No one loves you like the way you do.
It took me thirty-four years to realize that searching for love from outside of myself was futile. After years of searching in the wrong places, I was able to access an endless flow of unconditional love.
What was the most surprising thing I learned throughout this searching process? That unconditional love cannot be found anywhere but inside of ourselves.
Growing up, my family had so much love to offer, but I struggled to see it. I was always wondering why my dad kept telling silly dad jokes instead of hugging me? Why did my mom shower me with so much good food instead of just telling me she loved me? I didn’t get the love I wanted, so this made me search for it in other places. I thought if I just gave so much love to the world, it would eventually love me back.
In intimate relationships, I showered my partners with love. But I wasn’t loving my romantic partners for being who they are. I was just addicted to feeling loved in a certain way. I wanted a certain intensity of attention, a specific form of passion, a special texture of tenderness. And they were seeking their own attachment in me, too. These attachments thrived in painful passion and co-dependence. But that was not love. I moved from one relationship to another, thinking the next person would finally fulfill what I defined as love.
Until I met this guy who grew up in a family with an abundance of love. His love was overflowing and stable. His vision for an unconventional future made life feel exciting and hopeful. One afternoon on a river rock, I asked him to marry me. We made a pinky promise, with a beanie baby as our witness. A few months later, we got married. I was confident I had found myself a lifetime warranty of love.
After we got married, I embarked on a career change and started experimenting with writing online, podcasting, and running an online course. But creating in public was not easy. I struggled with impostor syndrome and self-sabotage in both my work and my personal life. My stomach was tumbling every time I published my writing. The dark angel on my shoulder whispered that I didn't deserve to interview the guest who I thought was more creative than me. Every time I reached a milestone in my business, I wanted to burn it to the ground so that I could continue to be my small but familiar self.
My partner was way further down the creator path than me. He saw the potential and creativity in me that I was blind to see. He didn’t believe in any of the lies my imposter self tried to tell me. Whenever I was tempted to give up, he pushed me one step forward. This made me want to escape my marriage so I didn’t have to be the courageous person my partner believed me to be. I had and achieved everything I wanted, but deep down I was miserable. I knew I needed to make a change. That’s how I started to seek an answer.
It was through journaling and hundreds of hours in solitude that I started to reconnect with my heart. I tried many things but the internal family systems (IFS) framework helped me the most. IFS claims that when we are growing up, we develop different parts of ourselves to help protect us from situations we don’t have the resources to solve. For example, our inner child may try to protect us from rejection through self-sabotage. Through IFS, I was able to identify different parts of me that were formed through my childhood to early adulthood. And I started to see the root cause of all these problems.
It was me, the little Angie.
The first time I saw her in my meditation, she was hiding in the dark. She was sitting on the floor, with her head down and arms wrapped around her knees. She didn’t want to talk to me. With lots of practice, I started to see her more clearly. She wore a red corduroy shirt with white flowers on the collar, and a cyan dress on top of the shirt. Her hair was braided into two pigtails. She was very grumpy, and upset.
“What do you want?” I asked her.
She resisted answering. After all, with all the years of being ignored in the corner of my heart, how could I expect her to talk to me like I was always there for her? But another courageous voice told me “Don’t give up yet.” I felt scared. But I kept trying. I walked around, sat with her in silence, pretended to keep my eyes closed, and meditated next to her. Then, with tenderness, patience, sincerity, and vulnerability, I invited her to sit next to me. I gently tapped her tiny hands with my index finger. She raised her head, looking into my eyes.
“I just want your love,” she said with reluctance.
That was it. All these years, I was seeking love from others when all she really wanted, and what I really needed, was love from myself. I was so skilled at making people feel loved. But I was not courageous enough to believe that I was capable of loving myself.
What came after this realization was grief, denial, acceptance, and forgiveness. I was mad that I had not given myself enough love and that I didn’t recognize how much courage I had for all the radical life changes I made. But eventually, I accepted that I had tried my best to walk my own path. I’ve also understood that my parents and my partner had tried their best to love me with all they can and that they too, had their inner child that needed their love. Recognizing this, I knew I was fully responsible for all my emotions and actions.
Realizing that I had all the resources and capacity to love myself, I stopped seeking recognition from outside when imposter syndrome hijacked me. When I caught myself haunted by the desire to escape my intimate relationship, I paused and asked myself what part of me felt neglected? How could I give it the specific shape of love it needed? What type of care and attention does it need? What emotionally difficult questions did I avoid asking?
I knew I needed to take a step back and asked these questions when I overreacted to a trivial thing with irrational emotion. When my partner complimented me on a courageous action and came up with more ideas on moving my business forward, I asked myself why I felt humiliated instead of encouraged. Oh! I saw that little Angie was told she was not good enough because she got an A not A+ in her school exam. I gave her a warm hug and told her I am thankful for her desire to protect me. She gently nodded her head and accepted that my partner just wanted the best for me.
From Scarcity to Thriving
When I learned to give myself love, I started to see my life as abundant, not scarce. I finally saw with clarity how much my parents always loved me, and understood how much admiration and love my partner had for me. I turned from seeing life as something to be fixed to doing things that helped me thrive and flourish. I used to spend all my free time learning and reading because I wanted to become “a better version of me” that deserved more love. Now I know how to be present. I allow myself to rest and enjoy a random walk with no purpose because I have all the resources and capacity to love myself.
I am already worthy of love because of who I am.
Just like love is hard to define, self-love can mean many different things for different people in different situations. Sometimes it means setting boundaries, saying no to people, and spending time in solitude. Other times it means taking action, building close friendships, and being part of something larger than yourself. Stop doing the things that drained your energy. Pursuing things that make you feel alive, flourishing, and thriving.
How do you know what parts of you are reacting? How do you know what cares you need, what actions to take?
Keep a daily journal. As you write, you will find yourself stopping lying about the feelings you have. Desires that need to be fulfilled and actions that needed to be executed will come up over and over again until you can no longer ignore them. Try to identify different parts of yourself. Give them a character. Talk to them. Ask them what they need to do to make them feel loved. The part of you that is scared of taking action is called the tiny you. The part of you that is courageous and gets things done is the warrior you. The part of you that knows your value and owns the power of creation is the true you. Make them talk to each other. Only they know what is going on inside you.
Trust yourself that you already have all the power and resources you need to love yourself. And only YOU can provide the exact love you need.