It’s a well known axiom that in order to love others, you must first love yourself. And it’s also a well known fact that loving yourself is nearly always easier said than done. What does it even mean to love ourselves? How do we do it? How do we know if we are doing it?
This post is deeply personal to me, because self-love is something I have struggled with for most of my life. I don’t think I’m unusual in that I’m very self critical. In my training, the way we perceive the world outside of ourselves is a direct result of the way we perceive our word internally. Therefore, our thoughts about ourselves color the way we perceive and interact with the world outside of ourselves. For me, being as internally critical as I am, I often perceive criticism where none exists, or I have the unintended demeanor of making others around me feel like I am critical of them. It’s been a journey for me to stop the self flagellation, therefore interacting with the world on a much more open, understanding basis. I want to share a piece of that journey with you, because I believe that through this story some of you may see yourself and have similar “Ah-Ha” moments to the one I am about to share.
A few days ago I was cuddling in my bed with my two year old daughter. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: Goodness!! I just LOVE you!!
Her: I know
Me: It’s because you’re so lovable.
Her: I know
Me: (laughing) You make me smile!
Her: I know
Me: You’re so ME!
Her: No, I Liorah!
There’s nothing like a 2 year old’s confidence to make you smile. And as we had this conversation I realized how very much like me my daughter is—and I realized how happy that makes me, because I like me! And in that realization I realized I was loving myself!! Really, truly accepting myself for who I am in a way I have never done before. Let me explain.
As a child I had the same confidence as my daughter—“I know” was a common phrase for me to express. I was precocious and curious. When I hit school I liked not only knowing, but being praised for knowing. As a child of divorce, being "smart" became a part of my identity that covered up the pain of that separation. In the second grade I switched schools and my new school was much harder than my old one. I found myself in the “lowest” groups and I didn’t like it one bit. I wanted to be the “smart” one. So I worked my tail off to learn and be moved up into the “gifted” groups. But that experience of feeling “less than” for not being at the top of my class stayed with me, and triggered the insecurity of my father's abandonment. I ran from feeling that way by refusing to be anything less than perfect.
As the years went on, I became the “teacher’s pet” and the “know it all.” That inner insecurity of not being perfect drove me, and I refused to entertain anything less than straight A’s. The resulting peer pressure of that attitude, as you can imagine, created a lot of insecurity. Nobody likes feeling “less than”, and my “know it all” attitude sure rubbed people the wrong way!! I was teased and marginalized. But I didn’t know any other way to avoid my insecurity then to try and be the “smart” one. It was my junior year in high school that really got me thinking. We were at the end of year cheerleading banquet and awards were being passed out to each of us: “Best Friend”, “Funniest”, “Best Leader”, etc. I got the award for “smartest” cheerleader. It felt so hollow. Everyone was laughing and having fun and I was sitting on the outside looking in at all those friendships. I could help people with their homework, but I wasn’t being invited out to party with the others after the games.
I remember having a conversation with my mother about how I didn’t understand why people hated me so much because what’s wrong with knowing? With being right? She tried to explain to me that the way I was going about things was the problem, not the knowledge itself, but at the time I simply didn’t get it. I was so caught up in my own personal insecurities that I couldn’t see that I was using my “knowledge” to try and feel “superior” to those around me because it was how I fed my ego and avoided that insecurity.
In the interest of full disclosure, that lack of understaning stayed with me. For years there were times when I just couldn’t understand why people would get so mad at me for stating “facts”. It took a psychology degree and a really good understanding of cognitive dissonance to get how my behavior was rubbing people the wrong way. It took realizing that my ego felt insulted if people didn't see things my way, or choose to walk a similar path to me.
And while at times I can still be a little too preachy when I get on my soapbox, these days I finally have real friends who accept and love me for who I am. And that, ultimately, is because I have accepted myself and filled the emptiness inside me. I no longer need outside acknowledgment to feel whole. Do I falter? Of course. But then I forgive myself and move on rather than being stuck.
So what changed?? It all comes down to the intention behind the actions, and those intentions are colored by our ego and our insecurities.
As a child, “I know” was a statement of fact.
As a student, “I know” was a statement of superiority in order to feed my insecure ego by raising myself up while putting others “beneath me”.
As a young adult, “I know” was crossing people’s boundaries and disrespecting them, because “I know” was a statement that my way was the only way. It was my ego still needing to be “right” to avoid the feeling of insecurity.
Now, “I know” is a statement of “This is what I’ve learned and maybe it can help you.” It comes from a place of wanting to help people. It also comes from a place of deeply understanding myself. Now that I have given myself permission to not be perfect, rather going by the motto “As I know better, I do better”, I can recognize that my life experiences are unique to me. And I don’t need other people to be in awe of my knowledge to feel good about myself. I don’t need to be praised for my knowledge like I did when I was the Teacher’s Pet. I don’t need to feel superior to someone else by knowing more. I don’t need other’s to validate my choices by choosing my path. I do, however, want to share what I have learned with the intention of offering others something that may help them.
So as my 2 year old daughter exclaims “I KNOW” and I see myself in her, she made me realize that as I love her, I am now loving myself. Our children are like little mirrors reflecting us back to ourselves. They learn about the world by watching us. They interact with the world by following our example. When my children are doing something really annoying, I always have to check in with myself and see what example I am setting that may lead to their behavior. And when they do something really awesome, I get to look for the reflection of that inside of me, too. Not to say that we are ever responsible for another person’s actions, even our children’s. I am simply saying that the way we perceive the world around us, and the mirror that our children reflect back to us, offers us insight into how we are perceiving ourselves. And if we take advantage of that mirror, we gain the opportunity for healing and for self-acknowledgement.
And that, my friends, is why we call it the Higher Living Journey.