There are thousands of reasons for not loving ourselves. Every person has one, or one hundred, it seems. We’re too fat or too thin. We cry too easily or not at all. We’re not good enough, pretty enough, tall enough, powerful enough, brave enough or interesting enough. We convince ourselves that we don’t deserve the lives we desire.
In When You Think You’re Not Enough, bestselling author and psychotherapist, Daphne Rose Kingma, helps readers root out the behaviors and beliefs that have prevented them from loving themselves. She offers a four-step plan for reclaiming yourself: speaking out our heart’s desire, acting out to meet our heart’s desire, clearing out old patterns, and setting out on a new path.
Through stories and examples, Kigma offers a profound, yet simple process for practicing how to feel good enough, smart enough, and deserving of happiness. When You Think You’re Not Enough is a positive guide to a fuller, happier life; one filled with compassion for yourself and others.
Why You Need and Deserve Your Own Love
“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
Here is only one of you. You are a precious, unrepeatable expression of the mind of God. It is confoundingly simple to say that there will never be another you, but there won’t. There is no one else who sees the world exactly like you do, whose feelings strike the strings of their heart exactly the same way as yours. There is no one, no matter how similar or familiar, whose days and years will be exactly like yours, no one else who can perfectly nurture your dreams, who can most deeply feel each of your hopes as they fly like small butterflies into your heart or are crushed in the palm of a stranger.
Even if we all have thousands of lifetimes—and many people believe we do—the person you are in each of those lives is not this you, with this birth, these eyes and these hands and this pain to work out, these parents, these brothers and sisters, these talents, these gifts to give, this precise number of days and minutes and hours between the writing of your name on your birth certificate and its carving on your tombstone.
You’re the only one who has the exceptional opportunity to truly know you and to discover your single beautiful path. Others can hold a mirror for you and show you parts of yourself that may have been obscured for a long time, but they can never give you the whole of yourself, the whole you that is yours to possess, to expend, to express, to release when your day in this life is through.
You can love others, care for them, encourage them, support them, listen to them, comfort them, joke and argue and cry with them—and I hope you do—but all the gifts of joy and consideration and nurturing that you give to others, you also deserve from yourself. You need the love that only you can give you.
Raw Beginnings, Deep Roots
Recently, at a party, I mentioned that I was writing a book on self-love. I saw a lot of heads turn. “Now, there’s a topic,” said the woman standing closest to me. “Self-love—I still struggle with self-hate. That’s a deep black hole I’ve been trying to climb up out of for years.”
There are thousands of reasons for not loving ourselves. Every person has one—or a hundred and one. We’re too fat or too thin. We cry too easily, or not at all. We fear failure and success. We’re foolish. We’re not good enough, pretty enough, powerful enough, tall enough, brave enough, interesting enough. We convince ourselves we don’t deserve the lives we desire.
Remember the proverb, “Love your neighbor as yourself”? Maybe we love our neighbors so poorly because we never learned how to love ourselves. Maybe we’re trying to extract love from a love-starved self. Maybe, in order to repair our ability to love others, we need to start at square one—with ourselves.
In my own life, I always felt that I was superfluous and, in fact, a burden to my family. It wasn’t because my parents didn’t love me; indeed, they both showed me many beautiful expressions of love. It was because the circumstances of our life were difficult. I was the fifth child and fourth daughter in a family already struggling to make ends meet. While I was still very young, all my siblings became ill, two of them with life-threatening diseases, another with a protracted case of pneumonia. I remember watching my mother, weary beyond belief, single-handedly nurse all these ailing children. Day by day, I waited patiently on the stairs for the time when she would come to feed me. At those moments I felt sorry, apologetic almost, that after taking care of everyone and everything else, there was still another person—me—who needed her attention and care. Wouldn’t things have been easier for everyone, my young subconscious asked, if only I hadn’t been born?
Later this belief repeated itself when, as a young girl, I looked at my beautiful older sisters and concluded that, already, my family had enough girls. We were still having a very hard time financially, and it seemed that my being, my existence itself, was a burden to parents already stretched to the limit. I responded by trying to take up as little time, space, money, and care as possible. I practiced the art of being invisible. Trying to disappear is a long way from loving yourself.
My experience is only one of the multitudes of human experiences, many of them far more direct in their cruelty and impact, which make it difficult for us to love ourselves. We live through such experiences and come to adulthood, where we are expected to love others as ourselves but unfortunately, for many of us, the essential capacity to love ourselves is missing. This has profound implications not only for our capacity to feel happy and satisfied in our own lives, but also in our ability to love others.
