By Michael Kimmel
My first column for Gay San Diego made its debut in the Feb. 14, 2001 issue. The title? “We Need Some Self-Love.”
Some subjects are timeless, like love. Many self-help gurus say stuff like, “You can’t love anyone else if you don’t love yourself.”
Sounds good, but, what does that mean?
Loving yourself is a process, it doesn’t happen overnight. It progresses — in stops and starts — over the course of your life. It may go well for a while (you feel pretty good about who you are and what you’re doing) and then, typically, you bomb out and things seem bleak and depressing (for a while, anyway).
This is normal. No one gets to Happyville and stays there forever. As teenagers, we seldom get there. When we get into our 20s, we begin to experiment: What makes us happy? Who makes us happy? And we experience little “bursts” of self-love.
As we get into our 30s and 40s, it becomes clearer to us what loving ourselves really is: treating ourselves kindly, especially when times are tough. We get more clarity about the kind of work, friends and romance we want. Our bodies start to age: This can be a threat to our self-love. How do we accept the changes in our bodies?
In our 50s and 60s, we usually have more access to loving ourselves: We’ve been through enough life experiences and we are much more sure of what works for us. We’ve seen the ups and downs of life enough to know that nothing lasts forever and even the worst times come to an end.
Once we reach retirement age, it’s a whole new game: we may not work at a job anymore, we may lose friends or lovers, we may have health challenges. On the other hand, we typically have a whole lot of wisdom, which makes it easier to love and forgive ourselves (and others).
Regardless of our age, we can all improve our self-love.
A good way to start is to become more aware of what you say to yourself. Your self-talk is much more important than what you say to others. I encourage my clients to treat yourself as you would a beloved child — encourage and forgive this child, set healthy boundaries for them and praise them whenever you can.
Doing this for your adult self is a big part of loving yourself.
Few of us are raised this way. We more typically internalize beliefs like: “Bite the bullet and do what you gotta do” and “Don’t baby yourself, it’s a sign of weakness. Be tough.”
This isn’t loving yourself, this is manipulating yourself by using what I call the “should school of life.” You should do this and you should do that. A wise old friend of mine told me years ago: “Don’t ‘should’ on yourself.” She’s right.
Let me close by mentioning what I call Healthy Loving Relationships (HLRs).
Many people don’t really know what healthy love is, they think it’s like a business deal: “You do this for me and I’ll do this for you.” Or they confuse love with obsession: “I can’t be happy without you.” This isn’t love and it‘s not any kind of healthy relationship either.
HLRs are based in freedom and mutual respect. This sounds good, but it isn’t easy. HLRs depend on each person in the relationship doing their own inner work and not expecting their partner to “complete” them. HLRs are comprised of two (or more) independent people who don’t need each other, but choose to be with each other because of the joy and pleasure of it.
When HLRs go through difficult times, both partners do their best to tell the truth respectfully and gently, growing even closer from hardship. HLRs, not surprisingly, are made up of people who have a lot of self-love: This makes it relatively easy for them to share their love with others.
Want to learn more about self-love and HLRs?
On Saturday, Feb. 10, from 1:30 to about 3 p.m., I am offering a workshop: “The Art of Loving: Self-Love and Healthy Loving Relationships” at Barnes and Noble, 5500 Grossmont Center Drive, San Diego 91942. Come join us! There is no charge and I’m giving away a few copies of my book, too. It would be great to see you there: please come up and introduce yourself.
— Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.