I have spent years morphing myself into the right woman for a man. I thought if only I was smarter, prettier, more playful, more adventurous, more fun then I would find the man for me. Each time I changed to fit the man in my life things would get worse and worse until it ended. I did not understand. Then I talked to my dad.
Our conversation started off with the usual basic check-in with an “I love you” at the end. This time when I said it to my Dad, he told me politely to stop saying I love him. I was confused and thought he was mad at me. He explained he would prefer I focus my love on myself. Apparently, he did not believe I loved myself. When I tried to defend myself, he listed the following examples as proof of my lack of self-love.
“Well, you put up with men you need to accommodate or prove something to. You make bad financial decisions. You get defensive when you are criticized. You isolate yourself from people who love you when you are ashamed. Oh, and you have no real plan for your life.”I sat on the couch taking in everything he’d said and then after a long silence I said, “You’re right.”
My Dad then happily told me to practice being kind to myself and choosing what is best for me. Once he felt I had learned to love myself sufficiently, he told me, then we could go back to ending our conversations with “I love you”, but for now it needed to stop.
How do you love yourself? I began to wonder had I ever really loved myself.
Then I remembered the one time in my life when I was truly myself. I was 21 years old; I had finished my last class at NYU and headed to Lausanne, Switzerland to study French. I had been miserable in NY. I put on weight for the first time in my life and had no idea where I was going. When I began my European adventure I knew one thing, I did not want my life to be the same when I returned home to NYC so I decided to push my boundaries.
I traveled Europe alone, stayed up late nights talking to strangers on trains and sharing my real thoughts and feelings without censorship. When I got lost I asked for help and trusted people. When I ran out of money and was hungry someone always showed up to feed me. It was as if I had magical powers, which I could use at any time to conjure up a solution to any of life’s dilemmas.
When the plane landed back in NY I had a lovely conversation in French with the folks in customs and went home to my family. I felt different. I was confident, happy and it was real. I was home for a few days when I learned I had been accepted into graduate school in California and I decided to move to pursue my career in psychology. Everything lined up perfectly and before I knew it I was living in Los Angeles.
I was 22 years old now and I can honestly say every morning for two years I woke up excited to just be breathing in and out. I would let my feet dangle off the bed in excitement for what the day would bring. I could hardly wait to greet the world.
When I reflected on this time I recognized that my 22-year-old self was much smarter than me now. Here is what self-love looks like.
- It is living in the present moment. There was no worry about how are others viewing me, am I good enough. I was pursuing my goals daily and enjoying it so much that the opinion of others well. it just didn’t matter.
- I trusted myself. Yes, I trusted my choices and had faith that I can get through anything. I wasn’t afraid of someone hurting me because I knew how to take care of myself and what felt good to me and what didn’t.
- I exercised daily. The ability to move my body gave me an immense confidence in my ability to take care of myself. I could physically get away if a situation got out of hand and more importantly I knew it.
- I learned something new everyday. Learning was not something I just did in school. I did it all the time. I took classes. I read tons of books. I asked questions. I was curious.
- I ate nutritious food. I started eating more greens and fish. I found I thought clearer and had more energy to pursue all my interests.
- When a man broke up with me I quickly recovered because I knew I was on the right path. If they chose to leave then they weren’t meant for me.
- I trusted my instincts. When my feelings spoke to me I listened and did what felt good to me.
- I found humor in everything. Yes it can be serious and scary when you get lost in another country but it’s also an adventure with lots of cool surprises along the way.
- I forgave quickly. I chose not to hold bad feelings because well it just didn’t feel good. I forgave quickly so I could find the joy in my life.
- I valued my breath. The act of breathing was the most life affirming activity I could do. I did it daily and I did it consciously.
- I did not complain or explain. I just did what was best for me.
- The voices in my head always said nice things to me. They told me to keep going. They told me I was smart and capable. I believed them. I was enough.
Since that conversation with my dad, I’ve become notably better with all of the points my dad held up in front of me to consider. It’s been no simple journey. First, I took a long hard look at my lifelong tendencies and justifications — things I put forth as solutions to situations that either weren’t actually problems, or were, but I hadn’t recognized the actual root. I’m a therapist; I should know better. My first instinct was to beat myself up. Clearly, not very loving. So I practiced using my inner voice to be kind and gentle with myself. I no longer told myself I wasn’t good enough or that EVERYONE was better than me. I was enough — maybe not enough for people intent on criticizing me to make themselves feel better, but enough FOR ME, for my friends and family — I am ENOUGH for people who truly have my back, mistakes and all. I told myself it was ok to make a mistake and applauded any small knowledge I gained. I stopped feeling ashamed of my mistakes and began to talk about them without fear, anxiety or shame.
Obviously awareness happens in layers…so there always seems to be something else that shows me yet one more way I’m not quite loving myself as well as I should….and when that happens, I keep reminding myself that it’s these mistakes that shape me and the person I am, which frankly…is pretty amazing. Yes, that’s right I think highly of myself and I have zero shame in saying it. The truth is that the real me was always there; she was just hiding out of fear. I actually believed self-love meant I was selfish. In fact, the truth is the opposite. Self -love is a prerequisite to being able to love anyone else. I am happy to report that I now end all my conversations with I love you and when I say it to Dad he responds because he really knows I mean it. Thanks for the lesson, Dad.