Over the course of the Pandemic I’ve taken the opportunity to dive into reflection and learning more about emotions and how they control so much of what we do – everything from eating and sleeping to how we react in certain situations to certain people. I’ve really tried to get to the heart of what makes me tick. What the core emotion is that throws me into jealously mode when I feel like I’m working so hard and other people are more successful than I am. What ignites my overall frustration with some people when other people can do the same thing and I’m fine with it. Why I have such a difficult time feeling true joy that when I do it feels like an euphoric surprise. I want to be better – a better human. A happy human. And most days, I struggle with true happiness no matter how much I feel like I might be helping other people.
The last therapist I went to see was, to say the least, a little non-traditional. I was with him 15 minutes when he said, “You really need to learn to love yourself.” Now, had I heard this only one time, I might have blown it off, but the truth is that it is the one consistent message I’ve received from every therapist I’ve ever seen. Prior to this man, I had been in a therapy session with another counselor who put me in a meditative state and asked me to repeat the words, “I love myself” and I burst into tears and told her I couldn’t. I literally couldn’t. Like my subconscious was like, “Dude, no way. Not happening.” It’s an experience that has taken me a long time to process, and I’ve actually felt empathy for my little human inside that was so sad that they couldn’t say those words aloud.
I’m going to take a pause here and say that I don’t need anyone to message me and ask me if I’m okay and tell me all my good qualities – although I love that people are kind enough to do that for someone. In this case, I’m good. I’ve got me. This blog post is about reflection and potentially helping someone else who may feel like they see themselves in some of what I say. Don’t feel bad for me. I’m doing good work. Work that not everyone is always willing to do.
In my reflection over the course of the pandemic I’ve found that all roads lead back to the way that I feel about myself and boundaries I have or have not set. That my reactions, actions, and the way I treat others is a direct reflection of how I love myself – or don’t. And I have grown – although very slowly – over the course of time in working on this, and I’ve found that there are pieces of my life that have improved because I have found a friendship with myself. I am better able to relate to others because of this newfound relationship.
I’m better able to hold space for someone else.
If you’ve never heard the term “holding space” it means being present for someone as they work through their emotions. Indications of not holding space might be: saying things to try to make it better, relating their experience back to your own life, or being judgmental of their situation. Holding space is not always easy because it requires you to allow someone to process through their hurt without trying to necessarily fix it or give advice. But, what can make holding space even more difficult is if you’re still working through your own emotional baggage. Clearing your own personal baggage allows you to have the space to hold. So many of our judgments and desire to see people ok stem from our own triggered emotions and experiences that we have boxed up inside. By working through my own emotions and baggage I am now able to have the space to hold for others as they work through theirs. It also makes me feel more whole – more grounded, which makes me a more grounding presence to anyone who needs it.
I understand loving others better.
It’s difficult to know how to love other people if you don’t know how to love yourself. It’s also really difficult to know your value if you don’t love yourself as well. In the past, I could be so desperate for someone to care for me (using “love” synonymous with true friendship here) that I would allow people to walk all over me and I would use their “happiness” as my own because I didn’t know how to generate it within me. If they were asking me to do something for them, they must love me, even if I was giving more time and effort than I had available to give. I would allow toxic people to remain because the small doses of simulated caring was enough to get me through their negative behaviors. When I learned how to better love myself, I also learned that people will value me exactly how much I value myself. And if I don’t value myself, some people will value me that much as well, so the narrative needed to be changed. In learning to love myself I found the people who love me that much tended to stick around, and through that experience I learned to love others stronger as I was able to see what true love looked like.
I embrace the eccentricities of others.
Prior to taking the opportunity to do all this shadow work, my own self-loathing could often be found focusing on my personal “wishlist”. This wishlist included things I wished were different about myself. My weight. My inability to focus on anything for a long period of time. My irrational fear of sharks and heights. My nose. The list was long and I felt what made me different made me less than. This is the current area where I do the most amount of work. Accepting what has traditionally made you feel like you’re not good enough in the past can be a long process as disliking pieces of myself has been something I’ve practiced for many years. But, I’m getting better. The idea that I can both like where I am and still try to be better has been a concept that has helped me. Embracing things like my weight (while still trying to get healthier) and my crooked smile is helping me to love it all without judgment, and loving these things about myself has helped me to appreciate the eccentricities that others bring to the table with the same lack of judgment. And honestly, it feels good. Less judgment and more acceptance should always be the goal.
While some might think that one might take on narcissistic tendencies if they love themselves, I can say with certainty that moving into this space has humbled me unlike many other experiences I’ve had in my life. I’ve had to dig into and challenge my own emotional triggers and reroute the parts of my brain that have been taught to react in a negative way to me feeling good about myself. I’ve had to give myself pep talks in the mirror. I’ve had to literally tell myself “I love you”. But mostly I’ve had to work on myself because I’ve always believed that I’m on this Earth to be in the service of others, and I’m slowly learning that I can’t truly do that until I’ve learned to love, accept, and value who I am.