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Learning to Love Yourself by Gay Hendricks

Love gives space, makes room

This is part of our Book Trainer series – training exercises for books. See the full collection here

Big Idea

Resisting reality keeps life painful and complicated. If we’re willing to give our feelings space, and love ourselves for feeling them, we experience reality and can begin to grow. 

Author

Gay Hendricks is a psychologist, writer and teacher. Gay earned his Ph.D. from Stanford University and served as Professor of Counseling Psychology at the University of Colorado for over 20 years. Gay and his wife Katie have written more than 40 books and coached thousands of trainers on conscious living and loving at the Hendricks Institute.

My Story

Over the past 10 years charting my own path, I’ve realized how divorced my thoughts, words and actions can be from what I really want. This feels like an obstacle in many parts of my life. As a communicator, I want to speak from the heart, simply and directly. In work and career, I want to pursue my highest calling, not that which others expect. As a pleaser, disentangling the true wishes of my heart from the wishes of others is sometimes difficult. While reading this book I’ve realized the root of this problem: I’ve often avoided the parts of me that don’t feel lovable.

Learning to Love Yourself taught me the importance of welcoming my feelings and giving them space, instead of resisting them or rationalizing them away. I’ve buried many fears and unpleasant sides of myself, which has affected not only my personal life but my business as well. How many founders could live healthier lives and run healthier businesses by learning to love themselves? By shining the light on what they fear most to experience?

Exercise 1: Move Your Feelings from Mind to Heart

When we resist our experience, certain predictable results occur. First, we lose our direct relationship with life. Since our personal experience is our direct response to life, to resist it is to begin to see life through the fog of our beliefs, opinions, and conditioned responses: through a veil of mind-stuff…

It appears, then, that one fundamental problem of life is resistance to experience. Logically the solution to this problem is to become willing to experience what we experience, and that tiny little thing is so incredibly simple yet so difficult that most people are content to live in the world of non-experience, of drama, of shadow.

Reality can be scary (we’ve usually been burned before) and that’s why most people choose to live in the shadow world of non-experience, what Gay Hendricks calls “mind-stuff:” conceptualizing, hoping, wishing, deciding, believing and reasoning. 


The Transition from Non-Experience to Experience 

Non-Experience 

1.​Hoping you can love yourself.

2.​Wishing you could love yourself. 

3.​Deciding you will love yourself. 

4.​Believing that you should love yourself. 

5.​Reasoning that you are lovable experience 

Experience

6.​ Accepting things the way they are (e.g., you don’t love yourself, you have a lot of reasons why you don’t love yourself, you are afraid of loving yourself). 

7​. Being willing to personally experience loving yourself. 

8. Being willing to be the source of love for yourself and others. 


This is about moving from the second-hand experience of “mind-stuff” to the first-hand experience of “heart-stuff.” For only then can you see reality for what it is. This acceptance is the first step to change.

Next time you find yourself hoping, wishing, deciding, believing or reasoning about your feelings, try crossing over into the realm of experience. Don’t conceptualize or explain your feelings. Instead, just be with them and explore their sensations in your body. What did you learn?

Exercise 2: Give Space to What You’re Feeling

“Love gives space, makes room. If I dislike someone, for example, it would be unloving to crowd out that feeling before I have inquired into it. First, I need to love it the way it is. Not to love the person, but to love myself for disliking him. This action makes room for me to be the way I am. It aligns me with what is actually going on. It allows me to inquire into why I do not like the person rather than thinking I should like him. Then perhaps I will come to the position of loving my neighbor, but supported by a foundation of loving myself.”

This line from the book stopped me cold, “Love is being in the same space with something.”

I think it’s the right metaphor to remember the core lesson of this book: to give your experience space. To see it for what it is. That way whatever you are resisting has a chance to move around and find a new form, instead of growing into a monster.

Gay presents four steps to loving yourself (highlights are mine):

1.​ Notice your present state of mind or feeling. It could be mad, scared, joyous, hating yourself, bored, neutral. 

2.​ Love yourself for what you are experiencing. It matters not if you do not know how to love yourself. At first just say the words if you can’t figure out how. Say “I love myself for (not being able to love myself, being scared, feeling happy, etc.).”

After a while you will probably identify a physical sensation of loving yourself. 

3.​ Stay with it as long as it feels interesting and comfortable. 

4.​ Remember, you don’t need to go around loving yourself all the time for your life to work wonderfully. You just have to go around being willing to love yourself. Willingness lets you flow with the stream rather than against it.

This is a powerful book with a simple, yet life-changing premise. I highly recommend it.

Powerful Quotes from Learning to Love Yourself

“I have learned to see the world the way it isn’t. 

I have done this for my survival. 

I am now interested in much more than survival. 

I can see it the way it is. 

There is nothing outside myself that can save me. 

I have everything I need inside me. 

All the love I have been searching for is here within me. 

I demand it from others because I am unwilling to give it to myself. I can give it to myself. 

My very nature is love, so there is no need to search for it, no need to work at it. 

Love is the only thing I need to change. 

I commit to loving myself as much as I can…always…all ways.”

“Hoping that something will be different practically guarantees that it will not change: One of the fundamental laws of change seems to be that things need space in order to change. They need room around them in order to find a new form. So, for example, if you wish to change your feeling of depression into something more pleasant, you would not want to try to talk yourself out of it, tense against it, or take a pill to alleviate it. These approaches would deny space to the feeling; they would not give your depression any room. What would work (based on many experiences of working with depression over the years in my therapy practice) would be to allow the feeling to be. Don’t turn your back on it, but release your tight grip on it so that it has moving space. We would want to explore it, feel it, inquire into it, taste it, dance with it. We would take a willing attitude toward it so we could learn what it is about.” 

“The beauty of the human mind is that any decision that is made can be unmade. Since decisions like ‘Don’t trust’ are made only of mind-stuff, and therefore do not exist in any real sense, they can be dissolved in a flash. It is reassuring to know that any limitation you have ever installed in your mind, for whatever purpose and regardless of how long ago, can be effortlessly shed.”

“In fact, feelings are best regarded as roadside pointers toward lessons we need to learn on our path. Each time there is something we are really angry about or scared of, there is a powerful lesson to be learned. It is usually something that we have withdrawn from in the past that we are now getting the opportunity to embrace. So it goes with other feelings, too. They each point the way toward things we need to learn about ourselves or the world.”

“At the moment we become willing to experience what is real, we shed the dead weight of all our illusions. To become willing is to become free.”

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