Self-Love: The Greatest Love of All

Sandra H. Smith

February is a powerful month in the African-American psyche. It is Black History Month, and it includes Valentine’s Day. This is a time when we could focus both on loving and respecting ourselves and loving and appreciating our ancestry. We are a resilient people who have survived and thrived despite all efforts to extinguish us. There are forces at work which seek to degrade, humiliate and destroy us—and still, we persevere.

As Black psychologists, we are charged with helping our people achieve optimal mental health and wellness. How do we do that in a society wherein the powers that be have strategized to maintain their supremacy and our powerlessness? We must develop a love so strong that it cannot be overtaken by the opinions of those who would seek to defeat us.

During this month, we honor both our ancestors and those who are living who help to instill in us a sense of pride of being.

There are many notables who do this for us. Traditionally, we have honored Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X and so many others. Today, we look to President Obama, his Queen Michelle, Congressperson Barbara Lee and countless others. On a more personal level, our mothers, fathers, grandparents, and our children model for us and give us reasons for being.

As Black psychologists, we care for the individual, the family, and the community.  We do not need to follow traditions born of the dominant culture in order to cultivate our mental health. We must conceptualize our understandings of our mental health needs through principles that are steeped in our roots.

In ancient African beliefs, we come to love ourselves through our love of spirit, of other people, and of nature. Oshun, the Yoruba goddess of love, is proud of how we honor her by honoring one another. In African-Centered/Black Psychology and Spirituality, self is not defined as separate and individualized, but as an extension into others. We are part of the collective; we are interdependent and inescapably connected to each other.

Self-love is the love of being connected to and interlaced with the best in one another. Black self-love is an act of liberation from the hostile and negative influences of the culture in which we live. We express it through our art, music, dance, song, creativity, and storytelling. Historically, our music, dance, and songs have served as tools to remind us of what it means to be alive, to be spiritually aligned, and mentally well.

A demonstration is our beloved ancestor Whitney Houston’s anthem “The Greatest Love of All.” The lyrics of this classic rhythm and blues song are an expression of the importance of self-love:

“I believe the children are our future

Teach them well and let them lead the way

Show them all the beauty they possess inside

Give them a sense of pride to make it easier

Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be

I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow

If I fail, if I succeed at least I lived as I believe.

No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity

Because the greatest love of all is happening to me

I found the greatest love of all inside of me

Learning to love yourself…It is the greatest love of all.”

The singing, chanting, and understanding of this classic song reminds us that no one and no thing outside of ourselves can validate our worth. This is an inside job.

In America, we live in a culture that does not support our humanity, much less our self-worth. We have learned to cope in this society by relying on our deep inner sense of knowing and our willingness to express ourselves.

To be healthy, it is important that we remember that we are valuable and worthy of love, because we exist. Ancient African wisdom teaches us that we are spiritual people. We can decide to live a more joyful and Oshun-filled life by harnessing our spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional energies to assist us. There are everyday things, beyond Black History Month, that we can do for ourselves and our loved ones to support our understanding and knowing that we are worthy of love. Below you will find some strategies to support you.

Face each day with an attitude of gratitude. Focus on the good in you and in your life. Forgive your imperfections. Don’t give irrational ideas power. Example: “No one will ever love me.” Shift your attitude and self-talk. “I really love how well I get along with people.” Accept and appreciate yourself. Be gentle with your criticism. Assert yourself. Avoid taking on the burdens of others. Care, but do not carry. Embrace change. Cultivate a sense of mastery and control by setting goals and by working to attain them. Manage your time effectively. Take time to nurture yourself.

Engage in deep breathing. The single most relaxing thing you can do is deep relaxation. Visualize yourself in a peaceful place. Acupuncture and acupressure are helpful. Eat healthy foods. Exercise regularly and have a massage. Develop and use support systems: family, friends, coworkers. Give to others. It broadens your view and shifts your focus. Use support groups when facing challenging situations. Commune with the Universal Spirit with prayer and meditation. Live your higher beliefs. Connect with people who share your beliefs. Read inspirational materials. Worship with your spiritual (religious) systems.

During this month of love and remembrance, know that we are healthiest when we have a loving, giving spirit that connects similar spirits. Walk through life celebrating that our love of self through others is the Greatest Love of All.

This article is dedicated to the ambassador of Black love: Dr. Lige Dailey, Jr.

*The Association of Black Psychologists, Bay Area Chapter (ABPsi-Bay Area) is committed to providing the Post Newspaper readership with monthly discussions about critical issues in Black Mental Health. The ABPsi-Bay Area is a healing resource. We can be contacted at ([email protected]) and readers are welcome to join with us at our monthly chapter and board meeting, every third Saturday at the West Oakland Youth Center from 10 a.m. – 12 noon. 

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