Why it’s so challenging to love ourselves!

We are all born beautiful and perfect little babies. Full of unconditional love and compassion as well as joy and curiosity about our world and our fellow human beings. Unfortunately we have learned a lot of messaging that has taken us away from our inherent feelings of love, compassion, joy and abundance. Thus, the journey back to loving ourselves is about unlearning.

Many of us, were born to human beings who may have had insecure, or disorganized attachments to their parental figures. They may have been taught conditional love. For those of you who do not know what conditional love is, here is an example: “I will love you if you do X, and I withdraw my love via attention, or respect, if you don’t”. The messaging may not have been as clear as this, but the energy behind the behavior was crystal clear. I have to earn the love I receive.

This messaging made many of us internalize messages about our own worthiness to receive this love. Some children will internalize these messages because it gives them a sense of control. “Perhaps if I change, I can receive love.” Other young people will feel that no matter what they say or do, they will not get their needs met for love and will feel “unlovable”.

Parents’ ability to offer love (unconditionally), and support has to do partly with their own level of attachment to their parental figures. Parents with secure attachments (who feel and know they are loved), know how to regulate their own emotions and have the ability to hold space for themselves and their children when their children are having a tantrum, meltdown or misbehaving. Parent who are insecurely attached, cannot regulate their own emotions when their children dysregulate (such as screaming or shouting) and so these parents require their children to regulate themselves so the parent can feel better. Parents who experience trauma during childhood, will need to control their external environment so that they can feel a sense of peace and calm. If you ever heard your parents “stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” or “get a grip”, that is because they were unable to regulate their own emotions to support you and needed you to help yourself. Now, it’s important to note that this was not on purpose. They were genuinely doing the best they could with the understanding, knowledge and awareness they had at the time.

However, children who were not soothed, supported or shown love, may feel unlovable. The good news is, this can change at any time! You can start by practicing some self-compassion.


Practice: Ask yourself often, especially during difficult times: what do I need in this moment? And then what do I need in this moment? What do I really need in this moment?

Start by closing your eyes if you can. Put your hand on your heart or another soothing place and ask: WHAT DO I NEED IN THIS MOMENT? Closing your eyes helps take away your focus from what is happening externally.

The repetition is key. A number of the people I coach will say either “I don’t know what I need” or “I just need X to change”. X can be a person or a circumstance. What they don’t realize is that they are just doing what their parents are doing, expecting their external circumstances to change before they can feel better. However, nothing changes until we change so when I ask individuals to keep asking themselves what they need, they actually soon begin to discover an inner voice that tells them what they really feel they are missing.

Here is an example: Mary [1] is having an issue with her husband who is not listening to her. She feels he invalidates his experience. I ask her what she needs when that happens: “I need him to change”, she laughs. We dig deeper and I keep asking the question. “Oh I need to feel valued, validated, like my perspective matters”. “Can you give that to yourself?” I ask. “Can you reassure yourself that no matter what is happening out there, your opinion always matters, and that you are worthy of your own voice and authority.” “Oh I can try that!.” She tells me. I give her some exercise to try.

Sometimes though, an individual may not be able to tell me what they need. This is not a big deal. It actually makes sense. Since these individuals are not used to getting their needs met, they often then avoid telling themselves what they really need in any moment. In those instances I often recommend being willing. “I’m willing to reveal to myself what I really need in this moment”. Being willing actually allows us to release some of the resistance around our unmet needs.

Try it for yourself, let me know how it goes.

Love, Gissele.

[1] Names have been changed.

Need more support? Try our FREE meditations.

Feeling lonely, try our Roots Meditation.

Feeling challenged, try our Self-Compassion Break.

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Having trouble giving yourself compassion, try our Compassionate Friend meditation.

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