When we haven’t learned how to love ourselves well, we keep getting stuck on this simple first rung of the ladder. We don’t know how or how well to treat others and we have problems with what we call boundaries. We stumble through the swamps of low self-esteem and thickets of self-loathing that derail us in our efforts to “love others as ourselves.” It has been my own walk down the path to self-love that inspired me to write this book, as well as my witness of many others as they, too, took the journey.
In order to walk this path we must first understand that self-love is not narcissism. Nor is it egotism, greed, self-righteousness, self-involvement, stubbornness, or conceit, all of which have given real self-love a bad name. Rather, it is the singing spring from which each of us can become our most authentic self. Self-love is also mysterious. For when we really learn to love ourselves, we no longer have to work at it every minute. By continually reminding ourselves how important we are, how important loving ourselves is, we eventually arrive at a place where self-compassion comes more easily, almost automatically. From the well of quiet acceptance, from the practice of a gentle unconditional care of ourselves, we can reach out to love others with exquisite generosity and bounteous open hearts.
That is because self-love is above all a spiritual matter. For it is only when we can actually see and feel ourselves as one of the threads in the vast human shawl, as deeply, indeed, unconditionally received by a passionately caring and beautifully ordered universe, that we can truly love ourselves. This true, felt sense of ourselves as a precious part of the universe is really the ultimate source from which we can love others.
While traveling in Italy recently, I met with a holistic physician who conducts workshops on self-care and spiritual practice. When I asked him what he found to be the most prevalent problem in his medical practice, he said, without an instant’s hesitation, “People don’t know how to love themselves.”
Whether this rampant lack of self-love takes the form of physical affliction—obesity, addiction, and the myriad ailments which have at their source an unresolved emotional issue as in the doctor’s practice—or whether it expresses itself as a so-called “psychological” problem—low self-esteem, relationship difficulties, problems with money—it’s clear that there is an epidemic of our inability to love ourselves.
Indeed, I once heard a highly spiritually developed person say that it was easy to meditate six hours a day and it was easy to give away all his goods and serve his spiritual master; but when his teacher asked him if he loved himself he realized that he did not. In facing his answer to his teacher’s question, he encountered the limits of his capacity to love.
It doesn’t matter whether your own struggle to love yourself was born of difficult life circumstances or through some excruciating emotional or spiritual assaults—the wound is great. For so many of us, loving ourselves is our greatest emotional problem.
I have written many books about love: how to love well in a relationship, how to live through the end of one, how to inform your love and relationships with a spiritual dimension, how both women and men can learn to love and understand men better, how we can love people with personalities different from our own, and how all our loves are infused with that one great Love which is the light of being itself.
All of these instructions about love, however, are based on the notion that we already know how to love—to appreciate, apprehend, delight in, honor, value, esteem, praise, care for, empathize with, and even cherish—ourselves. If you’re like me and a great many other people, you’re probably still not an expert at this, your greatest life’s work of love. And so I invite you to join me in this process of discovery.
This book is a journey to you, a discovery of how you lost yourself—and therefore lost your ability to love yourself. It is also a map to the beauty, the grace, and the strength that is you. It is le beau chemin, the beautiful route you will need to travel in order to reclaim them.
Loving yourself—truly receiving and cherishing your own being—is ultimately the task of a lifetime. Although the process can seem complex, at heart it’s not very complicated. It’s a matter of taking the four simple steps on the journey to loving yourself: speaking out, acting out, clearing out, and setting out. I describe these fours steps in part 2.
The brief stories I relate in the coming chapters illustrate by example the steps that others have taken on their path to self-compassion. They may not be precisely the steps that you need to take, but they can certainly point you in the right direction. I hope they will inspire you, and I encourage you to hold them up to yourself, take the parts that apply to you, and then use them to catapult you into action. Change requires courage. Acting with courage, that is, behaving in ways that are unfamiliar and even scary to you, is what creates actual change. Once you have stepped—in thought, word, action or practice—across your own inner limits, you will actually start to function in new and different ways. This changed behavior will deeply affect the way you feel about yourself. Instead of discouragement or self-criticism, you will start to feel self-love.
With this in mind and with my encouragement and love, I urge you to take these four powerful steps on your own path to self-compassion.
May you enjoy the journey. And when you are finished, may your heart be full of You!