I believe in self-love as a fundamental value. I think that fundamentally, self-love imposes a “redline” for how much you can authentically love anyone else. And it’s what you fall back on when it seems like no one else out there gets you in a given moment.
But love as a word is overloaded. It’s carrying too much. It’s big and many-headed like a hydra.
It is used simultaneously to describe a state of being and a state of doing. (Try to wrap your head around it… seriously. How the heck does that work? :))
This is particularly problematic for someone like me. I grew up in a home that was broken and re-forged by separation and divorce and remarriage. Most problematically… the only guidance I was given for the temper I displayed as a child was abusive yelling and intimidation, shame, and ostracism. I was literally on my own to figure out how to manage my temper.
Consequently, I have had to undo the many years of programming that are all about how I’m not enough and I’m going to be alone if people don’t like what I do. Self-love feels unreachable and inauthentic for a person struggling with that kind of doubt. It’s too big and too far away.
But kindness is not overloaded or too big or too far away. Kindness is imaginable. It is only a state of action, not a state of being. How do I know this? Kindness has no meaning without expression of some sort. (I think we call the state of being “empathy”).
Kindness is handing a tissue to someone crying. It’s sitting and listening when someone seems a alone. It’s “just being there” when other people can’t seem to “go there”. It’s also sharing a bite of a delicious cake! It doesn’t require suffering to be present in order to come into existence.
In regards to yourself, kindness is eliminating the thoughts the make you feel like a failure… the “shoulds”. It’s reminding yourself verbally that you were not born perfect or omniscient and you’re a work in progress as everyone is and you’re enough as you are… even as you strive to be more capable and sincere. It’s reminding yourself what you have and what you’re working toward rather than what you don’t and who’s to blame.
Practicing self-kindness is a virtue. It is action-oriented, responsible, and will repair the damage from some of the stupid life traumas you don’t know are affecting your decisions. And it will increase your capacity to live and love fully.
So… maybe next time you find you’re in a situation where you need to love yourself a bit better, start with a different question:
“What would I do if I were being kind to a person in my situation?”
I have borrowed Ayn Rand’s concepts of value and virtue rather liberally here but you can find more in her very incisive writings on ethics.