Whole Life Magazine

February/March 2020

Issue link: https://digital.copcomm.com/i/1207713

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Page 18 of 31

troubadours have pondered the nature of love. Like a fleeting moment, such as the twinkling of a star or the crashing of a wave, love eludes our attempts to define it, but my new book, Love Skills, suggests that "Love is a feeling; loving is a skill set." Like any feeling, love is seasonal and cyclical. It goes up and down. It's not a goal that you can reach and check off your list. Feelings are bursts of chemicals that point to certain emotions, such as sadness, joy, fear, and anger. Like all of them, love moves around and has no steady state. The second word, self, has also been the study of sages, psychologists, and religious thinkers since the beginning of time. We know that the "self " is actually a complex system comprising many parts. It embraces all the parts that we carry inside, including the awkward adolescent, the competent woman or man, the shamed child, and the self that understands, misses the point, can fix most things, and is shy at parties. Our self has many other parts, such as our social roles, personality traits, how we look, and how we feel about our appearance from day to day; it includes our self-critic, our self-esteem, our inner judge, and our cheerleader. So, what is the conversation about loving yourself really saying? That you can't love anyone until you love yourself? Or that your first job is to love yourself? If love is an elusive feeling, and if the self comprises many parts, then self-love must be as complicated as love of others. Consequently, if we must achieve self-love before we can love another, we will be waiting a long time. To live consciously, we need to be accountable to ourselves about what is and is not working; we must be aware of how we are selling ourselves short and justifying dysfunctional behaviors (and relationships) and we must acknowledge when we are doing our best. Self-awareness, while requiring compassion, also asks us to be authentic. It demands that we look at the areas that need work. Self-love evokes the Greek legend of Narcissus, a man who was so impossibly handsome that he spent all his time gazing at his own reflection in the water. He reminds me of people who cannot admit mistakes or take responsibility for their own actions, who in their relationships are perpetually defensive and justify everything that they do. The counterpart to this is another type of narcissism: that of people who constantly put themselves down and seem unable to recognize their own courage, kindness, and competence. One of my teachers use to say that, each morning, we need to ask ourselves, "Is my self- critic equal to my self-esteem?" Another term, which is perhaps more useful, is self-care. Self-care describes how you look after yourself in your everyday life, including the things you tell yourself, the choices you make about food and exercise, how you expect others to treat you, and the way in which you extend yourself to others. Instead of chasing self-love as a permanent state of feeling about an unchanging persona, how about making self-care a practice that you work at every day? FIVE THINGS TO REMEMBER The expression "One day a peacock feather, the next a feather duster" challenges the illusion that the self and self- love exist in permanent states. One day we are on top of the world and can't believe how far we have come in our life, the next day we feel that we are still the kid that no one chose for the team in junior high. As soon as we begin to evaluate ourselves as better or worse than other people, the other side shows up. We move between those two poles, but self- acceptance with compassion is a much healthier way to be with ourselves. 1 For many people, the fastest path to self-care and self-respect is the practice of kindness with others. Community service, supporting a friend who is enduring a hard time, or volunteering at an animal shelter may well be the quickest path to feeling good about yourself, to increasing your self-respect and sense of well-being. 2 Self-care does not mean doing the easiest thing or (often) the most indulgent thing; it means doing the thing for ourselves that is in our best interest. Getting out of bed to go for a run when we don't want to, pushing away those carbs to eat a healthy salad, and finishing a project that we promised to do for a friend even though we would rather go to a movie are all ways of caring for ourselves that may well pay off in greater self-respect. 3 We deserve to treat ourselves with good self-care, and we have a right to expect that same care from others on peacock feather days and feather duster days alike. In other words, how we feel about ourselves on a given day can (and will) change, but how we look after ourselves and how we expect others to treat us can become consistent means of self-care. 4 Self-love is not a state that we live in and that always feels good. If it exists at all, it grows from our actions and behaviors that support our being the best that we can be — physically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically. 5 When we act in ways that increase our well-being, not from indulgence, but from self-respect, we know that we can be cared for by others in ways that also support our greatest good. It's complex, but we all deserve it. Linda Carroll is the author of Love Skills and Love Cycles. While she has worked as a therapist and couple's coach for over three decades and has acquired numerous certificates and degrees along the way, she says that her own thirty-five-year marriage is the primary source of her knowledge when it comes to the cycles of love. Visit lindaacarroll.com. February/March 2020 19

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