“The best love is the kind that awakens the soul; that makes us reach for more, that plants the fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds.” I saw this quote recently and it made me chuckle. It was used in reference to romantic love. I am yet to be able to vouch for that (hahaha). But what if I told you I achieved it with self-love? Until a few years ago I was not mindful or intentional about self-love. It was like a dusty old claim made to a lover in the early years of a relationship, with hardly any upkeep in the following years to boast about. If the question of whether or not I loved myself was raised, I always gave a positive answer based on the long established claim that I did, rather than a reflection of my current feelings, choices, and actions.
My parents did their best at getting me started. They told me that I was good looking and that I belonged to the Charles tribe. They taught me the principles and values they knew, accepted and lived by so that I would have a guide for living my own life. They helped me to get things done, through encouragement, sometimes force. They protected me with boundaries and they provided the love and validation that I needed and depended on. Somewhere along the lines though when that responsibility of love should have been passed on, the baton somehow missed my hands and ended up in everyone else’s.
I could never think about self without a feeling of guilt. If I considered my looks I was vain, if I patted myself on the back after an achievement, it was self-praise. If I told myself I got this or I’m the best at this then it was being too self-confident. If I placed a limit on how much I gave then it was being selfish. I can continue on with this list, but the point is, I was providing myself with little to no validation. In the mean while though, I was busy giving to everyone else. And who can blame me. Growing up in church, when they preached about loving your neighbor as yourself, nobody ever mentioned remember to, how important it is or just how, to love yourself. The focus was always on one’s neighbour.
As a natural result, for years, my validation, esteem and energy both physical and mental hung on the threads of norms, opinions, jokes, preferences, paths and the character of everyone else. Through endless comparisons, general society determined if I was attractive enough based on its beauty standards, successful enough, based on my education, career, relationship status and other achievements. Christian society determined if I was holy enough based on my adherence to ideals such as pride, humility, selflessness, submissiveness, being a virtuous woman and my role and purpose as a woman. Potential mates determined if I was lovable or valuable enough; he that findeth a wife?
Whether it was my past relationship or a few other disgruntling situations that tipped me over the edge, I had reached a point in my life where I was not happy, satisfied or at peace with myself. I clearly wasn’t protecting myself from people and situations that were harmful. I trusted in the good nature of others to take care of me as I would them. I coerced myself into ignoring how I felt in order to abate situations or problems. I didn’t speak my mind often enough being afraid of how I would be judged. I couldn’t share my mistakes. Boundaries were not a thing.
I gave and gave in out of love and a sense of responsibility. To the point where I was easily manipulated, too tired or occupied to focus on my own priorities and needs or distressed when others didn’t give in the way I did. I never reassured myself in my talents or abilities and depended on others to say whether I was good enough. Therefore if someone said something negative or I encountered someone who was relatively better at a particular thing that I wanted to do I would shy away from making an attempt. I never fully accepted parts of my personality and based on what others said I spent unnecessary time self-critiquing and trying to change. I was pretty much living a life controlled by everyone except myself.
Tired of not responding to what I knew I was feeling internally, tired of feeling timid and not in control, tired of subconsciously being at the beck and call of everyone else, I decided to do something about it.
I began challenging negative thoughts, desires, limits and anything that created anxiety. I removed everyone and everything that came between me and the higher power I believed in. I didn’t ask for much else except clarity and wisdom. I thought about my end and what regrets I think I would have. I accepted the fact that, other people’s views though defended by death doesn’t make them more valid; the path that someone else chooses is simply a path that someone else chose; the things that someone values most in life are simply the things they value most in life; and the mistakes I make aren’t shameful, I am simply in the process of learning. I began being mindful about and accountable for my feelings and decisions, those past and present. I began setting personal boundaries in relation to work, leisure and my relationships with others. I began living with intention, pushing myself to attempt the things that scared me regardless of what was going on internally and if anything peaked my interest I placed it on my to do list.
Bit by bit I began to see strength, resilience and focus that I sensed existed before. I became more aware of my potential and capabilities, how much in control I was about a lot of things and as such I became less preoccupied with the things I couldn’t control. I became conscious and positive about options and possibilities in terms of paths that I can take and the desire to push myself to see how far I can go began to grow. My only regret so far is that I didn’t do these things sooner. I was accustomed practising self-care and repeating affirmations, but on their own they didn’t provide the opportunity for growth and confirmation of my value.
In our daily encounters, not everyone we interact with has negative intentions, but the reality is everyone is human. We are susceptible to each other’s errors and that includes the lack of ability and know how when it comes to love. So then who can we depend on for something so essential to our well-being? We have no control over the views and actions of others. But we do however have control over our own. I am still working on not feeling guilty about self-love, but I now realize the importance and power of it. As a result of sticking to my guns, I am currently in a better place mentally to be of service to others. As for the next time I am asked whether or not I love myself, guess what my answer will be? “Oooh yeah!”