Cultivating All-Encompassing Self Love
On harmonizing our inner ecologies
How I personally experienced adolescence was like a one-two punch. First, I was conditioned with the idea that I was broken and there was something wrong with me. And if that wasn’t enough I believed that the only way to be fixed was by working harder, judging myself, and hating all of my flaws. And thus, my relationship to personal growth was that resistance is good and I need to fight it and force it into compliance.
Let’s talk about why you ARE enough, and how to reconnect with the inner intelligence that knows exactly what you need.
Listen. Our Psyches are Intelligent.
How might we begin to love this voice in our heads? The one that tells us: we're not good enough, we'll never make it in life, no one cares what we have to say, and that we’re worthless.
In my own life, I noticed that when I judged that voice I was subconsciously validating it and giving it power. I was fueling the fire by trying to control and force it out of my mind. I didn’t recognize that clinging to the story was the same as forcing it away — they both add resistance and power to the narrative.
My first step out of this vicious cycle was to open up to the possibility that the voice had good intentions. Maybe the self-hatred arose out of a real signal. It was trying to help. Its hatred was coming out of love.
For example, while I was living in an Airbnb in Mexico I found myself isolating and binging the internet. Then immediately a tsunami of self-hatred arose and I fell into a downward spiral about how “I’m not good enough and I’ve never been good enough.” But for the first time in my life, I noticed this real pattern where I isolate and then feel lonely. This self-hatred wanted me to go out and have a good time by shunning the pattern that was causing the isolation. Rather than continuing to add layers of judgment onto the initial self-hatred, I began listening to it. I began granting it a degree of autonomy to speak.
“Ohh interesting, self-hatred is present. Okay, self-hatred why are you hating this other part of yourself? How do you feel about that part? How does that part feel towards you? How do you believe you’re helping me? What concerns or fears do you have?” And often there would be some real signal. It turns out that part of myself just wanted to be seen — wanted its concerns to be taken into account.
David Hawkins proposes that “to get at the underlying emotion ask "What for?" and then ask "What for?" again.” This feels quite complementary to the dialoguing process I described above.
That day I learned that holding my self-hatred as sacred was the beginning of taking responsibility for it. Only I can give myself the love & validation that I’m so desperately seeking. To think that someone else could have made me feel enough was to give away my power.
And my whole life I’d been trapping myself by giving away my power. I realized that what I needed wasn’t another self-help program, but simply to step into my own sovereign ability to hold the different parts of myself as sacred and worth loving.
Working with Self-Hatred is a Gooey Process
The next insight I had was that self-hatred is amorphous. It wasn’t a math equation that needed to be solved — there were no right answers. After a lifetime of chasing certainty, I chose to hold my uncertainty with an air of spaciousness. The anxiety then released into a more subtle tone that became tolerable.
I realized that the goal of self-love wasn’t to become flawless but to become more and more okay with my own incompleteness. The confusion and uncertainty were aspects of the discomfort of sitting with my own faults. Esther Perell continued on this point, saying “[s]elf-love is the ability to not fall into a puddle of contempt even when we mess up. It’s trying new things knowing that we could fail, without thinking of ourselves, therefore, as failures.” Understanding this I engaged in the practice of acknowledging that I messed up without telling myself that I was a mess.
Harmonizing the Psyche
And through that process, I started to approach loving myself as a process of harmonizing the various parts of my psyche. I set out to learn how to witness and hold space for all the fragmented selves within. And by holding space I mean not pushing away yet also not mistaking these small selves to be who I really was.
Which wasn’t always easy. Back in high school, I experienced a lot of depression and I mistook this to be ME. I misinterpreted that depth of sadness to mean that I was worthless, not enough, inadequate, small, and powerless! These fragmented and hurting parts of my psyche were just searching for love and instead, I fed them hate and unconsciously identified with them.
And there are no bad parts of self. No matter how much our culture loves to pathologize and demonize certain aspects of the collective self, I say choose the opposite. Choose to see all parts of self as good. Even if there are some parts that are still 8 years old running around in elementary school and seeking love, even if there’s a 4-year self that is responding to its parents and feeling hurt, this is still good. There’s nothing wrong with this part. It’s utterly beautiful how this part learned to respond to its environment years ago. If it’s still present, that’s okay. Harmonize it. Be with it. Listen to it. See that every part has an unconscious purpose behind its origination, as though our unconscious knew that something had to be learned and that was the only way to learn it.
Forming a Healthy Relationship with Our Personal Ecology of Parts
An insight that I’ve been working with recently is that ‘everything is relational.’ If we apply this to parts work then our goal becomes to cultivate a healthy relationship between the inner ecology of parts. In terms of self-hatred, we’re not just working with the part that is loathing. We’re working with an ecology of parts and how they exist in relation to this part we call self-hatred.
