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What does love look like when you get the chance to be yourself?

In order to receive love from our parents and caregivers, we learnt to be a certain way. We moulded ourselves into the person they wanted us to be. This is because when we were little, attaining their love and approval was linked to our survival. We were dependent on them to feed us and clothe us and so we learnt to adapt to the ways that they deemed fit. In reality, this made us feel like there were parts of us that were not "good enough." So we hid them or covered them up, all in the name of being loved. For example, the part of you that expressed yourself loudly was told off and you learnt to tame it. On the other hand, you learnt that the part of you that smiled at guests even when you didn't want to was rewarded with care and attention.

As adults, we continue to show up with a willingness to adapt and adjust, but this process of moulding ourselves into what others want us to be does not allow for the fullest expression of our essence. It does not allow us to explore what is really alive inside of us at any given moment. Instead, it brings us into a place where we always feel a bit off - a place where we think there’s something fundamentally wrong with us because we can never truly match what people want from us at all times.

This pattern of adapting to what we think will attain love and approval from another is the exact thing that keeps us from the true love and connection that we seek. It keeps us from living our lives with authenticity and integrity because it means we are not showing up wholly as who we really are. We start to look at everyone else's ideas about life, love, relationships, work and even what should be important to us as the "right" way to do things.

As adults, we unconsciously seek out a partner that is going to bring us into a state of feeling "less than" because it is familiar. We choose people that will allow us to keep hiding the parts of ourselves that we think are not acceptable. We play out our experiences from childhood with romantic partners, co-workers and friends believing that this will bring us a sense of security, comfort and safety. But all it really does is keep us stuck. If we keep wearing the mask, we can never actually feel that beautiful sense of safety that comes from knowing that the one who loves you, truly knows and loves you for you. Even when we do attain that acceptance and care from the person in front of us, they are only loving a version of us we carefully crafted in order to be liked by them.

In order to find love that lasts for the long term, we have to embrace what is true for ourselves at any given moment. We have to put down the mask and learn how to be secure in our own skin. We have to find the parts of us that are not always acceptable to others and make peace with loving them anyway. We need to be the same person when we are alone and when people are with us. It means believing in our own truth. This is what brings the greatest sense of happiness and purpose to all aspects of our lives - it allows us to be creative, whole-hearted and limitless. This great love we seek is only possible when we get to know ourselves intimately - when we get to know what we are willing to accept in our life. It is only when you we know what works for us that we can find the love that we desire.

So how do we start to identify what we actually want, need and feel so that we can communicate it more effectively with others? How do we stop acting unconsciously and pleasing others out of an innate and understandable desire to be loved and accepted? How do we find our true self again? One way is to simply start noticing these different parts of you inside. Rather than trying to make drastic changes all at once, just start to become aware of what is happening for you internally. For example, there may be a part of you in an interaction with a friend, who wants to agree with them because you are afraid if you don't, they will reject you. On the other hand, there is a part of you that wants to speak your mind and feels frustrated that you don't know how. Rather than forcing that part to speak up right away, a first step is to just start to notice that it wants to. Pay attention to the body sensations that arise as you tune into these different parts of yourself. Become curious instead of critical. Your true self is the one who is observing all these patterns.

Rather than judging ourselves, we need to first have self-compassion and realize that this self-protective mechanism we developed makes so much sense. It was a brilliant survival tool that we formed when we were highly dependent on others for getting our basic needs met. We can also start to realize that we are no longer that child whose survival rests on pleasing those around us. If you find yourself struggling with something, there may be a part inside of you that needs help or healing. You might even have some conflicting thoughts about how to handle the situation. Parts work teaches us how to get in touch with these different aspects of ourselves so that we can better understand them and create healthier relationships with other people because we are not confused by our own feelings anymore. When we get in touch with all these parts of us, they become integrated into who we are as whole people rather than feeling like foreign entities that live in the darker areas of our psyche.

The next thing you can try is to start to imagine what it might be like to be unapologetically you. What might it feel like to be loved and accepted by those who truly see you and love your particularities? How might your posture be in this vision? What kinds of things might you say? What would you wear? How would you speak? Just notice whatever comes up for you, without having to make it mean too much. Start to notice how it feels in your body as you imagine this. Make the colours brighter. Just notice. If not a lot comes up or even if it does, remain with this question for the rest of your week...what does love look like when I am completely & wholeheartedly myself?

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