Carolyn Kirby is President of the Mental Health Review Tribunal for Wales. She was President of the Law Society of England and Wales 2002-2003 and is currently the Law Society Council member for Mid and West Wales. She was awarded an OBE in the 2016 New Years Honours list.

Self love for beginners:

Which is the biggest turn-off in that heading? Is it the 70s woo-woo caftans and marijuana image of self-love? Or is it the thought that we professional solid citizens might actually be beginners at something?

Paul Gilbert recently wrote ‘a few quiet words on work and love’ (http://www.lbcwisecounsel.com/resources/articles/article/a-few-quiet-words-on-work-and-love/#.VqTZuYWLTIU) in which he offered the proposition that organisations would be better run, people would be more efficient and co-working would be hugely enhanced if the people in charge demonstrated a bit more love. I agree with every word he wrote, but I offer the thought that no-one can demonstrate love unless they feel it, and they can’t feel it unless they love themselves and acknowledge that love within them. Behold – self-love, and not a flower-power shirt in sight!

So what’s frightening about the thought that we need to work on self-love? We all start as babies being completely self- regarding ‘me, me, me’. Somewhere along the line, most of us then gradually absorbed the notion that analysing our own needs and working to fulfil them is self-indulgent and wrong. So many of the people I meet are living their lives according to someone else’s expectations (often their parents’) but they don’t recognise it. A lot of people have been living someone else’s life for so long that they’ve either completely lost the vision of the life they really want, or believe that it’s too late to make a change. This becomes a downward spiral with a void at its core where passion should be. Who can be passionate about living the wrong life? The passion to live your own life and live it well can only be ignited and sustained by self-love, so it’s the absence of self-love which should frighten us, not the development of it.

Self-love is not selfish – it’s the direct opposite. We all know people who use medication, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes or junk food (and often a combination of several) just to get through the day. They don’t have the self-respect, self-confidence and self-awareness to look at themselves and realise that they’re not doing themselves any favours. If they do, they think they can’t change anything, because their life ‘is just the way it is’. Some people use power as a drug and get high on being able to order people around and make other people’s lives a misery because ‘why should anyone else be happier or more fulfilled than I am?’ There is a common perception that high-flyers need to be ruthless, driven types and that compassion and empathy are signs of weakness, but I disagree. I mentor people who clearly have much more to contribute to their organisations than they’re allowed to do, but their ideas, suggestions and passion are being ‘managed’ by someone who’s read the manual which says that people with ideas are a threat and the only way to exert authority is to issue instructions and enforce compliance. Often when I talk privately to such leaders, I unearth a mare’s nest of insecurity, uncertainty, fear and disappointment which is directly fuelling the way they treat their teams. What a difference it makes if they can discover and develop self-love. Overcoming their own negative beliefs about themselves enables them to be receptive to the ideas of others, the team develops energy which is infectious, results improve and everyone benefits. So who says self-love is selfish?

So if you’re with me this far, we’ve decided that self-love is a good thing to develop, but what exactly is it and how do you go about getting it? There are lots of books which can help you and some offer all sorts of strategies you can practice with yourself but even I find some of those a bit weird and frankly who’s got the time? I think a helpful place to start is to reflect that you’re going to be with yourself for the rest of your life, 24/7, so it helps if you quite like yourself. Cut yourself a bit of slack. We’re very good at beating ourselves up about the could-haves and should-haves but actually the chances are that we’re doing a pretty good job and we should spend a little time just acknowledging the things we’ve got right and what we do well. Most of us are just fine as we are. Deep breath, slide your shoulder-blades down your back and give yourself a little smile. Better already?

It’s not a bad idea to cultivate being your own best friend. We’re good at giving advice to others, and spend hours listening to other people’s problems and offering thoughtful solutions, but how often do we do that for ourselves? Most of us don’t treat ourselves very well, in fact those of us who have pets usually treat them better than we treat ourselves and we certainly show them more affection! Being your own best friend is an invisible defence mechanism against what the day throws at you. We all need someone to watch our backs and it’s surprising how being that person for yourself from time to time allows you to see and reflect on what’s happening to you and the effect it’s having – good or bad. It doesn’t stop us being considerate to others and meeting their needs, in fact if we’re more conscious of our own need to be cherished, we’re far more likely to look after others well.

We’re mostly not good at supporting ourselves and we give away our power to other people by allowing them to affect our lives far more than they should. Remember that no-one can affect the quality of your day without your permission. If someone is too much in your thoughts and really getting to you, one trick is to visualise them, change the picture to black and white and then reduce the picture to a dot and get on with your day. Surprisingly, it works.

A leader who is actively working on themselves to develop and sustain self-love will, in my experience, have a far more motivated high achieving team and get so much more out of life themselves. And it’s likely to be the life they want to lead, not acting as a surrogate.

Leadership with love should, I believe, be on everyone’s agenda and there’s no better place to start than with yourself.