“It’s all about self-love, baby!” I can still hear those words pouring out of my ox sized buddy at one of our men’s retreats. There, through processes designed to open us to personal growth, we frequently cracked open an egg that sits in most men – and women, for that matter – somewhere deep inside us is a hidden belief that we are unlovable and unworthy.

So many men who came to our retreats had the same story. It was my story too. Somewhere in our distant youth we had experienced events that we told ourselves stories about their meaning. Out there in the world we experienced our interactions with our primary caretakers where they did something, usually unconsciously, that told us we were not loved unconditionally.

For men of my age, our fathers were products of the “greatest generation” – those men of World War II and the Great Depression – men who had had to “buck it up and be a man”. That tough exterior attitude often got so internalized in our fathers that they could not open their hearts outwardly to their sons. I can still remember a good friend of mine sobbing uncontrollably as he admitted that his father had never told him that he loved him. Although that was not my experience, it was all too frequent an occurrence among men friends of mine. These patterns generally had the unintended consequence of the young boy believing he was not loved. That belief created further unintended consequences as the young boy grew into manhood.

In my book, Be Yourself, I detail the story of my family’s move away from the city of my birth where my first primary caretaker had been my nanny. Only years later did I realize how much pain I internalized both from this separation as well as my perception that my parents considered it unimportant. They meant no harm and like most parents were doing the best they could.

In the past 10 years or so, I have worked with so many men and women who tell the same basic story. The details may vary, but the outcome is always the same. We are born into this life. Something happens. We tell ourselves a story about its meaning. We develop a negative belief about ourselves. Generally the belief has something to do with our being unworthy and unlovable. We bury the belief so deeply we don’t know it’s there. It then shows up in other ways in our beliefs and actions that limit our full expression of our lives.

In some ways, this pattern is normal and understandable. Our human nature causes us as babies to develop what psychologists call a “theory of mind”– the ability to attribute mental states to ourselves and others. There is a “me” somewhere inside this physical form, and there is a “you” inside all the people that I meet. I know what I thinking. From your words and actions, I believe I know what you are thinking.

Evolutionary theorists conjecture that this human ability developed so as to allow us to fit in socially with groups and to attract mates. If I can determine in my awareness what your needs are and then match my behavior to that, then you will like me, allow me to stay around, protect me and love me. I am safe and get to live longer and produce more children.

The downside of this ability is that frequently we internalize stories which may not be accurate. We may experience events – such as the loss of my nanny – and then tell ourselves that others don’t love us and we are not important. If the events are strong enough or experienced frequently enough, then the young child begins to believe that they are unlovable.

That’s a tough belief to be conscious of so we typically bury it in the subconscious. But it doesn’t sit there idly doing nothing. Instead, it flavors other beliefs and actions. We may develop a tough exterior and prevent ourselves from ever being vulnerable or intimate with others. We may push ourselves to excel and achieve at high levels to demonstrate our competence. We may hold back from pursuing our dreams out of fear of failure or concerns about incompetence. We may move from one relationship to another, continuously looking for the love we were denied as a child.

Our methods of self suffering are infinite. Our method of healing is singular. As my friend used to loudly proclaim, “it’s all about self-love, baby!”

In the August 2013 issue of Science of Mind magazine, author Don Miguel Ruiz states, “unconditional love always begins with one’s self. I cannot give what I don’t have. If I don’t love myself unconditionally, I cannot love anybody else unconditionally.” He adds that we are all artists and creators, that we are always creating – and that that love we seek is within us being created continuously if only we can perceive it.

So how do we reverse the pattern? How do we heal the hidden belief that we are unlovable and unworthy? How do we tap into that unlimited source of love within us and direct it towards ourselves – not in a narcissistic way but in a way that allows that distant child to create a different belief?

Much has been written about tips and techniques for developing self-love. Here’s a link to one from the Psychology Today website which may be useful to you. However ultimately we are called to the following steps:

  • Exploring our past events and bringing the subconscious into the conscious.
  • Forgiving ourselves and others for their role in the creation of these events and beliefs.
  • Recognizing the gift we have been given in this opportunity to heal.
  • Recognizing that the child who created the beliefs still lies within us.
  • Reminding that child frequently that it is loved and loveable.

For most of us, our belief that we are unlovable was developed and reinforced over many years. The reversal of that belief will not occur overnight. It will take time and continuous reminding that inner child within us that it came here to earth perfect, whole, complete and lovable.

There are no limits to the joy you can experience in life. There are no limits to your expression of your true abilities. There are no limits to the love you can give and receive. To live the highest possibility for your life, you must begin by loving yourself.

A few years ago one of my spiritual teachers passed along this wonderful affirmation: “you’re just going to have to love me because I’m so lovable!”

I might add – I’m just going to have to love me because I’m so lovable!

By the way – so are you! It’s all about self-love, baby!

Mark Gilbert

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Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!