As a kid, I used to think that love is a feeling. I love you if I feel something in my body when I see you or spend time with you or think of you. As I grow older, I see that this is merely attraction or mystical response between human beings, which we can define as "love" as a feeling but not "love" as a verb. If love is just a feeling, it confuses a lot of people on how they can possibly love themselves as an action. From all the literature that I have read, the best framework for understanding how to love a person - whether it is yourself or someone else - is the 5As by David Richo from his book "How To Be An Adult in Relationships": Attention, Acceptance, Appreciation, Affection and Allowing.
We can love ourselves and others by paying attention to our needs. We allocate time to listen to our loved one's thoughts and feelings, how their day went, their hopes and dreams. We can do the same for ourselves by prioritising and allocating time just for ourselves to focus on our needs and sitting with our thoughts and feelings. When we or our loved ones make a mistake or reveal a flaw, we accept us and them for who we are. We don't shame or beat ourselves up or harbour contempt or disgust for our behaviour. The idea is to make a safe space to express ourselves without judgment or rejection, lovingly known as unconditional love. We also show appreciation to ourselves and others when we love by voicing what we like about ourselves, what we admire, what we are impressed with, what we thank ourselves for, and talking kindly and gently to ourselves. We show affection by physical touch, hugs and kisses, calling ourselves with endearing nicknames. Lastly, we allow you and me to be you and me. We hold space for others to be themselves, without trying to convince them to do or be someone else or control their thoughts or feelings.
This framework is so easy to follow on a day to day basis but what happens when people fight and disagree? How do we love when we are in conflict? I like using the EFT (emotionally-focused therapy) method of having a corrective emotional experience in conversation to stop the pattern of spiralling downwards. It is healing and bonding to be able to share our underlying feelings in the conflict. The key is to listen and validate each other's experiences.
The above tactics are great for facilitating conflict resolutions in safe space where both parties can express their hurts and disagreements in a calm and respectful manner. However, there are instances when there is a true conflict - a conflict where it is not merely an emotional issue, but a real practical disagreement. The best example is where a partner wants to leave the relationship for whatever reason that you don't agree with. Their desire to leave may be extremely stupid and may cause a whole lot of practical and emotional chaos to your life with very little to gain on their end. Whatever the reason, whether logical or not, we love them by letting them leave. Wish them well, too.
By letting people leave, we communicate that we respect their decision even if we don't agree with it, even if it hurts us to the core. It's true love when we don't act selfish. At the end of the day, we cannot control another person. They have their reasons to leave which makes sense to them. They could be making the biggest mistake of their life - we love by letting them be. People are entitled to mistakes. This is part of 'Allowing' - flaws and all, we can feel angry, we can disagree, but ultimately we allow the space for them to have that self-autonomy, to decide what they think is best for them. This is the spirit from Katherine Thomas's philosophy of Conscious Uncoupling. Pain is unavoidable - it's already a losing situation but you can have more self-respect and compassion for yourself and others by not playing victim and not forcing a reality that was never going to happen anyway. We love when we want the best for everyone, including ourselves.
On things and events that do not go our way, the serenity prayer can bring more peace to our hearts:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference
Journal of my Reflections
Here are some snippets of my inner voice reflecting on my interest in psychology and my personal experiences.