“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
There is a lot of talk these days about self-care and self-love. We are all spending more time focusing on our personal needs and making sure our cups are full. It is great that we are securing our own oxygen masks before supporting others or whatever cheesy metaphor you prefer, but there is something missing in this conversation. It is one thing to pamper yourself or distract yourself from your worries and long to-do lists. It is another thing to invest the time and energy required to get to know your true self (and learn to love her).
There is no shortage of personality tests available today to help us type ourselves. Social media has made them more accessible than ever. Not only can I tell you what my Myers Briggs type is, but I also know which Disney princess I am the most like, and which road sign is the most “me.” While this is a great way to waste time if you are waiting for an oil change, it’s not that useful. Some of the current personality and spiritual direction tests are quality tools and useful for self-discovery. However, when they are misused or when taken out of context, these tools are dangerous. There are ways that you can dig into self-exploration on your own, but consulting with a mental health professional or spiritual adviser can be beneficial. These professionals can help guide you toward self-discovery in a healthy way. If now is not the best time in your life to do this work, I encourage you to consider it in the future. You may learn more about patterns that are holding you back from thriving. You may make new discoveries that help you come alive. Learning more about yourself is a crucial step in making real change in your life.
Knowing ourselves is a precursor to the more important task of accepting ourselves. Loving ourselves and maintaining a high self-esteem are not second nature to most of us. While we are kind, compassionate, and forgiving of others, we are often critical of ourselves. Many of the moms and moms-to-be that I speak with are so much harder on themselves than they would ever be toward their little ones. We should all try talking to ourselves through the filter that we would use with the people we love the most. With some introspection and mindfulness, this is possible.
Self-compassion meditations are a great way to start down this path. Explore guided meditation apps or even YouTube to find something that works for you. Here’s a short one to get you started now: First, find a quiet place to sit. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly. As you breathe, with hands touching your body, allow yourself to feel the connection between your mind and body. As you feel your breath deepening and your body relaxing more fully, begin to say these phrases either in your mind or out loud. With each in-breath, alternate the phrases, “may I be healthy,” “may I be happy,” and “may I have peace.” With each out-breath, answer yes and release all tension. Repeat these three phrases in sync with your breath 3-5 times, or more if you prefer.
You can do this exercise as often as you need. It sounds very simple, and although it is, it can be a powerful step forward as you begin to offer yourself more grace. You might find that you are not as quick to get frustrated with your children or the other people around you. The dirty house that once drove you crazy when you first stepped foot in the door might not cause you the stress and anxiety that it once did. You may even notice that you don’t cringe when you see pictures of yourself or when your reflection in the mirror.
I know many of you focus on self-improvement and desire to make lifestyle changes. This is wonderful, and I am rooting for you! But I encourage you to approach your goals from a place of love. When you give yourself permission to be healthy, happy, and at peace, just as you are today, you don’t need as much discipline or willpower. You will want to care for yourself because you love yourself. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes!