I hope you have enjoyed Parts I and II of this special three-part Monday Motivator series on practicing unconditional self-love. In Part I we explored the differences between conditional and unconditional love. In Part II, we examined how love becomes conditional, how regular doses of conditional love affect us in the short- and long-term, and how practicing conditional self-love limits us.
Here, in Part III, we conclude our exploration by coming full-circle back to answer the questions we asked at the start of the series – What does “loving yourself” mean? How do you know you are doing it? How do you know you are not doing it? And what do you do if it doesn’t feel okay to love yourself, and you often catch yourself wondering “if I can’t love myself, now, today, then when? When will I finally be able to look in my own eyes and see someone worth loving looking back at me?”
The answer to all of these seemingly complicated questions boils down to one simple word: when you begin to practice it.
Learning to Love Ourselves Unconditionally 101
When we want to learn a new skill, there is no getting around it – we need to practice. Practice may never equal perfect (regardless of what our parents or teachers may have told us), but practice is guaranteed to equal progress, and that is what we are working towards here. Furthermore, once you experience for yourself just how good unconditional self-love feels, you will find it easier to make time to practice this invaluable skill until it becomes as second-nature as practicing conditional self-love used to feel.
There are several techniques we can use to practice unconditional self-love – so try each one, and select what works best for you. Again, you might also want to have a journal handy for recording your observations and experiences.
Exercise One: Learning to Identify the Critical Inner Voice
Before there can be application of a new skill, there must be awareness of what isn’t working for us to get us the desired results. So with this first exercise, we will begin to take notice of how, where, when, and why our critical inner voice speaks to us. Here, we will not be attempting to analyze the messages for insights, but simply noticing them with the intention to distinguish them from other messages we may hear within.
So start by keeping a log of what the inner critical voice is saying to you. When you hear messages delivered by the voice, write them down. If you are having trouble recognizing which voice is the inner critic, pay close attention for statements that include words or phrases like “should, how could you, you are bad/stupid/etc.”
Exercise Two: Learning to Listen to Ourselves
We give the critical inner voice plenty of airtime. But how much airtime do we devote to listening to our own authentic voice? With this exercise, you are learning to consider another perspective – your own. Here, you will practice listening to your own thoughts until you can clearly tell the difference between the inner critical voice and your own inner voice.
If you are having trouble distinguishing between the voices, a great technique to try is to ask yourself, “If I wasn’t afraid or knew I couldn’t fail, what would I do?” Practice asking yourself this question, and then jot down your responses. What you are seeking to identify here are your hopes, dreams, and desires apart from the messages your inner critical voice may give you about whether you deserve to or can achieve any of those hopes, dreams, and desires.
Exercise Three: Learning to Appreciate Each Voice for the Gifts They Bring
It is easy to react negatively to hearing criticism, especially when the critical voice comes from within. But consider this – whether it sounds like it or not, each voice you hear within was at one time your invited guest. Each has a message for you – each one wants to help.
This is why learning to hear the message that lies beneath the tone of the messenger is so essential to healing, growth, and relationship-building. Practicing unconditional self-love begins with developing an awareness of how each message is trying to help you. Developing an attitude of curiosity and detachment can be very helpful during this phase as well.
For instance, when you hear the voice that compares you to someone else, choose to recognize it as a part and listen to it with curiosity. Why is the part doing this? What is it afraid of? What does this part truly want for you? For each message you hear, pretend you are the voice itself as you journal your thoughts about the answer to each of these questions.
Exercise Four: Learning to Give Yourself the Loving Care You Want and Deserve
Being able to hear, name, and decipher each messenger and its message lays the foundation for the most important skill of all – showing yourself that you love you!
To do this, start by journaling out a list of all the statements, activities, gifts, and experiences that make you feel truly loved. If it helps, you might imagine you are someone else, and ask yourself interview-style what you would really want and need to feel wholly loved, and then jot down your own answers.
You might also benefit from what I like to call “The Mirror Exercise.” Pick a time each day when you will have a few moments to yourself – it might be as you are getting ready for work or school each morning, or at the end of a long day just before bed. Whatever time works for you, make sure you can have a few minutes alone with yourself to look into your own eyes in the mirror as you tell yourself “I love you unconditionally…no matter what.”
This is not a time to evaluate whether you are having a good hair day, or whether those jeans really go with that shirt. This is a time to connect with YOU – eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart.
Again, if you find this extremely uncomfortable, it might help at first to ease into it by imagining you are looking into the face of someone you do feel unconditional, unwavering love for. It can even help to do it with pets at first because pets accept our love fully and without hesitation!
Work your way into being able to gaze into your own eyes and offer yourself total, unwavering, unconditional love. You can also use the mirror to offer your love and appreciation to other areas of your body about which, in the past, you may have felt shame or discomfort. Bring a sense of love and appreciation into your contemplations, and remember that you may have to “fake it til you make it”, but if you are persistent over time, your practice will turn into progress, and you will begin to feel just how wonderful it is to love yourself unconditionally.
How Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy Can Help
At Southlake Counseling, we know that it is one thing to decide to practice unconditional self-love…and quite another thing to actually do it! It can be scary, sometimes painful, often disconcerting to try to stop ourselves in our tracks and change long-standing ways we have been relating to ourselves, others, and our own lives. Here is where Internal Family Systems Therapy, a Southlake Counseling specialty, can help.
IFS Therapy is a uniquely effective approach to restoring loving relationships with self and valued others. Students of IFS learn to identify patterns of internal dialogue that create conflict and interfere with their ability to pursue healthy, productive change. IFS is a powerful vehicle for restoring your sense of self through promoting self-curiosity, self-compassion, and self-confidence. Southlake Counseling professionals have many years of training and experiencing in guiding students who wish to experience the full benefits of this powerful therapeutic practice.
Call us today at 704-896-7776 or email me at Kkrueger@centerforselfdisocovery.com to learn more about how IFS Therapy can help you say NO to conditional love and YES to life!