Partially decayed plant matter in wetlands is called peat. Although it’s found in soggy ground it can catch fire, and will burn at a temperature so low it doesn’t flame. It smoulders. There are vast underground peat fires in Tasmania that have been burning for decades.
Occasionally the smouldering peat can set alight dry material on the surface, and begin a forest fire.
In past centuries, Northern European cottages would have peat fires burning all year round. Every few hours someone would throw onto the fire another lump of peat. There wasn’t a flame, but the heat generated from the smouldering peat warmed the house and cooked the food.
We have seen there are two ways we can satisfy our innate need to feel valued:
(1) ensure that we feel valued daily, and
(2) be in touch with our inner sense of self-worth: by feeling worthy of love/feeling loveable.
Everyone has a sense of self-worth because we need to feel loveable in the first few years of our life, to grow. It’s an inherent part of being human. (Having a self-worth is like having a belly-button: you have it always.) The trouble is, once we are in our late teens and no longer need love to grow, the self-worth that had been required to ’soak love up’ can wither under the onslaught of another innate propensity: to feel insecure about what others think of us. (A nice little trick we evolved. Disheartening for the individual, but good for the tribe.)
Not all self-worths wither. Before we examine why, here is a quick summary:
– To have self-worth is to feel loveable.
– We all have self-worth. We all feel loveable. However,
– not all of us actually feelloveable because our sense of self-worth is caked with unpleasant life experiences. The feeling still exists somewhere in there, because it’s innate, but we have lost touch with it.
For those of us who have lost touch with our self-worth, it is a bit like a peat fire that needs fuel. For decades it’s hidden deep down, smouldering away, and we don’t even know it’s there. Our ‘cottage’ is cold.
The people with a healthy self-worth doknow it’s there, and arein touch with it. They can feel within them the warmth of their peat fire because they keep refuelling it. They keep tossing a lump of fuel onto their fire to keep themselves warm.
The fuel is love. The world offers them the fuel, and they accept it. They are open to receiving the love offered to them. When they are offered love, they ‘let it in’, and fuel their own peat fire – their self-worth.
Each and every one of us is ‘wired’ to have the capacityto feel loveable, but to actually feelloveable we first have to be open to receiving love. And when we do, we can receive it from anywhere. It’s all around us. And when we ‘let it in’ we get to fuel our self-worth.
What does ‘being loved’ mean?
I see it as the affection expressed by a family member, friend, lover or pet. It’s also the affection expressed in a kind act from a stranger. It’s spending time with someone. Even to say, “Good morning”, or to give a person a smile, is an act of love.
The colours of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky,
are also on the faces of people going by.
I see friends shaking hands, sayin’, ‘How do you do?’
They’re really sayin’, ‘I love you.’
There is no shortage of love about. A person open to receiving love will find it (or imagine it) in many places. A person not open to receiving love will struggle to find any evidence of it, and won’t feel it.
Some people are open to receiving love. Therefore, they can . . .
▪ feel comfortable inviting friends and family to see them perform in a play, a game, or contest.
▪ feel comfortable being cared for when they are ill.
▪ host a party to celebrate themselves.
▪ believe the compliments they receive.
These people can let the love ‘in’ because they are open to receiving it. As a result they feed their self-worth and are in touch with it. Each time they allow in an expression of love it’s like they are placing another lump of peat on the fire. They continually keep themselves ‘warm’ by regularly fuelling their self-worth with love.
‘In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.’
And there are people who, for whatever reason, can’t feel loved. They are the ones who, no matter how loving the people around them,
▪ feel a burden when asking for help. They aim in life to be independent and self sufficient.
▪ they assume no-one would want to see them perform.
▪ they think no-one could deeply love them romantically.
▪ they reject compliments, believing that if they were to accept them they would be ‘putting tickets on themselves’. They believe that, ‘You’re not supposed to actually believe the compliments given to you. It’s polite to reject them.’
That’s just for starters. These people don’t feel love because they can’t let love ‘in’. They know on an intellectual level that they are loved, but can’t actually feel it, because they won’t let themselves receive it. They even struggle to understand how anyone could host a party to celebrate themselves, or feel comfortable asking for help, or accept compliments.
Deep within them is their peat fire – their self-worth – smouldering away, but it doesn’t warm them, because they’re not feeding it.
Jill (35): People love Jill. (That includes familial love, romantic love, the love expressed in affection, an act of kindness from a stranger, a nod of thanks, . . . in myriad ways.)
Jill is open to receiving their love, so she ‘lets it in’.
Like putting a lump of peat on a peat fire, Jill uses the love she has received to fuel her own innate feeling of being loveable. (She assumes she feels good because of the love she has received, but it is her own rekindled self-love which warms her.)
By maintaining a feeling of being loveable, Jill satisfies her innate need to feel valued, and her deep need to belong. (She feels connected, even embraced, by the world.)
Jack (35): People love Jack. (In the same way they love Jill.)
Jack is not open to receiving their love. He bats away compliments . . . etc.
Although Jack still has an innate feeling of being loveable, he can’t connect with it. It’s buried under his defences. His ‘peat fire’ is barely alight. He hasn’t given it fuel for a long time. But it’s still smouldering . . . waiting.
Therefore, because Jack can’t connect with his innate feeling of being loveable, he doesn’t actually feelloveable.
Being loved by another person, or by humanity itself, is of no benefit to us if we don’t allow ourselves to receive that love, if we don’t ‘let it in’.
‘What happens if we do allow ourselves to receive love?’
Then we rekindle our own sense of self-worth, and feel loveable. And satisfy our innate need to feel valued, and our deep need to belong.
In short,some of us have ceased to feel loveable not because we aren’t loved, and not because deep down we don’t feel loveable (because we do – it’s innate, but we are out of touch with it); rather, it’ s because we refuse to accept the love we do receive. We refuse to fuel our own inner fire. Then, no matter how much we are loved by others, we still starve the part within us which feels loveable. Occasionally we might get lucky and let a compliment or kindness ‘in’ past our defences. Before our defences rush in to reject it, we feel a glimmer of something wonderful.
Why would someone not allow themselves to receive love?
For any number of reasons. Here are some classics:
▪ We may have felt rejected or abandoned in the past, and are afraid of feeling that way again. We figure that the best way to avoid feeling that way again is to not become attached in the first place. A good way to avoid becoming attached is to not ‘let love in’.
▪ To some people, being loved means being smothered, or corrupted, or experiencing another troubling emotion. Therefore, they avoid ‘letting love in’ to avoid feeling that way again.
▪ Some of us are frightened of enjoying the feeling and then losing it. ‘Best to keep it at a distance in the first place.’
▪ We might have been taught that to feel good about ourselves means we are ego-centric, arrogant, self-centred or ‘up ourselves’. We have learnt that to be self-effacing and humble is good, and that to feel good about ourselves is bad.
In each case, love is associated with pain or fear. These beliefs are hard to unlearn, but when we don’t ‘let love in’ we don’t get to fuel our own self love, and we miss out on the advantages.
This all means that to have self-worth we only need to be open to receiving love. Whether or not we are actually loved is immaterial. It’s the capacity to feel loved, to feel loveable, which is important.Then, every expression of love we receive and let in: the hug, the smile, the warm words, the favour received, the ‘How do you do?’ . . . reignites our own inner love, our self-worth, and we are warmed by that. That’s the bit that feels wonderful!
How do we become open to receiving love?
See you in the next chapter.
‘Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.’
Rūmī, 13th-century Persian poet.