An important phase of my recovery program has been learning to love myself. Loving myself means I have given up the futile and endless search for a source of love outside of me, based on or drawn from external people or things. Self-love has meant discovering the limitless Source of love within me. I am no longer dependent upon externals to supply an unhealthy neediness for love, worth, or validation.
(In this context, love is broadly defined as unconditional acceptance and nurturing of myself and others.)
Ironically, part of what drove my neediness for love was shame. My shame grew from my acute awareness of my neediness. Because I was ashamed, I therefore did not perceive myself as being a lovable or worthwhile person. My shame, in turn, resulted in low self-esteem and deeper shame.
A significant breakthrough occurred when I finally admitted my shame about my feelings of low self-worth (both to myself and to another person). Admitting the shame liberated me from it.
Previously, I had worked very hard to deny both my shame and my low self-worth, because I desperately wanted to deny that low self-worth was one of my core issues. Because of the denial, my shame and my low self-worth persisted—one feeding endlessly on the other. By denying my shame and my low self-worth, I remained bound to it. By admitting my shame and my low self-worth, and more importantly, accepting both as a part of myself, I released myself from the shame, freed myself to accept myself unconditionally, and gave myself permission to start loving and esteeming all of me.
Continued belief in myself as a lovable and worthwhile person no longer depends upon an external source or upon external affirmation. I no longer "need" another person to constantly affirm my worth or relieve my shame by loving me (i.e., since no one loves me, I must not be worth loving). I can give myself all the affirmation and love I need. Since my need for love and external affirmation is no longer an issue, the shame associated with my low self-worth is gone.
I am a lovable and worthwhile person!
Now I can affirm it and truly believe it. Equally important, I now have an abundance of genuine self-love, which I can draw upon and give away love to others.
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To use an analogy, it's just as if I had an empty account in my "love" bank. I was erroneously waiting and longing for someone else to make the needed deposits, unaware that I could have been making huge deposits for myself all along. Now I have an abundance of love to give away. Because I have love to give away, I am truly a love-able person. I am no longer needy; I am healthy, and thus, even more lovable. By embracing and accepting my shame and my low self-worth, I empowered myself to change. I have an infinite Source and reserve of love and self-esteem for myself.
The paradox of learning self-love is this—the more love I give myself, the more love I have to give away. The love account is never depleted. I can now give healthy love from the abundance of my own love and my own wholeness. True recovery is about giving clean, healthy, unconditional love, not getting love. My life is now characterized by an ever-expanding circle of love, rather than a downward spiral deeper into shame.
Finally, all this healthy self-love unlocks the door to true self-esteem. Self-esteem and self-love are co-requisite. Because I am able to love myself and others unconditionally, I esteem myself; I hold myself in high regard; I value myself; I perceive myself as an able-to-give-love, worthwhile person. The abundance of my self-love is the clean, healthy gift of unconditional love I can now bring to all my relationships.