My Journey Inward: The Path to Self-Love
By Mandie Renner
To build something new, you must first tear down the old. This is true with construction of any kind, including inner work. Moving from the belief that “I am not enough,” “I am unlovable,” “I hate myself”… to a belief of “I am enough,” “I am worthy of love,” and “I love myself” is not for the faint of heart.
My journey has been, and continues to be, a long, arduous path filled with gains and losses, ups and downs, joys and sorrows. My journey has brought me up front and in the arena with my pain, anger, doubt, and sadness. And it has been a journey, deconstructing old beliefs, only to build something far greater than what I could have previously imagined.
Repeat after me: “I love myself.” Say it again, “I love myself.” Do you believe that statement? Do those words feel like they fit? What does your inner dialogue currently sound like? Are you aware of how you speak to yourself when you’re not paying attention? This, and other statements like this, were not something I would have said or believed just a couple of months ago.
The first time I began practicing affirmations such as “I love myself,” they felt like foreign territory. It felt like a shirt that didn’t fit. The statement made me physically uncomfortable. My palms would sweat when I would say the affirmation aloud. If I was practicing in front of a mirror, I couldn’t look myself in the eye. My heart would race because these three small words, “I love myself,” felt like a lie. It was a statement that was unknown and uncharted by my everyday internal dialogue.
What I soon realized was that the thoughts that occupied valuable space in my mind were not in alignment with affirmations such as “I love myself.” The predominant, repetitive thoughts that I unconsciously allowed to take up residence in my mind were filled with anger, regret, and self-judgement. Thoughts along this energetic line felt comfortable to me, felt cozy and like home. I didn’t know any of this at the time. However, I quickly became aware that when your attention is placed on your ego, it can be much stronger than you expect.
Like many of you, I experienced trauma in my life as a child. Mine came in the form of a bipolar and prescription-addicted mother, combined with a depressed, alcoholic, abusive father. I was raised to live life based upon my external circumstances — reacting to what was happening around me, not what was happening within me. So, I went to school, did my homework, got a job, got married, and had children. I did all this while never questioning a deeper meaning to my experiences, emotions, relationships, or my life. I achieved what others expected of me, what would classify me as the ‘good’ girl, without putting much thought into what I wanted to create.
In my childhood home, I was taught victimization — not verbally, but by watching those around me become victims of their choices and self-created circumstances. I became very angry that I didn’t have the childhood that I thought I deserved. I was angry that I didn’t feel loved or valued in my home or in the world. I was angry that alcohol, drugs, and mental disorders had robbed me of my parents and of a loving family. I was angry at the world and at myself.
Through the growing thought and emotion of anger, I had unknowingly cut off communication between my small self (ego) and my bigger Self (soul). Like my parents, I became a victim of my conditions and circumstances, not recognizing that there was always a choice in every moment. There was a choice to stay the same, staying small and victimized. And there was another choice available to me — to go within, to feel, and to respond. At the time, my anger felt justified, and paved the way for many more negative beliefs about myself, my worthiness, and my lovability which greatly impacted my relationships with my parents, friends, husband, and children — all in different, but negative ways.
In 2013, fate guided me to attend a community group meditation. This one-hour meditation laid the foundation for the conscious journey back to my Self and led me to a local metaphysical school. On my first day of class, I quickly realized that this education was like no school I had ever attended before. I was studying the mind. My mind. I began witnessing others move in the world. I saw them creating on big levels and I witnessed several of them failing in big ways. I watched as they would accept this failure as learning, forgive themselves and others for mistakes that had been made, and accept themselves more fully through the process. This was an important step in my soul evolution. For the first time, I had before me reflections of individuals that were guiding me towards opening myself to grace, forgiveness, acceptance, and ultimately a greater connection between myself and the Creator.
I began thinking about where thoughts come from, how I thought, what I thought, and how to experience more presence and stillness. I began asking questions like “Where did I come from and why?” I was introduced to the concepts of concentration, visualization, dream interpretation, and meditation. The weekly classes were designed to build upon each previous class, bringing one’s awareness and attention into the present moment. This occurred week after week, going deeper and deeper within.
I began learning how to listen to my Self, observing my thoughts, learning which thoughts to listen to and acknowledging which thoughts were in need of change. I didn’t know this at the time, but I was continually moving my attention inward, directed towards emotional healing and self-awareness. I was learning how to use and improve self-discipline and self-centeredness.
I was learning how to truly love and accept myself as an extension of the divine Creator. I was learning what self-love was and looked like for me. I had only understood self-love to be acts such as taking a bath or a nap when I was tired. I had heard this advice many times from others — “take a bath” — and although it felt nice and relaxing, I still got out of the bathtub feeling the same amount of self-judgment I had felt before I got in the bath in the first place!
As my attention moved deeper inward, I began to recognize that the love I was beginning to experience within had always been present. What had changed was my perspective. I noticed that I spoke to myself in a softer voice. I chose the thoughts and messages I was bringing into my field whether it be with people, radio, or television.
