In spite of how diverse and unique each of us are, there is really ONE issue that lurks beneath every person’s dating challenges and may prevent them from falling in love with both themselves, and the intimate partner they are seeking. It’s as simple as it is painful.
Every person holds insecurities about being fully lovable.
Before you think, “that’s not me!”, let this sink in: Even the most successful, confident, attractive, self-aware, and sociable people hold varying degrees of deep-seated insecurity about their lovability.
We each developed core beliefs about our lovability as children. For some of us, it’s major trauma that made us feel unlovable—such as sexual or emotional abuse, unsafe or unstable home environments, or toxic social contexts such as racism, classism or bullying. Even the very lucky ones among us who have had relatively happy childhoods, and no “major” trauma, have internalized negative messaging from peers, family members, and society.
As children, we did not have a critical filter, so we believed what we were told. We took in all kinds of negative messages and tucked them into our beings:
“Your teeth are too big!”
“You are too fat/too skinny!”
“You aren’t as smart as your brother/sister!”
“You will never be lovable unless you wear makeup or look like an athlete!”
Such messages were reinforced as we grew into social environments that promoted shame, competition, and self-rejection. They turned into emotional wounds that we often don’t even consciously know exist. That’s partly because they become an undistinguishable part of our emotional landscapes, and partly because they are so common.
Later in life, these wounds and beliefs become part of our psychological architecture. Our wounds affect how we feel about ourselves. They also impact how we relate and interact with our friends, family, and work colleagues. However, nowhere does this pain manifest as powerfully as in dating and romantic relationships.
A Transformative Power
The intimate realm of dating and relationships brings us face-to-face with shame and our fear of not being lovable. Its fire illuminates the darkest corners of our psyche, giving us a window into the emotional wounds we otherwise might cover and stuff down.
Confronting these wounds can make dating and relationships extraordinarily difficult and painful. But doing so ALSO presents us with an opportunity to see and heal them.
It’s true. Dating and relationships can be an incredibly powerful avenue for personal growth and transformation.
The obstacles we cannot see have the most potential to harm and control us. But those we bring to light lose much of their power over us!
When we shed light and love onto our insecurity, we have a chance to stop being a slave to it and to transform it. Only then, we can start to embrace the fullness of who we are, engage others with heart-filled confidence, build relationships based on emotional freedom and authentic expression, and stop self-sabotaging our efforts towards finding love.
Powerful Practices to Cultivate Self-Love
Here are some practices that are powerful and transformative for healing shame and developing unbreakable self-love.:
- Commit to the process of recognizing, healing, and tearing down the walls of shame and self-rejection you’ve built inside of yourself. Being 100% clear in your intention and resolve will guide you towards your freedom to love yourself fully.
- Give yourself permission to OBSERVE and FEEL any longstanding inner pain or disappointment, without filters or distortion. Look into your inner dynamics without judgment—observing yourself from a distance, as if you were watching a movie with YOU as the main character. What emotions and thoughts come up when you analyze your life and relationship history? Get acquainted with your feelings from a place of curiosity: temporarily suspend the temptation to blame or condemn. Start a daily meditation and/or writing practice to create a sacred space for this process. Get a journal and develop a regular habit of writing down the thoughts and memories that arise. In other words, cultivate a relationship with the parts of yourself that you may have shunned—a relationship based on understanding.
- Forgive yourself for any harm you may have caused yourself or others. Making amends may be cathartic when possible and appropriate. However, if this is not an option, you can heal yourself through self-forgiveness and a commitment to moving forward in a loving and compassionate way. This forgiveness process will allow you to look at your past more clearly, more lovingly, and to consciously choose new behaviors that are aligned with your higher self. This process is at the core of breaking free from fear and negative patterns. Be patient with yourself, but stay steadfast in your commitment.
