels normal to me) with my current boyfriend which I started I was looking for quotes on the internet to help put into words how I was feeling, which led for me to look for words as to why I was feeling certain emotions and lastly led me to look for words on how I can help change these feelings. After about 2 hours, I have learned that I cannot change the abuse I have experience both from my mom and my exboyfriend, both whom verbally and mentally abused me. However I can change how I see myself, what I think of myself and how I feel about myself! I am embarking on my journey of learning how to love myself for who I truly am, and not all the negative things I have internalized the past 26 and 1/2 years of my life! To some people who already know how to love themselves this may seem like such a small discovery if any discovery at all, but to me this is truly the biggest AH-HA moment of my life! I thank you for helping empower me to take this huge step to healing myself, as it is my ultimate life goal to do the same for others! And to be completely honest the past few days I wasn’t sure I would ever understand my issues and why I would say or react the way I did! Again thank you!
    Take care,

  9. Pingback: March Edition of Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse – Have a Good Time! | Child Abuse Survivor

  10. Maria Daavettila says:

    I just started following your work. I think you do an amazing job. Thank God for your ability to talk about these topics that are so important for our healing. I really think following you will help me in my healing journey.

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