“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
My therapist says I need to learn to love myself. As much as I love my son. She says I will have a difficult time beginning a new relationship until I do.
Huh? How do I do that? How do I know when I love myself enough? How do I know that I don't love myself right now?
Then it hit me. I don't truly love myself right now. As recently as last week, I was deeply hurt when a genuine, caring, gentle man I had begun dating decided he didn't want to continue the relationship. He was afraid he was not what I needed or that I wasn't ready to start dating again. Immediately I started falling down that dark hole thinking, "What's wrong with me?” I thought, "He doesn't want a relationship with me, because I'm broken. I'm not whole. I'm defective. I'm tarnished. Tainted. No one will ever love me again, because I let someone abuse me. Something must be wrong with me because I allowed the abuse to happen". Suddenly, all my insecurities came bubbling up to the surface overwhelming my mind. Again.
What more am I supposed to do to love myself? I left an abusive relationship because I know I deserve better. I nurture myself through running, walking, yoga, eating healthy, taking bubble baths, getting massages. I practice gratitude and living in the moment. I am grateful for my strengths and know I'm smart, funny, compassionate, creative, strong, and hard-working. Yet I continue to feel inferior, vulnerable and unlovable. Why?
"How do we love ourselves? By forcing it at first. By faking it if necessary. By 'acting as if.' By working as hard at loving and liking ourselves as we have at not liking ourselves" Melody Beattie writes in The Language of Letting Go.
Learning to love yourself takes practice. It means letting go and learning to accept yourself and your circumstances. Loving yourself means accepting both your strengths AND your weaknesses.
I know my strengths. But what about my weaknesses? I really rather not think about them. This is probably the reason I have trouble accepting them. I'm afraid exploring my weaknesses will drive me further down the black hole of "What's wrong with me?" But if I am to accept them, I better know what they are. So here it goes.
- I can be selfish.
- I'm extremely impatient.
- I'm shy and introverted. I have to force myself to talk to people.
- At times, I'd really rather be lazy.
- I'm not as smart as I'd like to be. I often feel quite stupid. Even though I graduated highest honors with a degree in Electrical Engineering, I know I should have retained more than I have. I've met many engineers who know so much more than I do.
- I can be cruel with my words when I'm mad.
- As a child up to my 20s I had a bad temper. While I haven't unleashed it in a while, I'm afraid one day I will and yell at someone I shouldn't.
- I'm opinionated.
- I'm often critical of myself and others.
- I become annoyed and irritated easily. (I am reminded of this at this moment, as my dog continuously barks at nothing.)
- I can be a snob and have no patience for stupid people. In my defense, I have little tolerance for people who choose to be ignorant, not with people who have learning disabilities.
- Because I grew up in a family with little money, I still feel inferior that I'm not "good enough" or don't have "class" or know proper etiquette. Which is silly now, because as an adult I do make decent money and have experienced all types of formal social situations. But the sense of inferiority still lingers.
- I wish I was prettier and skinnier. And my nose is too big. :O)
- If I'm totally honest with myself, sometimes I worry I drink too much wine and I beat myself up about it.
- I'm embarrassed that I obviously don't have my life together to have been divorced twice and still in therapy at age 41. I feel sorry for myself that I don't have the "perfect" life.
- I suffer from depression and anxiety.
- Last, but not least, I'm a "victim" of domestic violence, so I must be defective in some way, right?
I think that's enough. So this is who I am. A smart, opinionated, compassionate, stupid, creative, lazy, hard-working, insecure, strong, weak, crazy, nurturing, annoyed, loving woman. What's not to love? But my therapist is right. If I can't love myself, how can I expect someone else to love me?
So how am I supposed to start magically loving myself? Melody Beattie says "Practice!" Okay, I'll practice. I love you, Donna. I love you, Donna. I love you, Donna. I love you, Donna. I love you, Donna. Hmmmm, not sure that's working. Now what?
I know! A method I used when living in Wisconsin during the winter. I would say, "Embrace the cold!" So maybe I'll embrace my weaknesses!
How's this? The next time I go out on a date, I'll say, "Hey, dufus, you got a problem with domestic violence victims? If so, you must be stupid! If you're not careful, I'll yell at you and tell you everything that's wrong about you, 'cause guess what? I have an opinion about it! By the way, hurry up and get me a drink, before I have a nervous breakdown! And if you don't like it, tough! I'll get my redneck hoodlum friends from my past life to rough you up! So there!"
That's more like it. Embrace my weakness.
"What is more freeing than to laugh at our weaknesses and to be grateful for our strengths? To know the entire package called "us" - with all our feelings, thoughts, tendencies, and history - is worthy of acceptance and brings healing feelings," writes Melody Beattie.
This is who you are, Donna. If you don't like it, tough! Deal with it. All the good, all the bad, the past, the present. Everything. What are you going to do about it?
What am I going to do about it? I am going to continue to learn, to heal, to grow, and love myself. Maybe loving myself won't happen all at once. But I would not be at this moment in time where I am connecting with others, where I'm learning and growing and becoming more spiritual and connected to the Universe, if it wasn't for who I am and my past history. I would not be learning to live with my arms wide open and embracing all that is wonderful in the world, if I had a "perfect" life. Life would be awfully boring. So, if I had to choose between that "perfect" life of marriage to a gorgeous, wonderful man and 2.3 children living in suburbia, and mine of divorce, abuse, and depression, I'll choose mine. As messed up as it seems at times, I am grateful to be alive and have my eyes open to the beauty and magic in the world. And what I see is a kaleidoscope of beautiful images including my son, my friends, flowers and trees, the moon and stars, blue herons and green lizards, waterfalls, hiking trails, and rainbows. All made possible by the person I see reflected in the mirror. ME!