By Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
The focus of my work is helping people to stop abandoning themselves and learn to love themselves. One of most common statements I hear from my clients, as well as from my workshop and intensive participants and from members of my website, is, "I don't know how to love myself."
Of course they don't -- they had no role models for loving themselves. Few of us had parents who role modeled personal responsibility for their own well-being.
Yet often when I ask these same people what a child needs to feel loved, they have no problem articulating what this would look like. They may even have children to whom they are loving parents but can't conceive of what it would look like to love themselves -- to love their inner child.
Below are nine actions that, if they come from a genuine place in your heart, will make you feel very loved.
1. Listen within to your own feelings.
Many people easily tune into others' feelings yet have no idea what they feel. If you ignore a child's feelings, that child will feel unloved. Ignoring your own feelings has the same result -- your inner child feels rejected, abandoned and unloved by you.
2. Be compassionate with your feelings.
If you judge your feelings, telling yourself you are wrong for having them, your inner child will feel rejected and abandoned by you. If you are kind, gentle, tender, understanding and accepting of your feelings, your inner child will feel loved by you.
3. Open to learning about what your feelings are telling you.
Just as an actual child feels loved when you are compassionately interested in why he or she is hurting, your inner child will feel loved when you explore what your feelings are telling you. All feelings are informational. Just as physical pain alerts you to a problem that needs attention, so does emotional pain. Painful feelings are telling you that you are abandoning yourself, or that someone is being unloving to you, or to themselves or to others, or that a situation is not good for you. Compassionately attending to your feelings, learning what they are telling you, and then taking action to remedy the situation, will make you feel loved.
4. Create a solid connection with a spiritual source of love, wisdom and comfort.
Love is not a feeling we generate from our mind. It comes from the heart when our heart is open to our source of love. When you open to learning with your higher power about loving yourself and others, love flows into your heart and you feel loved.
5. Choose to be around loving people.
We don't always have a choice -- such as in work relationships -- but when we do have a choice -- such as in personal relationships -- choosing to be around caring, supportive and accepting people will make you feel loved. If, when you have a choice, you consistently engage with unkind, judgmental or abusive people, the message you are sending to yourself is that you are not worth loving.
6. Take loving actions for yourself around others.
When you are around someone who is being unkind, speak up for yourself, letting the person know that you don't like being treated that way, and then either open to learning about what is going on, or lovingly disengage from the interaction. Allowing others to treat you badly sends a message to your inner child that he or she is not worth loving.
7. Take care of your body, your time, your space and your finances.
You will feel loved and lovable when you feed yourself healthy food, and get exercise and sleep. When you ignore your health, you are giving yourself the message that you are not worth loving.
If you are always late and disorganized regarding your time and your space, again you are giving yourself the message that you are not worth taking care of. When you respect your own and others' time and space, you are letting yourself know that you are worth it.
When you overspend, putting yourself in unnecessary debt, you are not taking loving care of yourself, and your inner child will feel scared, alone and unloved. Just as an actual child needs to feel safe regarding the necessities of life, your inner child needs to feel the same way.
8. Find work you love
Since work takes up a big part of your day, finding or creating work that fulfills you is vitally important. If you continue to force yourself to stay at jobs you hate, the message to yourself is that you are not worth doing whatever it is you need to do, to create a fulfilling work life.
9. Create balance
All work and no play, or all play and no work, creates inner anxiety rather than inner peace. We need balance in our life to feel loved and lovable. We need time to work and time to rest and rejuvenate. We also need time to nurture our body and soul through activities that bring us joy.
Expecting others to make you feel loved while you are abandoning yourself will never lead to feeling loved and lovable. When you learn to take responsibility for yourself emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually, organizationally and relationally, then you will feel loved and lovable. Taking responsibility for loving yourself fills your heart with love, which you can then share with others.
Sharing love is the most fulfilling experience in life, but you need to be filled with love in order to have love to share. Learning to love yourself is what fills you with love.
Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert and best-selling author.