Yesterday I met up with a friend, peer, and inspiration. Our conversation quickly turned to self-love in regards to physical, emotional, and mental health, as she was bravely recovering and rebuilding herself, and noted that much of her “pain” was due to her immense desire to serve others. Now when I say serve others, I do not mean she helps people out once in a while, this powerful woman has impacted hundreds of people of all ages with her work, dedication, and energy.
And this, this key point, the message we hear in our lives from any number of sources, to serve others, and to do so by competing, and outperforming others so as to be seen and celebrated, gets ingrained into our being at such a cellular level that our bodies actually embrace the pain that this narrow, singular, and unconscious mindset activates. We learn to mask the pain, and our bodies communicate the pain outwards as emotional outbursts, or inwards in a self-destructive manner. Neither is an effective strategy.
SO am I saying that serving others is a pain? Well it can be sometimes, but that’s not the point. The point is that when we serve others, and love others in a fiercely, uncompromising manner, without also loving ourselves, we invite pain in, while essentially telling ourselves that we’ll be fine (FYI: “Stop Saying Your Fine,” is a brilliant book by Mel Robbins) even though we are slowly damaging ourselves in the process.
What am I saying to do instead? To be self-aware, love yourself, and practice self-compassion, so that you may serve others while you stand tall in your own brilliance. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time, so choose what you want, and how you want to be.
I believe that the benefits of practicing self-love/self-compassion are numerous; here are three to begin with:
- Intentionally deciding to be aware and love ourselves makes us stronger, not self-indulgent. Psychologists note that when people practice self-compassion there is a change in attitude that is linked with greater well-being as well as superior performance outcomes.
- By remaining self-aware, and self-compassionate individuals can counteract the inner critic, and overcome self-doubt. When we listen to our hearts we understand failure not as an indicator that we are a failure, but that failure should be commonplace in those striving for greatness, and as a learning opportunity from which growth can follow. This mindset, guided by heart-centric self-awareness, regarding failure, allows your peaks and valleys to level out, calming your mind and body when facing stressful situations, leading to greater productivity, and higher levels of service.
- Lastly, increased compassion decreases stress. Kristin Neff, associate professor of Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas states, “Harsh self-criticism activates the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”) and elevates stress hormones such as cortisol in our bloodstream. When this sting has a hold on us, we cannot learn from and engage with the kernel of truth that may be there to serve us.”
Neff points out that the “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin is released during hugging and acts of deep love (my edit), and is associated with feelings of well-being, trust, and loyalty. And this is what I am emphasizing for all of us: love yourself wholly and authentically so that you are strong enough to serve others fully. The result? Your life becomes even more in service, you build stronger relationships, you become an example for others to follow and learn from, and you take accountability for your own well-being.
Love yourself; it’s not selfish, it’s essential.