Loving Yourself in 4 Hard Steps (Part 1 of 2)

By Barry Thomas

Several years ago I was reading Janet Hagberg’s book, The Critical Journey, and came upon the infamous chapter about The Wall. I have told Janet a few different times over the years there is one page in the middle of that chapter I wish she would expound on. Each time she has responded by saying, “Maybe that is the book you should consider writing.” I have thought about this over the years and I finally set a goal to write it. I have preached some of the content in a sermon series and now I am writing some of the content in this blog – one step closer to putting it in book form. In last week’s blog post I said that the second greatest commandment is to love yourself. This week I want to begin breaking that down into some steps.

When you think of loving yourself, what comes to mind? What does it look like for a person to love herself or himself? Here are some beliefs I have about loving yourself:

  1. There is more than one right way to love yourself.
  2. Loving yourself can come in all shapes and sizes.
  3. It can be as simple as treating yourself in some way: eating ice cream, taking a nap, etc.; and it can be as difficult as setting a boundary or letting go of an unhealthy behavior.

A difficult, yet transformational, way to love yourself is to look at the shadow parts – the parts of yourself that you hide and repress. These parts are not necessarily bad. We all have parts of ourselves we don’t want others to see. Either we don’t like those parts ourselves or we believe they won’t be accepted by other people (or both). For example, a woman may have a difficult time trusting others. Perhaps there was time earlier in her life when she was betrayed or hurt by someone she trusted. She decides, maybe even unconsciously, to hide the part of herself that trusts people. Other examples of parts a person can put in to shadow are: insecurities, weaknesses, sin (lust, unforgiveness, malice), shyness, sadness, depression – anything about herself she wants to keep hidden. These parts go into shadow when we hide them or ignore them. When they are in shadow, they are not accessible to love, but the truth is: they are still parts of us. What I am suggesting is that loving these shadow parts is a way of truly loving yourself – all of yourself.

As the title of this post suggests, there are steps to this way of loving and the steps are not easy. So here we go.

The first step to loving yourself is AWARENESS – becoming aware of the parts of yourself you hide and deny. How can you become aware of things you are hiding and denying if they are hidden and being denied? There is a general rule of thumb you can use to identify these parts. You’re not going to like it, but here it is. The things you don’t like about yourself tend to be the things you don’t like in other people. When you see a speck of dust in someone’s eye, there is a good chance there is a plank in your eye made of the very same material. If you spot it you got it.

Think of a recent time somebody drove you crazy. It could be someone close to you who got on your nerves or it could be someone you’ve never met who did something to upset you. What are your judgements of that person? Is he inconsiderate? Is she selfish? Is he stupid? Is she mean? Is he bad? Is she weak? Pay attention to the judgements. Once you identify your judgements of him or her, ask yourself: “How are those judgements about me?” In other words, where in your life are you inconsiderate or selfish or believe that you’re stupid or weak?

When you can do this, you begin to identify the parts of you you do not like. You become aware.

Once you become aware, then what do you do? The second step to loving yourself is ACCEPTANCE – accepting that these parts of you you don’t like are truly part of you. Freedom can be experienced when a person can stop hiding these parts and actually begin to accept them. This is counter-intuitive to our culture. We live in a world of air brushed models, cropped out pictures and Facebook lives (posting only what I want you to see). We are taught at an early age to not let the flaws show.

Accepting these parts is not an exercise in self-pity; nor is it meant to be used as an excuse for bad behavior and poor choices. When I begin to accept the parts of me that have not previously been accepted,

  • I can learn more about myself. These parts have something to offer me. What can I learn from them?
  • I start to get in touch with my brokenness. I learn that it’s okay to have flaws and for people to see them. As a result, I am aware of my need for Jesus.
  • I grow less dependent on the approval of others in order to feel good about myself.
  • I become a more authentic person.

For me, one of the parts that I denied about myself was the part that got angry. I learned early on in life that people get hurt by anger and believed all anger was bad. So when I would get angry I would stuff it. On the inside I could be angry with someone and on the outside be smiling and saying everything was fine. I denied anger so well that I didn’t even know I was angry. Through some personal work, I started giving myself permission to get angry – to feel it – not deny it. I started paying attention to my anger. I began noticing it. Then I realized people would get hurt when I didn’t express my anger. There were times when it needed to be out in front of me in order for me to stand up for me or my family. By accepting my anger I was able to feel and access my God-given power in anger.

Awareness and acceptance are the first two steps in this process of loving yourself. Next week we will look at the last 2 steps. In the meantime, read the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

  • What are some parts of yourself you wish you could change?
  • What are some parts of yourself you don’t think other people would like if they knew those parts of you?
  • Ask God to make you aware of what you hide and deny about yourself.
  • What parts of yourself are difficult for you to accept?
  • What is at risk for you to accept those parts?