Does taking a bubble bath mean you love yourself? What about eating healthy meals and going to the gym? Over the years since my divorce, I've learned that self-love goes deeper than skin exfoliation and drinking lemon water.
And while I always appreciate getting a massage or going for a walk in nature, the path toward loving myself has been more about self-acceptance and forgiveness than external actions.
For a long time after my husband left, I kept questioning what was wrong with me that made him cheat. Why wasn't I good enough to make him happy? I felt that way from years of living in a pattern of giving away my power, and feeling responsible for my husband's emotions.
I believe I loved him more than I loved myself. His opinion of me meant more to me than my own beliefs about myself—and that does not create a healthy relationship dynamic.
If I don't love and accept myself, it's not possible for anyone to honor me with more respect than I am capable of giving to myself.
It took me many years to realize that his cheating, his anger, and his actions had everything to do with him and nothing to do with me. His infidelity did not mean I was a bad person or a failure as a spouse.
I know now that, while I may feel hurt by things people do, I no longer internalize them as something flawed or wrong with me. I think that is one of the greatest gifts I've received from learning to love myself.
I had to start by forgiving my own trespasses, my own indiscretions, my own lies I'd believed about myself. I had to learn how to hold myself in compassionate comfort—not disdain—for the nights of drinking away my pain and the days of believing I was a failure in life because my husband decided I wasn't good enough.
I started to love myself by being kinder with my own thoughts. I often asked: How would I talk to my 5-year-old self if she was feeling hurt? Would I scream at her that she's worthless? Criticize her for being stupid? Or would I put my arm around her, offer her comfort, and let her know how sorry I am that she was in emotional pain?
We can't believe we are undeserving of love and expect to heal, and not repeat the same pattern of attracting people into our lives who will prove our belief to us—that we aren't worthy.
We can't believe I am nothing, I am a failure, and expect to be at peace with ourselves. We can't condemn ourselves for our past choices and decisions, and expect to learn and grow into wiser, more evolved selves.
Getting a massage or drinking fermented Kombucha isn't going to penetrate the deep negative beliefs we hold about ourselves. But once we get to a place of self-acceptance and love, those self-care massages, mental health days, walks in the woods, and Epsom salt baths are incredibly powerful—because we truly feel deserving of caring for the self, the soul, the very essence of our being.
While it is important to have a self-care practice when you're going through a divorce, it's vital to get to the root of why you berate yourself, and how you shame and blame yourself. Loosen those unkind, rejection-based thoughts and beliefs. Replace them with those that are positive, kind, and loving.
By making this a practice, over time, it will be impossible to go back to old condemning patterns—and that is when life can feel deliciously nurturing.