by: Daniel Mykins M.S.
I have observed that most of the people that I counsel at Utopia Wellness, who we refer to as campers, have difficulty loving themselves. We are taught that to love ourselves is wrong and selfish. Putting ourselves first is going against our core beliefs that have been taught by our parents and community, and that is to put others first. We have been sent the message that we are not worthy of loving ourselves.
My role is to empower the camper to identify the core beliefs that they have been holding onto as a result of what they have learned and to shift them in a way that promotes their healing. One of those core beliefs is about love. We are taught at a very young age to love others first and that if there is anything left over then we may have it. There is an additional condition before we can even give love to ourselves. We have to be worthy and deserving of receiving it. In other words, we have to earn it.
We teach just the opposite here at Utopia Wellness. Love for self isn’t earned, and we are already worthy. Love is a gift that we choose to give ourselves unconditionally. We say that love begins with self. “I am selfish,” is a phrase that we teach campers to be able to say. At first, the camper isn’t able to say the words because they are words of heresy. After some practice saying the words, the camper is able to voice them with less resistance and more acceptance. The camper is able to say it, mean it, feel it and most importantly live it.
The challenge to shift the core belief of being selfless to selfish may sound like a radical change to make in their lives, and it is. Loving ourselves first is a choice that the camper makes to promote healing. We are reversing the positioning of love in a way that begins with loving ourselves first and then extending the love toward others. We teach the campers to love themselves from the inside out, not outside in. It is very similar to the words the airline attendant tells the passengers when directions are being given about dealing with an emergency. Place the oxygen mask over our face first and then assist others. We can’t give to others what we don’t already have, including love. We say love thyself as you love thy neighbor.
We tell the campers the way to demonstrate loving ourselves is through taking actions that support our feelings. Through the process of writing, the camper experiences an awakening by being able to say “I am selfish”. The reason we have the campers make this declaration of love for self is to demonstrate their growth from being a survivor when they first arrived to being a thriver at their departure. Surviving isn’t enough. Once a camper can learn how to say “I am selfish” and say it out loud, joy and peace are visible on their faces as they say it. Tears of healing are expressed and felt by all. It is nothing short of a miracle.