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.