Existential Psychology

Increasing Self-Love

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The standard Western strategy for dealing with feeling unlovable is to try to banish the feeling and then replace it with self-love through various external channels like popularity, achievement, power, or money. But there are two huge problems with this strategy.

The first huge problem is that ‘banishing’ the feeling usually means recurring to the psychological defense mechanisms of repression, projection, or both. With repression a discomfiting thought or feeling is buried in the unconscious. With projection a discomfiting thought or feeling is transferred to a person or structure in the external world. But when it comes to the psyche, that which is buried or transferred is never really lost, never really forgotten. While repression and projection do provide some temporary relief through disowning that which seems too painful to own, these thoughts and feelings never truly go away they simply become less accessible to conscious awareness. They operate from the shadows, they do their work under cover of darkness.

The second huge problem is that self-love needs to be generated from the inside out not the outside in. It can’t start with the desperate need for or scrambling after external validation in its various forms. Because whether conscious or not, even when external validation that could increase self-love is achieved it bumps up against and is easily repelled by those deep seated feelings of unlovability, feelings that have a firm, unwavering hold over the psyche. After all, they’ve never been adequately dealt with since they’re constantly repressed or projected precisely so that they don’t have to be dealt with.

So the paradox is that the path to increasing self-love is not trying to banish the feeling of unlovability but rather starting from a place of radical acceptance and non-judgment where those discomfiting thoughts and feelings are invited into conscious awareness rather than booted out of conscious awareness. It all starts with people giving themselves permission to admit how they feel about themselves. It all starts with having the courage to embrace that brokenness rather than recurring to those tempting psychological defense mechanisms. From a place of radical acceptance and non-judgment people tend to get really curious about how and why those feelings of unlovability were instilled. They start to look for the deeper sources of those deep seated feelings. They start challenging the authenticity of the unlovable narrative. We have found that increasing self-love is a natural outgrowth of that fearless journey of self-discovery.