I propose that to love ourselves more deeply isn’t just to try to feel more love, but to work with the living, breathing, dynamic pattern of relationships within and to engage in a process of mutual learning. Our goal isn’t to try to rid ourselves of the self-hatred, but to hold it as sacred and to honor the self-hatred. It’s to see that which is trying to be expressed beneath the self-hatred and to get so much clarity on it that it naturally stops fighting the internal war.
By going through this process we learn how our parts developed in response to the world we grew up in. We didn’t choose who we became, we became who we are in response to the interdependencies of our environment that happened to be most salient in our childhood. As Nora Bateson so eloquently wrote:
“I am an ecology within ecologies. Who are you? And what thoughts are we fertilizing together? How is thinking being reflected back through relationships with others, including the other species? We might have an ecology of culture, ecology of linguistics, ecology of economics, and so on. I ‘am’ complex. I am a dream. I am an ecology of selves. We, the internal aquarium of trillions of creatures, my language, my culture, my love, my ideas, my family, my nation, and my breakfast — ARE. And we ARE not separable from the particular version of a person that is me. We were fed an illusion that we could choose a singular identity. We cannot continue this illusion. Choose a new perception of identity, or justify the singular nationalism, the walls, the edges of reduction around definitions of gender, race, profession, religion, and live in a battlefield between false nations, false identities, false separations. Before all else we are of the ecosystems. ‘ I ’ will be different tomorrow. So will you, all of you, us, they.” - Nora Bateson
The process then becomes one of playful exploration, practice, evolution, learning, change, experimentation, and growth. We can either choose to engage in the open and uncertain process of working with our edges and playing with the boundaries that are present, or we choose to neglect the life happening in front of our eyes.
What kind of relationship do you have with yourself?
What kind of relationship to do you have to your self-hatred?
What kind of relationship do you have with culture, language, your identity, change, life?
How might you choose to engage in these relationships in more healthy ways?
Suffering is Just a Limited Version of Love
We spoke briefly about resolving our inner suffering by gaining great clarity on the parts causing internal tension. One aspect of doing this is realizing that suffering is just a clinging onto a limited form of love. There’s love found in the limited-suffering-causing-part, just not a total and all-encompassing love. To experience a greater degree of love that part must die (aka become integrated with a Self much larger than it’s own.) It’s a process of letting go of all the finite selves and residing more and more as awareness itself. This limited part doesn’t want to die, so it holds on for dear life. Yet sadly, in doing so, it is not able to comprehend the suffering that it is causing to the larger ecosystem of Self, in the same way that individual greed in our modern society isn’t able to comprehend the planetary damage it’s causing.
To surrender into a more infinite form of love is to love more and more of the finite aspects of self that are clinging onto finite forms of love. Greater self love isn’t just more intense, it’s more all-encompassing. Progression on the path to deeper self-love is learning how to love our own neediness, faults, imperfections and anxieties — NOT to transcend them in a way that ends up trying to use force to conquer and win over these inadequacies. The worst thing we can do is demonize these limited parts of ourselves. We realize that their only goal is to feel love too, if only in an incomplete way.
Another way of viewing this is that we’re not conscious of what’s really happening within. When we become more conscious of ourselves, how could we not love ourself. With more consciousness, we see the hatred arising out of love and choose to drop the hatred.
In short, becoming conscious = suffering less.
“To see yourself completely is to fall in love with yourself completely.” - Leo Gura
As we become more and more conscious of ourselves we see that the ego is limited and not bad. We forgive ourselves of all the errors we made when we were more attached to our limited identity, and conversely we feel that everyone is doing the best they can given their own attachments to limited identities.
Self-Love = A Love of Everything in the Universe
Now let’s take these insights into our relationships.
To suffer because of someone is really just the inability love the feeling that the other person evokes in us. To love someone is to love them exactly as they are. When we fully integrate the insight that all hatred is self-hatred we begin to see that all the things that annoy us in another person is just our own lack of self love.
Self love is ultimately a love of everything in the universe. Once we love ourselves, we love the world, and vice versa. If we see evil in the world then that too means there’s a bit of evil in ourselves that we haven’t reconciled and loved.
The difference between us and the people that we see as evil is one of degree and not kind. These corrupt politicians and CEOs are no different than us, just that they happened upon more power and their evil was magnified. If we happened upon that much power (without adequate consciousness of self) we’d be that evil too! Thus, whenever we find ourselves angry we can ask “What is this anger asking me to become aware of?” and direct our focus inwards to become conscious of what the external trigger says about our self. And vice versa, can we begin to see the verbal attacks of another person as merely the statement of the other person's inner lack of self-love.
And lastly, I want to point out an important point. We can only be vulnerable with another if we have access to our inner worlds. Thus, as we get better at noticing and working with parts we’re afforded a greater capacity for intimacy and vulnerability. We can now learn how to more fully see others and be seen ourselves.
Being seen - the feeling of being able to share any part that is present without fear of judgment from the other person.
Seeing someone else - being able to sit with another and to hold a container of love such that the person feels safe enough to expose their parts.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much. 🙏🏻
I hope you enjoyed reading this piece as much as I enjoyed writing it.
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