Kickstart Your Recovery Episode 02: Always Start with Love

Power Tip #2: Always Start with Love – How being harsh with yourself when you make mistakes can actually make matters worse, and how being kind and gentle with yourself is the strongest foundation for lasting change.

Our topic for today is “Always start with Love” and we’re going to talk about how it’s important for someone looking to heal and establish a life of greater purity and integrity to start from a place of self-love, self-compassion, and self-acceptance, and how if you overlook this step you could work really hard, but not see the progress you want.

Allah says in Surat Al-Israa verse 70

وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ وَحَمَلْنَاهُمْ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَاهُم مِّنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَى كَثِيرٍ مِّمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلاً

We have honored the children of Adam; carried them on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favours, above a great part of our creation.

Allah paints a beautiful picture of the honor that He has given to us as human beings. And reading this it would be appropriate for anyone, no matter their situation in life, no matter what darkness they may be experiencing, to acknowledge that despite all of this, I am honored, dignified, valuable, worthy. Allah has made me one of these people He’s speaking of in this verse.

With this verse in mind, I’d like to pause and take a look at where many people who are watching this video are coming from – a place of sin.

And I know that falling into the same sin over and over again tends to place a dark cloud over your life, and life can get very dark indeed. Not only do you become distant from the people around you, such as your family. So those relationships with loved ones really suffer. But also, how about another equally important relationship – your relationship with yourself? What is your relationship with yourself like, as you read this?

If you’re like many people who are struggling, then you probably find it hard to trust yourself, to love yourself, to value yourself, especially when you fall once again, especially when you made all these plans and promises and commitments as to how you’re going to change and live a new life, and yet you fall once again. A lot of people can be really harsh with themselves at that moment and they may think things like “I’m such an idiot” or “I’m worthless”.

Now this voice that you may have found within you – the voice that says “I’m worthless” or “stupid” for messing up, for not knowing the answer, for being incapable of accomplishing the task I want to accomplish – have you ever questioned this voice? Have you ever challenged it? Have you ever stood up and said “hold on! This can’t be true! Even though I’m having a hard time and messing up, I’m still worthy and valuable and honored”?

Many people live for years never questioning this harsh, abusive voice. Instead, they take this voice within them and they assume it to be true, and the common assumption people have is that I can feel good about myself when I behave in the proper way, or when I stop this behavior – only then can I feel good enough, valuable, worthy.

But what if loving, honoring, valuing yourself actually came first? What if it didn’t have to wait until anything happened? What if you were enough, just the way you are?

In fact, this isn’t just a nice thing to think about – this is one of the foundations of finally breaking free from your unwanted sexual behaviors and it’s a foundation to making any real progress in life in general. I’m able to see in member after member in recovery that learning to be kinder with themselves plays a pivotal role in their healing. It’s not optional, it is foundational.

Many people have conditional self-worth: they believe that I will be worthy when I accomplish something worthwhile…instead it’s important to practice unconditional self-worth. It’s an alternative way of relating to yourself that says: when you acknowledge your inherent worth as a beautiful slave of Allah without any conditions of when and if, then you will be in a good place to grow and to accomplish and to succeed.

Why does your relationship with yourself matter so much?

So – what does it matter if you have conditional self-worth or unconditional self-worth?

To answer that, let me share one member’s reflections:

At the start of recovery, I was self abusing, albeit emotionally. Criticizing myself, hating myself, internally punishing myself, I thought that was good for me. Self care taught me to be kind to myself and to forgive myself and love the parts of me that I am otherwise ashamed of. I began to realize that yes self care is tidying your room and eating breakfast, as well as doing all the other stuff like exercising, having a hobby, going out with friends. But it’s what’s on the inside that’s most important. Do you torture yourself inside, or are you kind and gentle and loving with yourself … that had a real impact on me.

Her experience is not entirely unique by any means – in fact many of our members experience a moment when they realize “man I’ve been really harsh on myself all this time” and they learn for the first time to value and honor themselves for who they are, and this is often an inspiring turning point in their recovery journey.

The reason for this is that addiction is born in a place of self-abuse where you treat yourself with harshness and, as this sister says, many people assume this is good and part of being pious or humble.

If this is the mentality and attitude where the addiction was born, you cannot possibly hope to solve the problem using the same attitude that gave birth to it. It just doesn’t work, and so it becomes necessary to transcend this way of thinking, this conditional self-worth and start to explore well, if I do not derive my sense of self-worth from my accomplishments – as many people do when they don’t know better – then from what do I derive it? And answering that question is what will open the door to learning how to honor yourself in a way that’s more aligned with the truth that Allah says “we have honored the children of Adam”.

This idea of self-love may seem strange and narcissistic and selfish. It may be tempting for you to just close this window and think “this guy’s a nut job.” So before you do so, I want to explain why I believe this is a foundational discussion for someone who’s struggling with a compulsive behavior like watching pornography, or any other type of unwanted sexual behavior.

