According to Greek mythology, Narcissus, the son of a god and a nymph, was a man of such beauty that he fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water. Unable to move on, or to obtain what he saw, he wasted away and died there, longing to possess his own image.
It seems like a bit of a cautionary tale for our time. We live in an age which is image-obsessed. From the ubiquitous ‘selfie’, to the idealised selves we capture and share on social media, we are immersed in a ‘look at me’ culture’, where an entitled ‘I’m worth it’ attitude is pervasive, and even celebrated.
Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that good things should happen to you. I do believe ‘you’re worth it’, by the very fact that we are all human beings, a gift which needs to be honoured and respected.
But when we talk about loving yourself, looking after yourself, and honouring who you are – in the light cast by this culture of narcissism around us, that can be misread as a negative. Who are you to put yourself first? That’s selfish!
But true self-love is not selfish love. It is not narcissistic “selfie-love”, as I call it – it is self-acceptance.
And that means accepting not just the good bits – the strengths, the parts we’re proud of – but accepting all of it; the light and the shade.
It’s easy to love the good bits – just like it’s easy to love that perfectly coiffed image of yourself, or the carefully edited highlights of your life online
But we all have that shadow part of ourselves – the emotion we dislike, the trait we reject, the emotional baggage we haven’t dealt with.
You can try to ignore it, run away from it, supress it, not look at it– but it will still be there. You can even push it right down into your subconscious – but that’s where it starts to eat away at you, to deplete you, impacting wellbeing and ultimately even physical health. I see a lot of women who, in their 40s and 50s, start to realise that this emotional baggage ultimately shows up in our bodies.
Trying to love the bad bits is really hard – but unless we learn to look at them, to name them, and to accept them as part of our whole, they will rule us.
As Jung put it: ‘Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.’
The good news is you can start to be aware, start to engage. You can do the work to bring to light what is being kept hidden, to look at it, and be with it.
That work can involve breath work, mindfulness, EFT tapping techniques – or it can simply be experiencing and noticing without judgement. Start by noticing what feels painful or difficult? What are you running away from? What makes you feel ashamed?
Don’t try to airbrush who you are. See it all! You are more than your edited highlights, and only by acknowledging and embracing every part of you, can you know what self-love and self-acceptance means.
Remember – you’re worth it!