“Love” is a word we throw around and use often. We know what it means, but have a hard time describing it. A sticky “love” topic that is often not discussed is whether it is selfish to love yourself. For exactly who you are.
A fabulous edition of Time Magazine hit stands last week: The Power of Shyness. The issue had a number of articles on extroversion and introversion, two personality characteristics that help us understand who we are and what we are like. In my work as a psychologist, I find many people struggle with “self” questions on a personal, relational and particularly, a spiritual level. Common questions are:
- Is it selfish to love myself?
- Is it okay that I am different from other people?
- Am I okay how I am? Do I need to change?
- How do I embrace my personality, my life experiences, my past, my mistakes, my strengths and weakness?
- How can I love myself and not be seen as selfish or self-absorbed in relationships and friendships?
Relationship With Myself
Just as we have relationships with others, we have a relationship with ourselves. Think about that for a minute – how do you treat yourself?
- pay attention to how you are feeling?
- speak to yourself with words of encouragement and hope?
- follow your own instincts?
- punish yourself when you make a mistake?
- ask for help when you need it?
Putting The Cart Before The Horse
In friendships we often put the cart before the horse, so to speak. We skip over practicing loving ourselves, and put ourselves in the position to love another person.
We make better friends when we begin by loving and accepting ourselves the way we were made. When we do not first love ourselves, which is often misinterpreted as being selfish, we put other people in the position to respect us, support us and soothe us, when we will not do that for ourselves. We put the cart before the horse.
The reciprocal is true, a friend that does not first love and accept herself puts you in the position for being responsible for “holding her together”. Her well-being is in your hands. A friend like this is often experienced as someone that might be regularly needy, demanding, controlling, self-berating, emotionally reactive and has a low self-esteem.
In a sense, this is saying, “Take care of me, because I am not willing to do it myself.”
Examples: Can You Relate?
I polled a few friends before writing this post, asking their thoughts on this topic. Here are a few responses I got:
- I am a people pleaser so I often feel people won’t love me if I don’t help/please/fix them. Even if it something isn’t what I want to do or I don’t agree with it, I would generally rather experience the emotions associated with my own discomfort than to feel like I disappointed one of my friends.
- I have a lot of needy friends who I feel like I hold together… one in particular who sent me a text yesterday to “check on me” - my word!!!
- Often my need to be in control is an attempt to relieve anxiety and feel secure, yet often results in frustration or regret. If I was much more secure with myself and at peace with myself, this urge would be less. This bleeds into my relationship with my boyfriend sometimes and recently affected a relationship with one of my best friends as I wanted to feel okay so attempted to control her behavior.
- I don’t follow my instincts a lot of the time because I just want to keep the peace, not hurt feelings, or stir the pot. It’s a lot easier to sacrifice myself than have to manage other peoples’ disappointment in me.
- In an attempt to feel good about who I am, I am starting on a dangerous path when I compare what my friend’s look like, how much they weigh, what kind of job they have, or how big their social circle is. If I really think about it and got honest, it is revealing that by comparing upwards or downwards, something is off with my personal level of acceptance.
- I get jealous of my best friend’s personality, looks and even success of her husband! Not only am I not loving myself well when I listen to the messages of jealousy, but I’m bringing tension an resentment into a friendship that was otherwise ok.
Mole Hills Into Mountains
We often deny our own wants, desires and needs so that we do not hurt feelings, make waves, cause ourselves or others discomfort. This leads to small instances of not being who we really are, small instances of not speaking the truth right away, small instances of doing something I do not really want to do, small instances of swallowing the anger and resentment I feel at myself for not speaking up, and my friend for not being aware or asking.
Not What I Want, When I Want.
When we do not represent ourselves out of fear of what will happen or what the response will be, we deny who we are. This does not mean you speak unkindly, spit nails, act passive-agressively, or demean the other person. It means you are willing to be honest and uncomfortable to get what you really want and value – to be known and valued in a relationship where there is room to be yourself and room to love, know and value the other person.
Part of loving someone else well IS loving yourself first.