Seashells and Coffee Cups: The Path to Self-Love and Compassion

In the classic holiday movie, “National Lampoons Christmas Vacation”, we witness a father, Clark, who is determined to create the perfect family Christmas. Unfortunately, his excessively high expectations result in nothing other than a complete fail. Clark loses it. The pressure of hosting the perfect holiday, coupled with financial worries and a bickering family, results in a total meltdown.

He feels defeated, angry and like a complete loser. Luckily, because the movie is a comedy, all ends well. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that we live in a world where we may experience a range of emotions, during the holidays, and on a daily basis, similar to Clark’s.

Competition, feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing are born from a lack of self-love and compassion. So why do we struggle with self-love? There could many reasons, some not even identifiable.

For many people, having love and compassion for yourself is synonymous with selfishness. However, self-love and selfishness are not even in the same category, so let’s throw that age-old concept out the door.

Others may think self-love is narcissistic. This is also untrue, as most narcissists are deeply wounded individuals who have little or no self-love. Instead of coming to terms with the imperfections of their true selves they have created an “ideal self”, or false persona, in which they are in love with.

So what is self-love and why is it so difficult to master?

What if you were walking down the street and you saw a person slip and fall on the ice? What would you do? What if you found a dog whimpering in pain from a wounded leg? What if you found a child who was lost?

I would hope that most of us would instinctively help anyone who was suffering or in pain. It’s the natural thing to do. Caring for yourself in this way, is the beginning of self-love. However, because humans tend to hold onto a lot of shame, most don’t believe they are deserving of love.

And so instead of offering the same forgiveness, compassion and love they would to most other people or animals, humans develop coping strategies to shift their shame toward someone or something else. These mechanisms may include blame, anger, belittling, judgement, hate, resentment, unhealthy behaviors, fault-finding, a need to always be right, lying, self-sacrifice, etc.

And let’s face it. Everyone has a shame-diverting strategy. For example, the one-cup coffee maker we bought our son for Christmas, didn’t work. We wasted four K-cups trying to get it to brew correctly. Nothing but hot water was coming out. He was very upset and I was ashamed that I didn’t get it right. And so I started blaming Target and the manufacturer for making a cheap product with a heavy price tag. I started feeling resentful that my husband had to work on Christmas and couldn’t help me figure this stupid coffee machine out. I even became angry with how superficial Christmas had become in general.

Time out. One little thing became a black-hole of self-loathing. We took three steps back and viewed the problem from a wider vantage point. There is a time for things to work. And there’s a time for things to be broken. This was a problem we could solve.

These everyday occurrences are small scale. But in general, the baggage we carry with us everyday, including regrets, mistakes, failures, abuse and trauma, can be heavy on the heart.

Self-love is the only path to healing.

Almost a year ago in January, my husband and I were walking on the beach in Belize. A little island girl was selling shells that she had written on with a crayon. I bought one from her. My shell had a heart on it with the words, “Love yourself".

I don’t think I could have received a clearer Universal sign if it had dropped from the sky. And so, nearly a year later, this has been one of my improvement projects. It has been difficult. And I have forgotten the message many times. I have come back to it. I have processed it. And slowly, I have found that self-love is a gift. It helps create healthy boundaries and choices, it promotes patience, understanding, self-acceptance for one's true self, love and compassion for others, and diffuses shame.

As our hearts open to ourselves, they open to others and the world. There are no longer sides. There are no longer divisions. The concept of winning and losing becomes null and void.

My favorite quote from the new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, was from Yoda. “The best teacher…failure is.”

When we mess up, instead of relying on a negative coping strategy, consider loving yourself and figuring out what lessons can be learned. Place your hand on your heart and allow.