Dr Peggy Marshall

Love Yourself First

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
? Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness


The instructions from the flight crew when traveling on a plane include putting the oxygen mask on ourselves first then on any children that are traveling with us.  That is the same suggestion I would make to you only I would replace the oxygen mask with love and compassion.  Lorne Ladner in The Lost Art of Compassion states “you must have compassion for yourself before you can have genuine compassion for others.”  In other words, your compassion for others and the experiences that others are going through must be directed towards yourself and begins with your ability to release yourself from unrealistic expectations of perfection and begin to love and accept who you are right now.  Unfortunately, many of us reserve kindness, caring and compassion for others yet when we have an experience where those qualities apply to our own situation we quickly let them go.

How do we love ourselves first?  We must acknowledge ourselves “warts” and all.  In Emotional Agility, Susan David shares that the very compassion we extend to others has to be extended to ourselves.  She likens our warts to demons that lurk below the surface and when we spend time trying to suppress our demons we take valuable time away from energizing those actions that will take us forward towards our goals and dreams.  Think about it.  If you were asked to write down all the things that you love about yourself along with a list of things that you find unlovable, which list would be longer?  I thought so.

The list of unlovable things about yourself becomes your list of demons ala David.  When we can name our demons, we can make friends with them and while they still remain within our consciousness we are not expending extra energy to hide them.  I once had a leader tell me that “you have a lot of blind spots, too”.  He was frustrated with me about something I was about to do but it struck me as funny.  I responded, “I know”.  Interestingly, there is an exercise in coaching we use called the “Johari window” which separates behaviors into four groups: behaviors known to us and others; behaviors know only to us; and behaviors known to others but not us; and behaviors neither group can see.  I often wonder about the energy we expend in trying to hide what we perceive as flaws in the quadrant of behaviors known only to us as it can be exhausting.  Unfortunately, not much is hidden anymore so the best route to feeling mentally healthy and good about ourselves is to recognize that they exist, name them and move on.

What is the biggest challenge to recognizing, naming and moving on?  Most of us have lived with the belief that there is something wrong with having any “warts” so we want to keep them from exposure.  Yet others in our lives have become so accustomed to projecting their own flaws and shortcomings on to us that we sometimes accept them as our own.  When someone is unable to recognize that they are projecting their own issues on to others, it keeps both individuals locked in a dance where both individuals are feeling inadequate.  A great exercise for you to do is to reflect upon what you have been told about your “warts”.  Consciously identifying where the “warts” came from and then being able to release the belief about the “warts” becomes the first step in healing.  This requires great courage but is a necessary step to moving on in pursuit of your dreams.

Once we have identified where the source of our beliefs about our “warts” is, David offers that individuals with high life satisfaction can extend self-compassion to themselves on a regular basis.  They can forgive themselves for mistakes while at the same time taking history and context into the evaluation of the situation prior to judging themselves.  It is this release of judgment that creates the environment to forgive ourselves while extending compassion at the same time.  At some point, we have to acknowledge that what we did or what is happening-just is.  We don’t have to change it, modify it, or make it better.  It happened and now it is time to move on.  As David points out “we cannot change what we can’t accept.”

I have a client whose mother is constantly reminding her of past mistakes.  No mistake has an expiration date, rather when my client tries to move beyond past decisions which didn’t lead to the best outcomes her mother is quick to remind her of those decisions.  I have learned over the years and coached my client to the fact that when others are quick to point out past mistakes or transgressions, the issue is more with the person who is doing the pointing.  My client’s point of power has been to not engage with her mother about her past and to stay focused on her future.  She also exhibits high life satisfaction which connects back to realizing that it is human to make mistakes and what matters most is the ability to accept them as part of life and move on.

Having self-compassion helps us to move beyond guilt and allows for the opportunity to apologize or make amends in whatever way feels right to us.  It helps us to recognize the humanness of our experiences and understand that we will make mistakes but it is our responsibility to move on from them without wallowing in them.  As you move forward this month, take some time to reflect upon those “flaws” you think you need to hide from others and decide if it is time to let go.  If you do decide to let go, please surround yourself with others who will support you in your process and not those individuals who will impede your journey.

To Your Success!

Dr. Peggy