As the spiritual teacher Rumi says, I began to see that “what I was seeking was also seeking me.” I craved the opportunities to recognize and receive love from others and from my Self. I began to see that the love that I had craved was always available, omnipresent, waiting on me to allow the love to enter into my heart. This was and is a daily practice that gets me closer every day to my true essence of divine love and belonging. Here is my process.
I experienced immediate results through the practice of concentration. The average person is unaware of the majority of thoughts that move through their mind. When I began, I noticed that my thoughts ran me, and I would typically follow any and all thoughts that would enter my mind; being led down an often-unproductive mental path. It wasn’t until I understood concentration, stillness, and presence that I was able to acknowledge the painful self-talk and self-judgement I had chosen. Stillness of mind gave me an entry point to understand and see how my mind operated. As long as I was unaware of my thoughts, I remained a victim of them. However, practicing presence through concentration in everyday activities has revealed an internal world that I didn’t have access to prior — and that I now see as pivotal to consciousness.
After practicing concentration, I now knew that I had a continuous stream of thoughts occurring around the clock. I began observing those thoughts and I observed my physical, emotional, and mental reactions to them. I noticed patterns of self-doubt and condemnation, and I noticed that it didn’t feel good. I also became aware that I wanted to create and experience something different. By slowing down my thoughts enough to observe them, I began to notice that more thoughts of doubt would arise at work… fear and unlovability were tightly enmeshed within my relationships and motherhood… and it became clear that shame, anger, and victimhood clouded my childhood memories, including the good ones.
As soon as I could see my thoughts, I had a choice to make. I had to choose between staying the same or creating change, growth, and expansion. I slowly began replacing the old, outdated thoughts that were based on a seven-year old’s limited life experience, with the updated perspective and experiences of an adult. I had been taught that thoughts are things that manifest and I was beginning to see the energetic impact that my thoughts had created in my body, relationships, and life. I added a meditation practice to my evolving concentration practice. These investments in my Self were beginning to pay off with a newfound perspective of lovability and worthiness.
I began to make rituals out of acts of self-love. There are many ways to express self-love that are not limited to the following list. However, these suggestions worked for me. I have divided the “self-love actions” into three categories of Physical, Mental, and Emotional support. However, I also truly believe that “thought is cause,” which would lead you to believe that all of these affect thought, which in turn, will affect your belief and embodiment of your own lovability.
- I began physically slowing down; honoring presence and stillness. I practiced truly receiving the present moment.
- Not only was I physically slowing down, but I chose to mentally slow down too. Presence has a way of slowing your physical movements and thoughts. I began regularly cleansing, freeing my energy from physical digestion to devote to the spiritual connection between presence and the physical.
- I began using affirmations that I would repeat throughout the day. This changed my thoughts and changed the overused mental pathways that had been created long ago. You could say that I updated my database with new, loving expressions and experiences.
- I began meditating religiously. This practice did not come naturally at first and I often judged myself for “not doing it right.” However, I pressed on, trusting that something was going to come of this practice. I now see this practice as essential. It is a time to acknowledge, honor, and accept the love that is. It is a time to listen to my innermost voice, to reconnect with my true Self. It is a time for calmness, balance, receptivity, and peace.
- Through my studies, I had learned about dream interpretation. Dreams are a nightly communication from your soul to your waking mind. They are essentially a report of learning, growth, and opportunity. I cherish these nightly messages and use them to guide me daily.
- Visualization has become a vital instrument to create! Rather than remain a victim of circumstance, I visualize daily what opportunities and creations I would like to experience. This can be done through vision boards, affirmations, or through a mental exercise of imaging what you would like to attract. Try it!
- I cannot say enough about professional counseling and therapy. In my experience, the therapy that has been most effective has been a combination of cognitive therapy and neuro-emotional release—with the purpose of getting to a causal point of any trauma or emotion. The blockage can then energetically be released. Space dedicated to healing has opened my mind and heart in ways that I didn’t know how to create on my own. This has been a lifeline that I have accessed every single week for many years now. I am grateful every day to have someone that can receive my thoughts and aid me in creating new, healthy structures in thought.
- Setting boundaries was not something that I have had much experience with prior to learning how to properly love my Self. But I am here to shout from the mountaintops, that my ability to be open-hearted and experience more love in my life directly related to creating and acting upon healthy boundaries. I encourage you to read work by Brené Brown for more information on boundaries and whole-hearted living.
- Lastly, vulnerability. My experience with vulnerability is this: the more vulnerable I can be with another, the greater opportunity I have to know my true Self. Brené Brown is also a great resource for learning more and leaning more into the juicy center of vulnerability.
The journey to my true Self has been tough, but it has also been well worth it. The reward is in the peace of mind I feel, it is in the emotional strength I carry, and it is in the freedom that I experience in mind and body. I would encourage anyone interested in truly knowing their Self to practice presence by slowing down, to consider therapy, and to try on a few positive affirmations, because thoughts are things that manifest in your life. What do you want to create?
Mandie Renner lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is both a teacher and student at the School of Metaphysics (SOM). After years of moving deeply inward, she remains excited about learning more about herself and others.
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This article appears in: 2020 Catalyst, Issue 11: Mindfulness & Meditation Summit