We all understand that receiving love from others is important, and Allah encourages us to show one another kindness and love, so it might seem that a discussion on self-love is irrelevant.

Here’s why it’s important – someone who has not developed a healthy level of self-worth could receive all the love in the world – from family, from friends, from community members. Let’s say you just graduated from high school – there’s a good chance many people will be congratulating you and showing you love and appreciation for your hard work. Yet at night that person could go to bed, and despite all that still feel uneasy and anxious, and be unable to enjoy the celebration that others are sharing. Why is that?

Even when others show you love, do you ever find yourself asking “if only you knew who I really am? And so you may block out the fact that they find you worthy, why? Because it is inconsistent with how you see yourself. So you assume they are wrong.

So speaking about exchanging love with others becomes less relevant when you have not developed self-love, first.. Loving others is stage 2.

One member shares the transformation he experienced when he finally embraced his true worth:

After 11 years of never truly or honestly feeling these things at my core, I finally came to see that I am Worthy, I am Lovable, I am Deserving, and I am Enough. Thank you Ustadh Zeyad! I finally know that the love, respect, and admiration I receive from the numerous people around me in my life is authentic and real, they are not pretending. There is love all around me, I am immersed and drowning in it, and they truly do see me as someone special in their life. It is not something that I have to convince myself of anymore, I just know that it is true now, all the signs, facts, and evidences lead to this one truth.

So even though this discussion may not be popular, it is relevant for us here because many of those who are struggling remain hungry not because love is not present in their lives, but because they have not learned to value themselves. And this hunger fuels the compulsive behaviors.

Why many people can’t stop being harsh with themselves

This habit of being excessively harsh with yourself has to stop if you hope to experience lasting change. So let’s talk about why many people cannot stop. Here are 3 major obstacles to letting go of conditional self-worth and embracing unconditional self-worth. As I go over these, you’ll see that these truly are serious considerations people may have when they try to be more loving and kind with their own self.

One reason people treat themselves more harshly than they should is that they may genuinely believe it’s the right thing to do, and that it’s the only way they can change their behavior. They might think “if I’m enough as I am, if I’m worthy as I am, then why would I want to change? Isn’t the very reason I should change because I am unworthy, not enough they way I am?”

Before addressing this obstacle, I’ll first share the other two.

The second obstacle is that people feel like it’s wrong for them to feel good about themselves when they’ve made a terrible mistake, when they’ve hurt someone. How could I be happy, they may wonder, when I did something so terrible? How could I feel worthy and loved when I hurt someone I love?

The third obstacle to feeling worthy and valuable is that those people close to you in your life may not really express love or value or worth to you on a consistent basis. In fact they may do the opposite, they may treat you with disrespect. It doesn’t need to be words – even facial expressions and gestures can be a way for someone to say “you’re not worthy” and “I don’t really love you”. So when others don’t validate your worth, it can be easy to believe “well, they must be right, I am worthless after all.”

So these are 3 serious considerations you may have that cause you to feel that you should be harsh on yourself and beat yourself up.

The 5 keys to nurturing self-compassion

Now let’s look at the flip side – I will share with you 5 reasons why starting with self-love and self-compassion makes the most sense and will lead to the best results despite these three obstacles.

Number 1 – when you practice the laws of love, you empower yourself to live the laws of life. Let’s break this down. What are the laws of love? The laws of love are that love comes first, love is the foundation, love cannot be withdrawn based on someone’s performance, and love should be unconditional. OK, what are the laws of life? The laws of life are integrity, honesty, sincerity, modesty, hard-work, respect – these are the things that we do not need convincing to know they are important. Our hearts already value these things, and we naturally want to be aligned with these beautiful characteristics. At their core, in their nature, human beings are good. Why does starting with love empower you to better live the laws of life? Because without love, you are emotionally starved of a basic human need. It is like being without food and water. Imagine if a parent starved a child in order to discipline him and teach him to behave properly – it would be inhumane! Similarly, if you starve yourself of love thinking it will help you to behave differently, it’s also an unnatural thing to do. So when you start with love, even when you feel like you don’t deserve it, even when you feel ashamed and guilty, when you start with love, you allow your heart to feel at ease once again, and then and only then will you have the emotional strength to live the laws of life – to act with honesty with integrity, to repent to Allah once again, to accept responsibility for your actions, and finally to learn from your mistake and to grow. When you inject love into the cycle of addiction – you break the cycle!

