Oh boy, self-love is a tough subject to write about! When fellow blogger ZombieDrew2 brought up this subject of a few weeks ago over at TheZombieShuffle (read those posts here), I thought this was a great subject needing to be to addressed, one not discussed very often. I believe many people suffer from a difficulty to love themselves, and many may not even realize this is a core problem to their unhappiness. But, when I decided to start writing my take on the subject, I ran into some trouble…
For one thing, as self-love is highly personal, it means revealing my own vulnerability to blog about it to the public. Secondly, it’s such a complex subject, I found some difficulty staying on track instead of just rambling on situations in my own upbringing that contributed to my perspective, yet I can only provide thoughts and opinions from those experiences. Then, delving into some uncomfortable memories, part of me wanted to avoid the subject altogether. I found myself walking away from attempting to discuss the subject at all, sometimes for days! This was something of a surprise, once I realized what I was doing, and told me I really needed to at least address the subject for myself, if for no other reason. Maybe blogging of my struggles with this concept can help someone else with theirs. I have specific points I want to address, and I can be long-winded, so blogging about it will need to be broken into series posts. I will try to stick to the point, though, so let me get started…
The Stigma of Self-Love
I believe the concept of loving one’s self can come with stigma, that loving yourself is just arrogant and selfish.
Depending on the family life we are raised under, we may be told at a young age to recognize the thoughts and feelings of others. We may be told we are no better than anyone else and so not to act like we think we are better. This is not a bad thing. In fact, when we are freshly learning how to interact with other humans, learning to empathize can be a valuable tool in dealing with people.
We may be told we are disappointing, not good enough, a failure, or any other of the myriad ways adults attempt to instill a desire in kids to do better. They unknowingly (sometimes knowingly) can damage a child’s psyche with attempts to make us want to achieve more. The problems arise because it can be hard to tell what little ones will understand and take to heart.
As children, we might interpret these things to mean that we are insignificant. Our feelings are irrelevant, less worthy of consideration, and unimportant. Putting yourself first is wrong, selfish, and inconsiderate. The child-mind conclusion then is that loving one’s self is a terrible thing.
As I can only speak from my experience, being raised in a dogmatic Christian household made it difficult to experience simple happiness. If you were happy, you must be doing something wrong. We were taught everyone is born bad, inherently evil sinners, so we must try very, very hard to be good little boys and girls. We must sacrifice our selfish wants for others. Only by some incomprehensible “grace” can we ever be considered “good”, no matter how hard we try, and so not to make things worse for ourselves.
Certainly the child-mind cannot understand such a vague concept as “grace” (adults even have a hard time with it), so we take these teachings to simply mean we are bad, evil at heart, and it’s our duty to try to make up for it, though we really never can we must still try. Mistakes that we make (kids make a lot, it’s called learning) are just further proof of our inherent inability to be good and pure of heart. This is bizarre, paradoxical teaching, and innocence was never even discussed. We didn’t learn about unconditional love and acceptance – those were just more vague-concepts thrown out there for us to aspire toward. Most of the teachings that stuck were about shame, guilt and failure.
I was about 12 or 13, I think, the first time someone (a counselor) asked me if I loved myself. The idea was such a foreign concept, I didn’t know how to respond. Honestly, it just seemed ludicrous to even ask such a thing. I remember trying to laugh it off like it was a trick question. (It did come from a counselor, I thought, and they are good at devising questions without real answers.) Love myself? How can I when there’s nothing good about me but that for some inexplicable reason God chooses to love me anyway?
What I had come to believe was this:
Self-love is a delusion of the narcissistically self-absorbed and much worse than sacrificing everything, even if it’s a futile attempt, to making someone else’s life a tiny bit better. To say you are “saved” is a cop-out, used as an excuse to not bother trying. Continually sinning and repeatedly asking for forgiveness is cheating on the test that is life! Daring to love yourself is an attempt to overrule God’s decree that only he has the ability to love you as you are. You’re not good enough – no one is!
These words, or very similar, were vehemently thrown at a someone in group therapy who dared suggest God wants us to love ourselves.
Thus, the stigma of self-love. Even when it isn’t coated in religious beliefs, the idea that loving one’s self is born of selfish arrogance is a common theme.
This was the beginning of my journey to discover what love means. Indoctrinated to a belief system supposedly based on love that only taught me how to fail and hate myself. I’m sure there are some who have been raised in Christian households without such a negative impact, but obviously I am not one. I know several people who choose to follow a Christian religious belief system and it works for them, my parents and three older siblings among them. I can honestly say I’m glad they are able to find peace in their lives with the aid of these beliefs.
However, I also know a number of people who profess to follow a Christian belief system while their choices clearly do not. It seems clear, from the outside anyway, that such people are deeply unhappy and probably don’t even know why. We are not cookie-cutter people so no one system of beliefs is going to work for everyone. “One size” does not fit all! It simply doesn’t make any logical sense to try.
When I made the decision to walk away from Christianity, it was only in part due to personal feelings about the religion as I was taught. It was in part due to the majority of Christians I was taught to look up to, and learn from, who were the most contradictory, hateful, judgmental hypocrites I have ever known (for years I was one of them). Though mostly the decision was based on a realization that in order to discover any deeper understanding of my true self, I had to be able to question everything, and in order to do that, I had to walk away from all I had been taught to “accept on faith.”
For me Christianity felt like a pair of tight dress shoes I was forced wear but never quite fit. It wasn’t that I hadn’t “felt God’s love” or didn’t believe my parents loved me, but that I didn’t even have an adequate definition of “love.” I just had the persistence of failure and overall misery in my life, no matter what happened. There had to be something better than questions I was made to feel bad for asking, as though I was stupid or inconsiderate to even ask. Questions that had no answers, contradictions with no explanations, there just had to be… something more.
I needed to be allowed to discover what it meant to be me, at my core – the part of me that insisted on staying alive during the worst – the part of me that insisted there was something more to be gained than mere existence in this life… This was when my journey to discover self-acceptance and unconditional love began. There were several false starts, and it has cost me a lot, but what I’ve gained along the way is invaluable.
To be continued…