- Forgive others. Holding on to resentment hurts you, because it perpetuates past hurt into the present moment. It makes it impossible to live with a fully open heart. Make a list of people who have caused you emotional pain from the moment you were born, until now. Commit to the intention of forgiving them, even if it feels impossible in some cases. It’s not, but it might take some time. Write down what they taught you, in terms of having better boundaries moving forward, and send them gratitude and goodwill. Also, imagine them as small children. What hurt might they have experienced that eventually made them be hurtful to you? Try to understand what it feels like to be them. Understanding breeds compassion, and compassion breeds forgiveness. Forgiveness frees you to love yourself and others without limits.
- Be the person who loves and enjoys YOU unconditionally! Become your own best friend and partner. Treat yourself as someone you’re in love with. Do something that gives you joy at least once a day for at least 15 minutes, no matter what other commitments you have going on—whether it’s taking time to truly enjoy your food, walk in a beautiful place, take yourself to the movies, meditate, read for pleasure, take a luxurious bath, or whatever gives YOU healthy, life-affirming pleasure.
- Give yourself words of affirmation. We all have negative voices in our minds, and that is completely normal. But it’s nobody’s job but ours to change these scripts to messages that serve and elevate us. Is your mind telling you that you’re not beautiful enough to attract your dream lover? Write yourself sticky notes saying, “I am 100% beautiful,” “I am 100% gorgeous,” and “I am 100% loveable”—and post them all over your home, phone, car, and office. Try to connect with the part of you that knows you are beautiful just the way you are—it might be buried deep, but if so, keep digging. It might feel awkward or silly at first, but don’t give up—you are reprogramming yourself. It does take some time and work. Please be patient with yourself, and stay committed to the process. Consistency will get you there.
- When you come up against a place inside yourself that you feel you cannot love, breathe deeply and visualize yourself as a child. Would you reject this child for not being perfect? Or would you reassure them that they are beautiful and lovable exactly the way they are? Treat yourself with as much kindness and compassion as you would a two-year old.
- Clarify and stand by your relational standards and boundaries. Make sure that your standards and boundaries reflect self-love, and do not invest in people who treat you poorly or leave you feeling drained. Write down in your journal your standards and boundaries on how you want to be treated, and promise yourself that you will not compromise on these. Of course, hold yourself to those same standards: treat yourself and others the way you want to be treated!
- Give your love. Giving love to others tunes you to a pleasure frequency. Too often, we feel we must wait for someone else to love us before we can feel loved. Try loving first. I’m not suggesting you invest endless resources into people who cannot appreciate or reciprocate it—but be generous with the kind of love that doesn’t cost anything. Invite a friend (or parent, or colleague, or child) to share a beverage socially distanced or virtually, and listen to them more deeply than you ever have. Be extra nice to strangers. Give heartfelt compliments. Commit to being a soothing presence for others. Taking this stance has the power to reverse your emotional state from feeling like a victim to feeling like a SOURCE of love—and to shift you from a scarcity mindset to an abundance one. This not only will make your life much better, it will open the door for others to love you.
- Get support from a trusted loved one, coach, and/or therapist. Enrolling trusted others into your healing journey will give you strength, inspiration, perspective, and accountability—especially when the road gets tough. Human beings are not built to thrive in isolation. Establishing a loving support system around your healing and transformation is the most reliable way to create lasting change.
Self-love is a lifelong journey of becoming whole—of bringing all of who we are into the open, and letting the healing power of love and acceptance transform our shadows into uninhibited expressions of ourselves.
You do not have to be shame-free before you can get into an intimate relationship. In fact, healthy relationships can, and should, contribute to our healing and growth. Sometimes, others can help us by loving parts of us that we haven’t been able to love ourselves. And that is quite a magical thing!
However, taking shame out of the driver’s seat is in nobody’s power but yours.
The more you emancipate yourself from negative beliefs and wounds, the more you have to offer the world. Shining your light gives other people permission to shine theirs. The freer you become, the freer people will be around you. This is how we can build a more loving, inclusive, and shame-free world.
Healing shame opens the path to love and intimacy with yourself and others.
The more you love yourself, the easier it is for love to flow through you and towards you. This is not an easy road—but the path is laden with treasures, and worth every single step.