Here’s how “learning to love yourself more” as a basis for successful relationships is doomed right from the start.
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See the author’s TEDx Talk on Creating Extraordinary Intimacy in a Shut Down World
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Imagine for a moment the possibility that the language we use to express love, caring and affection for others, or even ourselves, sets us up for relationship failure. That the very words and the meaning behind them imply a false reality that simply does not exist. And that relationship and personal acceptance struggle is a result of attempting to navigate within that landscape that is no more than smoke and mirrors. Now, if you are feeling a bit adventurous, stay with me here because we are about to go down the rabbit hole…
“I’m learning to love myself.”
My Life Partner and I recently attended a free three-hour “mini-workshop” on love and intimacy put on by an organization who has been doing this for many years. The group that showed up consisted of mostly singles and a few couples. As she and I sat there silently and just observed, we noticed something interesting almost from the start. With a warm and expressive smile, the workshop leader invited everyone in the room to risk just a bit of vulnerability and share who they were and why they chose to attend.
One of the more prominent themes that arose out of that first exercise was the need to learn to love one’s self more. When this came up, the workshop leader echoed her desire to work on the same issue, despite the fact she had been conducting these workshops for years. The idea being of course that you cannot successfully have a relationship with anyone until you love yourself. Sure, everyone “knows” that, right? It’s the very foundation of countless self-help and relationship books. Love 101. What if what is taught and generally accepted in “Love 101” is the equivalent of declaring the earth is flat? Where our eyes and common sense deceive us simply because we didn’t have the benefit of a higher-level perspective.
When we heard that expression “I need to learn to love myself more.” it almost didn’t compute. That’s because my Partner and I live, work, and breathe every moment within a very different languaging context where the phrase “I love myself” makes no sense whatsoever. A context where the terms “I”, “you”, “me”, “myself” have considerably different meanings than what most people associate with. An extremely empowering context that enables us to have a relationship that only grows deeper and more fulfilling over time even after years of being together. A context that instantly eliminates relationship drama, conflict and struggle with self-acceptance.
Edwin Abbot was a turn-of-the-century English clergyman and scholar who wrote the book “Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions”. His original intent was to strikingly comment about the hierarchy of the then prevalent Victorian culture. However, it’s clever narrative has since been used throughout the years to also illustrate the limitations of personal perspective.
The characters and settings within Flatland were all two-dimensional as if drawn on a piece of paper. If a Flatlander “Being” found themselves within a circle or some other closed figure, they were essentially cut off from the rest of their world with no hope of escape or even knowing what was beyond those boundaries. Yet it is trivial for any three-dimensional entity to easily transcend those limitations because they are able to see and experience Flatland from a higher perspective, as it were.
And this is how it is for most people when they use the term “I” to refer to “themselves” (whatever that means). Here’s an example dialog that could be had between someone who lives in relationship Flatland and a Being seeing things with the benefit of an added dimension:
Flatlander: “I need to learn to love myself more.”
Being: “Who needs to love you more?”
Flatlander: “I do.”
Being: “Who is ‘I’?”
Flatlander: “What do you mean who is ‘I’, it’s me!”
Being: “Is that really ‘you’, or is it your Ego, a ‘self’ that only exists in thought?”
At this point, Flatlander is totally confused because “they” have no context or frame of reference outside “their” own. “They” are literally trapped within the walls of “their” limited thinking (quotes used for emphasis of misdirected self-reference).
Ego as a Mind-made Construct
Consider for the moment the possibility (not saying it’s true) that ego, that incessant internal chatter which most people identify as who “they” are, is a construct of mind that is an emergent epiphenomenon of the neural net we call the brain. That its primary purpose is survival. Survival of its physical “host” from which it was born and anything threatening its existential sense of Being. The merging of these two needs, protecting the host and its own existence forms the basis for most if not all relationship issues, in addition to many, if not all, problems with society.
For example, unresolved childhood wounding is often cited as one of the primary causes of individual and relationship breakdown. Yet, in light of this other context, it begs the question of who or what was actually wounded and why was “wounding” the result of whatever happened? Is it possible that ego is what feels wounded, implying some level of not being lovable (otherwise, using the logic of the ego, why would someone hurt them)? And, in the earlier stages of our evolution, not being loved meant you would be shunned and abandoned, which was almost always a death sentence.
Ego Negotiating with Itself
So, within this new proposed context of ‘we are not our egos’, striving to “love myself” is just an attempt of the ego to come to terms with its wounding. A kind of self-referential “I’m Okay, you’re Okay” where “I’m” and “you’re” are the same false entity. In Relationship Flatland that is equivalent to busting through the imprisoning walls which, by definition, cannot be done without the help of a higher-level perspective. This is an example of the inherent inability of language to solve all problems within the very system (or context) from which it originated. There are some problems that can only be solved from a more encompassing system or context.
Higher-level Perspective of the Heart
Taking this train of thought one step further necessitates identifying the possible higher-level perspective, that if adopted, would make solving personal, relationship and even societal issues almost trivial. What my Partner and I subscribe to is the context or world-view, as it were, of:
We are Heart, not our ego. The Heart cannot be broken, hurt or damaged in any way. The Heart is never needy and is always in a state of unconditional giving and receiving love regardless of circumstances.
Clearly, “Heart” is a metaphor for our true essence that has no physical form, is timeless and indestructible. We chose to use the Heart symbolically in this way because it is the seat of emotional intelligence and intuition or “gut” feelings. It has also been scientifically documented that it has the ability to project a measurable electric field of its own with a radius of several feet from every individual.
Keep in mind this is a context, no more or less true than believing we are that voice in our heads. The question to consider is, which one is more empowering? As long as we are Human Beings with a neural-net for a brain we will never escape having an ego. It is what helped us so brilliantly survive and thrive all these eons. But now, its self-preservation hard-wiring threatens to destroy us all, not just our potential for feeling good about ourselves or fulfilling relationships. Greed, war, inequality, bigotry, hate, fear, anxiety, fascism and general lack of compassion for our fellow Beings is all due to the ego.
We can’t live without it, and we won’t survive as a species much longer if we don’t learn to transcend it. And the first step in that direction is being aware that it is not who we really are. We are all so, so much more; such magnificent Beings –each and every one of us.
Consider the possibility that the true language of love is Heart and that is all we need to remember.
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