Why is it so hard to love ourselves?

2011 January 8
by Tanya McGinnity

A blog post by Buddhist teacher and author Sharon Salzberg over at the Rebel Buddha blog speaks to the difficulty that the Dalai Lama experienced when he was asked a question by a Westerner about the concept of self-hatred – an idea that he had a difficult time grasping as it was such a foreign idea in his culture to think that someone endowed with the richness of basic goodness / Buddhanature could feel such loathing for themselves.

When you think of how pervasive this feeling is in our culture, it’s quite shocking. We don’t feel good enough. We feel like we don’t measure up to an ideal that we have set for ourselves. We beat ourselves up. But when it comes to putting others on a pedestal, it can be easy for us. We can love so easily. We can love so fiercely.

I remember so clearly to back to one of the first talks I had attended at the Halifax Shambhala Centre and being told that I was a good person who needed to start to cultivate love for myself. Zoinks! At first my usual sense of resistance took hold and I laughed off such hippy-dippy nonsense. Ooooh. Love yourself. Sure. Give myself a big old hug right there.

Then I started to mull it over and I felt awash with such an intense feeling of sadness. Sadness for myself. Why had I consistently been so hard on myself? Why didn’t I feel the love that I could devote to another with such ferocity right back at myself? Why didn’t I defend myself in situations where if the same things were happening to another, I would jump to protect them? Jeez. I had some work to do.

It’s remarkable that we can display such compassion and caring for others, but it’s important that this isn’t “idiot compassion”** or a compassion that lacks any degree of self-love or respect. Either of these flavours of compassion are sadly misguided and can result in harm both for the self as well as the recipient.

**For a complete and well-composed definition and description of idiot compassion, please read this blog post by Nella Lou over at the Smiling Buddha Cabaret blog.

Tonglen is the one of the best methods of developing a balanced sense of love for oneself as well as loosening up that sense of duality that takes hold and makes us feel so separate from one another. As someone who suffered with depression throughout my tumultuous teens and twenties, I found that spending some time focusing on generating compassion for myself was particularly useful in pulling me out of my funk. The negative self talk and chatter that takes hold for those prone to the mean reds can be also broke by extending compassion to others but I found that sending love to oneself in a balanced and non-ego tripping kind of way can do wonders to awaken a sense in us that we are worthy when we lack this sense of dignity.

Go on. Give yourself a big hug. Right now.

2 Responses
  1. nick permalink
    January 10, 2011

    thanks for this post. i have also experienced the feeling
    of sadness or, for me, astonishment at discovering how much love i
    don’t have for myself. why is it so hard to love myself? i’ve also
    had the experience that loving myself in face of the resistance,
    loving myself despite the voice that says “you don’t deserve this”
    or “why are you so weak” has the effect of giving me a much greater
    well of compassion to draw on for others. thanks again for
    discussing this!

    • Tanya McGinnity permalink*
      January 24, 2011

      Hey Nick.

      Whoo ha I hear you there. It was such a sad feeling when I realized that I was suffering so much as a part of not having love or respect for myself, but I was able to devote myself fully to another person without this kind of blockage. Such a strange feeling when we human-folk feel so unlovable or loathsome when really we are so much bigger, smarter and aweseomer than we think.

      Thanks for the comment.

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