If you must ask what self-love is, it is highly likely that you no longer have it. But, more importantly, you should ask: why did you lose it?
Subjected to some two decades of abuse, alcoholism, and/or dysfunctionality, you were probably denied the steady infusion of love that would have nurtured and expanded your own. Instead, you were forced to swallow what it was not, initially reasoning that its withhold was due to your own flaws and faults and, if you could just have met your parents’ exacting standards, then the floodgates to it would have assuredly opened.
They most likely never did, because you never did-that is, attain those exacting standards, frequently forced to accept and process parental put-downs, abasements, and defamations, which had no correlation to your behavior or attributes, but which you nevertheless had to rationalize. They, after all, were the adults and certainly knew more about the ways of the world than you, leaving you little choice but to “learn” from your “misdeeds” and accept your “punishments,” so that you would be properly “disciplined” with an eye toward never repeating your “transgressions.”
Even if, later in life, you came to the realization that what would have “filled your tank” was lacking because their own parents failed to “fill theirs,” a year-long hook-up at a gas station now could never replenish the supply and fill your void.
You were forced to view yourself the way your parents viewed you. You reaped what they sowed. If they were farmers, then they planted their own seeds of childhood dysfunction, deficiency, and unresolved abuse until you grew into them.
Abuse and alcoholism shattered your self-love, causing you to feel diminished and dehumanized, and you attributed their treatment to the belief that you were exactly what they implied you were. Instead of contributing to and expanding your love, they drained you of it.
If you wish to see God in anything, then you must look for the love in it. In your parent’s case, it is doubtful that you could detect it in them, especially when they mistreated the way the did.
Unknowingly using your parents’ faces as mirrors to reflect what you believe they saw in you, you really saw what they had in them, which, at times, may have been anger and hated, until this distorted image became your own.
Self-love implies value. Abuse instills valuelessness. It transforms what you are and were created to be into the converted opposite-in other words, into something you are not. If you cannot detect and connect with love in yourself, then you cannot extend it to others. After all, that feeling must originate within before it can radiate without, thus explaining why you seldom received it.
“How can an adult child who is taught from the earliest years to abandon himself truly love from the inside out?” asks the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook (World Service Organization, 2006, p. 434). “We have an answer grounded in ACA experience: The love is there and God given. The love has always been there. We need a power to reawaken this love from within.”
This potential hinges to a significant degree upon how much recovery you have made, since the sheer need for survival converted your soul into the God-opposite image of what it was created to be and until and unless you can reconnect with him, that “power to reawaken” may initially be little more than a flicker. And without sufficient trust to enable you to re-forge that equally important human link, you may find it very difficult to rise to that love level.
Indeed, recovery program progress, whose duration varies according to the person undertaking it and the amount of effort he applies toward it, will quickly reveal that there are two broad phases to it-the physical one, during which you are still primarily concerned with survival tactics, and the spiritual one, during which you re-experience that all-important love you intrinsically are.
A part of your struggle is the frustrating paradox that you, at least in essence, are the reflection of the Higher Power who created you, but, shortly after your first breath on earth, you became converted and whittled down by the parental infractions and debasements that recreated you and that you believed you deserved. As a result, you could only view life from the need-to-survive level.
Without choice, escape, or even awareness of the behavior that sparked your progressive unravel, you were unknowingly transformed from what you inherently were to what your parents were-that is, what you were not.
In the true insult-to-injury irony, the very parents who were allegedly present to protect you created the harm from which you then needed protection and they subsequently denied their detriment, abandoning you and leaving you to pick up your own pieces, often resulting in a lifelong path paved with self-help reading, therapy, psychology support groups, and twelve-step programs.
Your inescapable and irresolvable solution to this dilemma was the burying of the very part of you that is self-love. Seeking internal protection by escaping and creating the inner child sanctuary, you replaced it with the false- or pseudo-self, which is devoid of the innate, intrinsic, and inherent God-reflective (translated as love-reflective) properties, forcing you to pull the plug on his light and plunge you into darkness.
As an entity, the false self is a cheap imitation of the real thing, but a necessary split that enables you to negotiate the world with perceived safety as an unrecovered adult child, a term, incidentally, you may, up to this point, have never heard.
