There was a time in my life that I was so desperate to feel loved that I sacrificed my soul. Looking back, I often settled and stayed in unhealthy relationships far too long.
Sadly, the fear of being alone led to self-destructive behaviors that often left me filled with shame and regret. In short, I felt trapped in a vicious cycle of self-sabotage and pain.
I spent years trying to analyze and quite honestly understand the patterns I struggled to break. It was hard for me to understand the why behind some of my actions. In truth, my actions did not always match my values or what I felt in my heart.
There were no easy answers but with counseling, reading several inspirational books and facing my past – I was able to gain clarity and forgive some of my mistakes. Eventually and with a lot of self-awareness and work, I was able to heal, make significant changes and learned to love myself.
And so can you.
I have received countless messages and emails from others sharing their stories. Feeling important, loved and connected seem to be a universal challenge for a lot of people and if left unchecked – the journey can be a difficult one.
Human beings need to feel loved and equally important is the need to feel connected to others. Tony Robbins teaches that there are six basic human needs that each person must have in order to live a fulfilled life.
While the order of importance may vary – love and connection are needs we cannot ignore.
Recently, I met a woman who was going through a divorce. Janet described a 10 year marriage that was unhealthy and toxic. Fighting, emotional abuse and control had become a part of who she was and her self-worth was gone.
Desperate for love and the fear of being alone left her vulnerable. Sadly, she went back to her husband. In her words, “I would rather be with him than be alone. Who else would love me or want me.”
This story is one of many and unfortunately it holds a common theme. Low self-esteem and an inability to love ourselves often lead to desperation and behaviors that only add to the pain. In the end, it is easy to become trapped in the chaos and instead of breaking the patterns we continue to repeat them regardless of the cost.
Unfortunately – an inability to break the cycle and the desperate need for love and connection can lead to far bigger problems. Feeling unloved or more importantly an inability to love ourselves can lead to depression, sadness, fear, anxiety, anger and dangerous behaviors. In short, people find themselves stuck in a place they no longer should be. Life becomes a playground filled with self-sabotage and landmines that are difficult to avoid.
So how do we avoid the landmines? How do we learn to love ourselves enough to avoid falling so low that we settle for less than what we deserve?
I would like to share a few powerful tips that helped me to break the unhealthy cycle I was trapped in for so many years:
- Learn to love yourself and ALL of who you are.
It is impossible to love others in a healthy way if you cannot first learn to love yourself. A lack of loving ourselves often leads to an obsessive need for validation from others. Practice self-love all day long. Do not surrender to the demons that are constantly whispering sweet nothings of negativity in your ears. Pay attention to your thoughts and when those negative thoughts drift in, shift the thought to a positive one. In truth, positive affirmations are critical to loving ourselves. Look in the mirror every day and say “I Love You”. Eventually and with consistency – you will start to believe it.
2. Surround yourself with positive things and people.
We have all had people in our lives that are constantly negative or complaining. Perhaps they criticize you or put you down. If you are hanging out with people who make you feel bad it is time to reduce the amount of time you spend with them. Surround yourself with people who love you, build you up and support you. In truth, it is far easier to feel love and connection when we spend time with people who are positive. If you are in a relationship that constantly drags you down and makes you feel unhappy it is time to move on.
3. Make a list of things that make you happy.
Take the time to think about all of the things that you enjoy doing and things in life that make you happy. Make a list. Perhaps it is listening to good music, going to a movie or taking a long walk in the woods. Your list might include cooking with a friend, reading a great book by the fire or planning a weekend getaway. Or – maybe you feel happy when indulging your creative side with writing or painting. Regardless of what is on your list push through the pain and make the time to do the things that bring you joy. It will make a difference.
We tend to be extremely hard on and struggle to forgive ourselves and our mistakes. If you are repeatedly beating yourself up and continue to hold on to shame and regret it is time for forgive and let go. Do not let the past define you. There is always a lesson in the tough stuff and I have come to learn there is wisdom in most wounds. Stop focusing on what went wrong and start to put your energy into looking for the lessons. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful gifts you can give to yourself. It will release the self-loathing and shame that keeps you stuck.
5. Don’t settle and set boundaries.
The inability to love ourselves often leads to settling for less than what we want and deserve. We are so desperate to feel love and connection from others that we fail to set boundaries and frankly we sacrifice those things that are important to our well-being and happiness. Own it and regardless of how hard it might be – take responsibility for your own life. Reclaim control and stand up for what you want. Don’t settle and do not be afraid to set boundaries. It is okay to say NO. In truth, stop giving power to those people who cannot give you the love and connection you need. You are in the driver’s seat and quite honestly, the destination is up to you. Choose YOU.
6. Have a clear vision.
It is easy to lose sight of what is truly important and sadly, perspective can become muddy in our minds. You will gain clarity regardless of the situation if you take the time to write your goals down. If you are stuck, unhappy and struggling to love yourself write a paragraph or two about the person you would like to become. Where do you see yourself in 1 year, 5 years or 10 years? Write a paragraph or two that captures your ideal partner and in addition, write what a happy and fulfilling relationship would look like.
7. Ask for help.
Regardless of how strong you might be it is important to recognize your breaking points. We are all human and quite honestly, we all have limits on just how much we can take. If you have hit your wall and are struggling to breathe don’t try to handle the tough stuff on your own. Regardless of the situation it is okay to ask for help. You are not alone and I can promise you there are people who care and resources that can help. Remember – one of the basic needs of humans is to be loved and to feel connected.
8. Avoid the potholes.
A lack of self-love and low self-worth can lead to behaviors that are destructive and we end up sabotaging our own lives. If you are engaging in behaviors or bad habits that are destructive it is time to stop. Human beings look for bandaids to numb out and ease their pain. Unfortunately, the bandaids are temporary and in the end do nothing but add to the cycle of self-loathing and pain. It is important that you are honest with yourself and identify the potholes in your life. Fill the potholes you continue to fall into with positive things instead of bad habits and invariably you will start to feel better about yourself. You can avoid the potholes. The choice is up to you.
Life is hard and frankly, there will be days when you feel like you cannot take one more thing. With that being said, you matter and you deserve to find peace and happiness as much as anyone else. Don’t settle and have faith that there is a better and happier life out there waiting for you. Stop running from the pain and get out of your own way.
Face your fears and find the courage to stand back up each time you fall. You are capable, resilient and stronger than you realize. Learn to love yourself and start to take those important steps to heal your heart and walk away from the pain. It is when you can love YOU that you will recognize you do not need validation from others to feel good about who you are.
Loving yourself and believing that you deserve to be happy will lead to a better life. Lean into the tough stuff and do the work to heal and grow. I believe that anyone can change regardless of their past. There is an amazing life filled with love and connection on the other side.
In Peace and With Love –