Love Yourself In Every Language, Part II
In the first post of this series, I talked about the various love languages defined by Gary Chapman, but then I took the concept and applied it to the idea of self-love, and the common opinion that you can't truly love others - or accept love from others - until you've learned to love yourself.
And I know I'm not the first person to have thought about it in that way - I'm certainly no love expert in any form. I can write a romance novel because as a woman, I can share what appeals to women like me through my writing; I can share stories I love about characters I can relate to, filled with concepts and symbolism that are important and personal to me. But that doesn't make me an expert.
Even in self-love, I'm far from being anything close to an expert. I don't know all the strategies. I don't know all the tips and tricks. I don't know why some of the things work for some people and those same things don't work for other people.
But then again, maybe I do ...
In certain ways, I guess I am something of an expert on this topic after all ... I mean, I've spent the last 34 years learning about me, studying me, hanging out with me. I haven't always been lovable, but I've spent this time learning to love me anyway, to appreciate the things about me that make me so very me. I'm abrasive and brash, I've got a foul mouth and a sporadic, uncontrollable sense of humor. I laugh at inappropriate times, crack jokes to break up awkwardness, and I've got a quick wit that can be pretty biting now and then. I'm sarcastic, but I'm sarcastic with a straight enough face that sometimes other people can't tell if I'm kidding or not. And man, am I quirky.
But I'm just me, and that's all I know how to be - me. I'm made up of the things I've felt and seen and survived, the love and the loss, the lessons learned, the opportunities lost, the joys, and yes, the regrets.
That being said, I'm actually pretty lovable - I'm funny and open, honest and loyal, and I give second (hundredth) chances way too often because I'm forgiving and I want to see the best in people. I'm thoughtful and considerate, and while I fail at all kinds of things all the time, I am one of those people that takes life seriously and truly gives their all to making the best of what's available.
I'm really sort of awesome, now that I think about it.
But liking myself and really showing love to myself? Well, those are two different things.
Because sometimes, if I haven't worked hard enough on whatever project I'm attempting, I don't feel like I deserve nice things. I still struggle with simple things like wearing the perfumes I own ... because they're special, and I need to save them for special occasions. Because they're special and I'm somehow ... not. Except that I am.
But I do this in so many areas of my life - I don't put myself first even when I can and should, because I'm looking out for my other priorities, which are rarely ever me. I knew I needed therapy for years before I made time to go, knew I needed to see doctors for my health issues for years before I made the time to go. I put me off. I waited because "after this I'll do it" or "once that's settled then it's my turn."
No wonder I stopped feeling loved, huh? No wonder I stopped being able to feel loved, stopped being able to accept gestures of love from others. No wonder I started filling up with shame and self-loathing every time I did something for myself or allowed someone else to do something for me.
No wonder my self-talk went to shit and I started becoming the worst abuser in my own life.
I forgot to love me.
Like in theory, I loved me. I took care of me, kept me fed and clothed and sheltered. Found ways to survive, to meet my most basic needs.
But I didn't LOVE me. I kept me fed, but I didn't feed my body the fuel it needed, didn't pay attention to proper hydration. I let my hard-won fitness slip. I kept me clothed, but I felt no pride in my clothing. I was dressed because it isn't proper to be naked all the time and pants tend to be required in common society. But I didn't dress in the style that appeals to me, I dressed in the style that was simplest, easiest to manage, and lowest in maintenance - so that I could get it over with and move on to more important things, more important people. Because I loved me, but I didn't LOVE me. I did the things that must be done for me ... but I didn't go the extra mile, didn't take that extra step.
I gave myself love: the emotion. And that's fine because it was all I had to offer myself back then, and even that was sometimes hard to come by. I wasn't proud of me, wasn't proud of anything. I couldn't see the value in this lump of flesh that is me, couldn't see the worth in the beating heart, the contracting lungs, the pumping vessels of blood. Couldn't appreciate the value of the mind and spirit that have developed out of the mire of my life. Once I could, I could give me love: the emotion. I could love this survivor girl who had to become her own hero because everyone she looked up to abandoned her, abused her, or let her down. I could love the girl who kept on trying no matter what, who didn't quit, who never gave up no matter how much she wanted to. I could even love the girl who cried at night because I was the only one who loved me.
But I felt very alone in my little world - surrounded by people, but screaming in silence. Often, surrounded by the wrong people, aching almost desperately to be known intimately and loved anyway, but unable to simply offer my authentic self because I didn't see my authentic self as anything special to offer.
Now, I see it differently. Now, I think I've mostly mastered the art of love: the emotion, at least when it comes to loving me. And what's more, I don't just love myself now - I have an honest, soul-deep respect for the woman I turned out to be after what I've survived. I could have made so many choices better ... but I could have made so many choices worse. I did the best I could with what I had though, and I can see the value in that now in a way that I couldn't before.
So what's the old saying? "When you know better, do better." And how do I apply that to this topic?
Oh, that's easy. When you already have love: the emotion, and you know what to do with it, how to apply it even to yourself, the one person on the planet about whom you have the most deeply intimate knowledge, the person whose shadows you have lived in and whose darknesses you have explored, then there can only be one logical next step in our quest to do better now that we know better.
We must take love: the emotion, and learn to turn it into love: the practice. Love: the action. Love: the verb.
In the next post, we'll continue to explore this more deeply. Stay tuned - but in the meantime, leave me a comment and tell me where you are on your self-love journey. Do you love you yet? And if so, how? Why? What are you still working on? I'd love to hear from you!
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