Number 2 – self-abuse as a strategy is a failed strategy – experience shows that it just doesn’t work. This one is simple – think about how many times you’ve indulged in the cycle of turning to your old habits and afterward just unleashing the self-hate and the shame and talking to yourself about how you’re unworthy. If you really think about it, it’s old news. You’ve done it over and over. Now you tell me – does it work? Does it help you change your behavior in the long term? The truth is that it doesn’t work – it fuels the addictive cycle. Love, on the other hand, is like a fire extinguisher to any destructive behavior. When you feel the urge to indulge, if you dump a bunch of love on that fire, you’ll find the fire of temptation will be smothered and extinguished.

Number 3 – what’s your intention? The Prophet, salla Allah ‘alaihi wa sallam, taught us that all actions are by intention. No matter what you do, there is a reason behind why you do it. If you practice a level of genuinely caring for yourself, wanting to see yourself grow and flourish, this will be a strong foundation for you to do all that you do with a sincere, genuine intention. And that will allow you to see the fruits of your labor. But if instead you devalue yourself and you talk to yourself in a harsh way, then my question is what intention have you set yourself up for? If you do not have a deep sense of honor for yourself, you’ll probably still go to work, still go to school, still work hard to meet your deadline – you will still labor and work and expend your energy. But why? Most likely it’s because you feel like you have to or you feel like it’s what you should do. And this is breeding ground for an impure intention that will lead to resentment. Whenever you do something because you feel it’s simply an expectation, but you are not connected to it with your heart, you will feel resentful about it, and this resentment increases the chances of relapsing once again. So start with love and genuine care, so that everything you do, you do with a sincere intention.

Number 4 – You cannot argue with the truth, and the truth is that you are an ennobled creature. Remember what Allah says in Surat Al-Israa:

وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ وَحَمَلْنَاهُمْ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَاهُم مِّنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَى كَثِيرٍ مِّمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلاً

We have honored the children of Adam; carried them on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favours, above a great part of our creation.

Beautifully, the first thing Allah mentions after saying that He has honored the children of Adam is that He has carried them on land and on sea. Have you ever taken a moment while you’re riding in your car, to really ponder on what is happening? To reflect on the fact that Allah is carrying you over the land? How much honor and nobility there is in being carried! It’s such a gift! And even if the people around you think “what man, it’s just a car, everybody rides in cars!” You can know better than that and realize no there is much deeper meaning in this seemingly simple experience, and this is proof of the honor Allah has given you.

Number 5 – it can be tempting to think this is all so selfish and narcissistic. But realize that the more you honor the sacred within yourself, the more you will honor the sacred within others. And the more you abuse your own self, the easier it will be for you to abuse others. So if you start with self-love and self-acceptance, the people around you will receive more of your grace and love, because you will have much more love to give.

So these are the 5 reasons why unconditional self-worth makes more sense and is more effective in achieving lasting change, insha Allah. It is a much better strategy than perfectionism and adopting a very harsh attitude with yourself thinking that this is part of piety or humility.

How do you love yourself?

So how is this done? How can you change something that is so deeply rooted within you? How can you learn to value yourself more, to love and honor yourself more? Especially when this is not something you learned how to do growing up?

The answer is practice! You will face resistance when you try to treat yourself with greater kindness and compassion. It will be very difficult to say “no” when that oppressive voice within you says that you’re worthless. But the good news is that it becomes easier with practice and eventually it becomes second nature.

So you can start by practicing for just one day, using the Commit-To-Happiness exercise. I really like this exercise because you don’t have to set aside any time to do it!

Here’s what you do – today, you make a commitment that tomorrow is going to be a day of happiness. Tomorrow you’re going to give yourself permission to be happy for the whole day. It doesn’t matter what happens today or tomorrow, you are committed to giving yourself permission to be happy!

When (not if) you find a lot of resistance inside, then you need to get creative and start looking for evidence. When a voice within you says “but but but..!” you may need to search for a reason to allow yourself to be happy. What can you feel good about? What can you celebrate? What can you be grateful for?

While you’re going about your day, just observe your internal reactions, observe the voice in your head, and what it saying to you. I bet it will be very resistant at first, but once you give yourself permission to be happy and you see “hey, nothing bad happened!” then you’ve just gotten one step closer to having a healthy level of self-acceptance and self-love.

So this episode has been all about how love is the foundation of your healing and growth. And my parting advice to you today is: You must honor the honorable within you, value the valuable within you, and respect the sacred within you. This is what many people struggling with addictive behaviors have not learned how to do, and this is what will help you to start to break the shackles of the addictive cycle, insha Allah.

I will see you next time for our next power tip which is all about living without the mask. Many people struggling have a hard time being honest and open with people, and we’ll learn how starting to the remove the mask will accelerate your healing big time, insha Allah.

About the author

Bara Aldasouqi

Bara is the Enrollment Adviser at Purify Your Gaze and is on a mission to share the message of healing through love with our families and communities. He looks forward to seeing a day insha Allah wherein lust can no longer rob people of so much life and energy - Because we will replace judgmental attitudes with the power of compassion and knowledge.