Self- Love and Acceptance
Do you accept yourself as you are? In truth, it's something we all struggle with. Throughout our lives, especially when we are very young, we depend on love for survival. We reach for connection and safety as soon as we are born. As we grow and our brain develops, we start to discern what behaviors bring us more love and attention (which we associate with safety and survival), and so we try to include more of that. To us, our parents are like the sun, and every time they shine on us, we flourish.
As well as receiving countless hours of sunshine, there will always be times when we get the message that we are not good enough, that we belong in the shade. Maybe we are told that our behavior is not good enough, that we are naughty or bad, and we believe it. Perhaps the more damaging instances happen more subtly, often by accident. When we are overlooked, abandoned, forgotten (even if it's only for a few minutes). If our parents (or their attention) are elsewhere at a critical emotional moment for us, as children, we feel unloved. Given that to us as small children, our parents seem like the greatest beings that could ever exist, we can't imagine faulting them for how we feel and so the only logical conclusion is that it is our own fault. "Mum forgot me because I'm not good enough." Of course that's not the reality - mum was god damned BUSY, but our little minds can't help but take these things personally and attribute blame to ourselves.
I can hear the parents reading this, thinking "Oh god! That would mean I can't even get dinner made without someone's self esteem being damaged" and it's true - you can't be there and present with each child, every moment of the day - all you can be is what psychotherapists call a "good enough parent". It's also a natural part of our development, many of these moments build resilience, it's just a few that wound us. I'll write another post about this shortly.
But back to you.
So at many points in our lives, we all got the feeling that if we were just a little better, cuter, nicer or more well behaved, we would be truly lovable. In perhaps just a few pivotal moments, we came to believe that when others withdraw their love, it's because we are not good enough. We then carry this into our adult relationships and feel deep shame and grief whenever someone withdraws, because they're actually digging into an old childhood wound.
So, what can you do about it?
The reason that these old wounds are so powerful is because they're out of our awareness. It seems as though we are feeling so hurt because of something our partner did, but actually the cause is deeply buried. These old wounds need to be brought into awareness. In therapy, you have the opportunity to safely visit these seemingly dark places and shine a light on them - actually you can be your own sun now that you're an adult and change the experience of a difficult memory. You don't have to know where these memories lie, it the therapist's job to guide you there. This new awareness and acceptance of what was, diffuses the pain. You can now see the real meaning of the situation (eg: mum was grieving/busy/stressed, dad was shut down/away for work/an alcoholic). You can remind yourself that you are loved and safe and good enough. You'll see yourself with love and compassion and have the opportunity to give yourself exactly what you need when these feelings arise. Going forward, you'll have a greater understanding of yourself and feel more self-love, self-acceptance and compassion.
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Laura is a Gestalt counsellor and psychotherapist in Melbourne's inner North.