Love Begins with Me
BY ANITA MARTIN
A few years ago, I had a moment of clarity. Call it an epiphany, therapy, or enlightenment. Like many, I searched nearly every area of my life for understanding. I left no stone unturned in staunch determination to find the problem and solve it. And while my journey began with one moment of perspective, it required years of my life to uncover that which I was seeking. So, what did I ultimately discover? I discovered the missing piece of my life-positive self-regard and self-love.
Before I continue, self-love is often confused with narcissism. Narcissism is a destructive form of relating that appears as inflated self-importance. In reality, a narcissist’s experience is one of deep pain. The persona is a created identity that increases self-protection. In conventional thought, positive self-regard is sometimes considered selfish. My own experience was infused with this notion, but confusing self-love with selfishness is flawed and unhealthy. Still, many people have shared a similar journey and are learning to develop a more positive view of self.
Healthy relationships with others simply cannot occur when the way I relate to myself is unhealthy. Why? When people are in relationship, they bring the totality of who they are into it-both positive and negative. If an individual is self-critical, he or she will present this perspective in their relationships. Thoughts influence our feelings. Feelings then fuel behaviors. The way we interact with ourselves comes out in action. For example, if we believe we are unworthy of love, we will behave in a way that reinforces that belief. We will unconsciously treat ourselves as though we are undeserving. Others may treat us as though we are undeserving.
One common result of this is focusing primarily on the needs of others and accepting responsibility to help-everyone. An individual may have trouble establishing limits in their relationships or prioritizing personal needs effectively. While helping others is a noble cause, it can be come unhealthy when personal needs, feelings, thoughts, dreams, and more are denied. Furthermore, we may linger too long in unhealthy relationships and unknowingly increase personal suffering.
Popular culture has not been helpful in promoting healthy relationship principles. In fact, many fairytales, music, movies, and novels may suggest that one individual can be made complete by another. How can I expect something or someone to create wholeness for me? Remember, relationships are like mirrors that reflect an image. Mirrors do not create images. If I cannot love, respect, and nurture myself, how can I expect others to offer that which I cannot offer myself? Love begins with me.
By now, you may be questioning how to begin. Get to know yourself. You can increase self-awareness through self-reflection, writing, therapy, music, and art. Spend time alone where the only audible voice is yours. Pay attention; be inquisitive. Observe your thoughts and feelings rather than judging them. Consider them clues to increase personal understanding. Why are you thinking and feeling this way? What might you need to learn?
In the end, my journey was one of learning to respect and nurture myself. And, the ability to love, honor, and care for yourself will provide a most important foundation to all of your relationships.