Love is real, not a concept, and from this synthetic representation of what you ultimately came to believe was the real you, self-love can neither exist nor flow.
Indeed, what does originate from this self-substitute is the critical inner voice-the perpetually-playing, loop-lapping, self-loathing, -abasing,, and even -abandoning tapes, which may coincidentally sound like parental voice-overs and which you believed could have been replaced by their love if you had only been perfect enough to deserve it.
The false self represents the ultimate sacrifice for humanity’s and, as an extension, the animal kingdom’s most fundamental need: safety. Safety augments survival and survival, in physical form, must precede everything else. Without it, nothing else, such as and especially love, can follow.
Tantamount to your self-love search is the painful and abrupt arrival at-if not collision with—your personal bottom, the point where every conceivable method has failed to arrest your dwindling spiral and the only direction left is up-or back up to the Higher Power who created you. Hitherto beyond reach or connection, he awaits your ability to re-forge that link, which itself depends upon program progress. It will almost certainly entail times of tenuous, altogether severed, regained, and once again partially reconnected alignments, since the process is anything but linear and steady.
Connections, in this case, do not necessarily entail height, but emotional and spiritual regain. When your spirits rise-literally-you can stretch yourself to God.
Conversely, when you re-sink into the quicksand of despair and depression, you can neither forge that link nor even feel his presence. The substance of connection is not string, but light, as you link yours with his, which, before your creation, were the same.
Connections also have physical properties. The synaptic ones between neurons or brain cells representing self-criticism and low self-esteem are most likely as thick as ropes, while those between positive self-feelings, because of your barrage of childhood putdowns, are probably as thin as threads. Only concerted effort toward modifying your self-image, combined with frequent affirmations, will initiate this rewiring and create new neuro-pathways.
Integral to this re-climb to the self-love your Creator endowed you with is trust.
Seemingly absent during your greatest time of parental betrayal and harm, it is difficult to trust the eternal parent who seemed to serve as a “bystander” during it all.
Exacerbating this dynamic is the fact that you could also not trust the earthly parents who inflicted you with your life’s damage and the negative attributes you associated with them you quickly reassigned to your eternal one.
Based upon your degree of pain and detriment, you may sometimes even believe that both earthly and eternal parents colluded to facilitate your demise for reasons of punishment, past-life penance, martyrdom, or factors beyond your conceptualization.
The intermediate steps on your journey back to self-love are numerous. First and foremost is your surrender to the Creator you intrinsically know.
Secondly, you must plow through the dense, sometimes-impenetrable layers separating you from him. Abuse-bred filters require considerable effort to penetrate so that you can once again associate him with who he actually is and not the carbon copy of your parents you came to believe he is.
Questioned as the definition of “truth,” Jesus once said, “That which never changes.” Integral to and the essence of God is love-and that is truth.
Additional steps include realizing what necessitated the creation of your inner child; understanding why you adopted the survival strategies that you did; removing the displaced, but subconsciously perceived faces of your parental abusers from present-time others who may inadvertently trigger you, generating uncomfortable, anxious, or out-and-out fearful feelings; and realizing that most of your emotions and reactions have neuro-links to their early-life origins and times when you were neurologically, psychologically, intellectually, emotionally, and physically undeveloped, often creating present-time powerlessness and paralysis.
Self-love is a slow re-climb of the mountain that abuse and alcoholism kicked you off of, necessitating your survival-level existence at its base. Yet the journey’s progress can be measured with elevation gains, such as those at the plateaus of self- and other-acceptance, facilitated by the tool of trust.
“Self-love is an indispensable spiritual element of the ACA program,” according to the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook (p. 436). “Self-love enables the adult child to backfill the love or nurturing we did not get as children. By loving ourselves, we stop the negative self-talk… self-love gives us a new pair of glasses… Unhealthy behavior is no longer ‘normal’ to us.”
Self-love, ironically, is eternal-parent given, but sometimes earthly-parent taken, and the detoured journey from your origin to your destination may be arduous and protracted. But where else, in the end, can you go except back to your intrinsic self and the love with which it was endowed?