Love YOU, First and AlwaysOct 01, 2021
My entire life, I have almost always had an answer. It might not have always been the right one, but I have had a response.
But today, I didn't.
"Do you love yourself?" she asked.
I sat dumbfounded. There were no words. I could have rattled something off, but I wanted my response, to be honest, true, and thoughtful. Maybe there was an answer there, but I couldn't find one. I was ashamed.
"I don't even know what that looks like," I said. "So I guess that's a No."
Damn. That hurt. I am a professional counselor, entrepreneur, reasonably intelligent human being, and I can't answer this simple question. I continued to think out loud for a moment. She led me wade through those waters alone, watching from a short distance.
"I think about how I love other people. I respect them. I genuinely care about their feelings, their well-being, and everything that makes them who they are. Is this the same criteria for loving yourself as well?" I asked her.
I was perplexed, and I had to know. My brain searched hard to figure out what this kind of love for oneself actually looked like. I had honestly, never in my life, considered what it would feel like to love myself. I mean really love myself. Not just say, oh yes, of course, I love myself superficially.
I wondered if I had, in fact, ever loved myself? Did I lose it? Or had it just never happened for me. And why was it just coming up now? Now, at 37 years old. I was so confused. So sad. So curious.
As we talked more, I started to connect the dots. How can we ever love ourselves or know what that means unless we have a framework for understanding what unconditional love is and feels like? And before I knew it, I was back to those two words that I've thought so much about lately: Emotional Safety.
If my life had only given me a perception of love that was conditional up things like these, then, of course, I would be confused. Of course, I would be sad. Of course, I would feel the need to search for belonging.
I've never been directly told the following, but the actions of the ones I have loved shouted them from the proverbial rooftops. They’ve “said” things like:
- I love you when you do what I want.
- I love you when you love who I want you to love.
- I love you when you do nice things for me.
- I love you when you buy me something.
- I love you when it's convenient for me.
- I love you when you don't fight back.
- I love you when your choices align with mine.
I will give you my love, and when you don't do what I want, when you don't love who I want you to, when you don't do nice things for me, when you don't spend money on me, when it's not convenient, when you fight back, and when you choose something I don't like, I will take my love away.
I'll take my love away by:
- Making passive-aggressive posts toward you on social media.
- Making actual aggressive posts about you on social media.
- Leaving. I'll pack my shit and go. Ever. Single Time. You anger me.
- I’ll choose anger over understanding every day.
- Not allowing you to explain yourself. No grace. No love. No nothing.
- Punishing you with silence. I'm going to make you feel even more alone.
- Talking negatively about you to others. This makes me feel better about myself.
- Siding with those that have once hurt you. This makes me feel validated.
Does this sound familiar? Ones that hold their love and your heart hostage? They force you to live on pins and needles, wondering what will set them off and cause them to take their love back? Again.
It's NOT emotionally safe.
It's not healthy, and it's not okay.
I just didn't know what it was; therefore, I didn't know the effect on my heart.
"How would you rate how much you love yourself?" She asked.
"I am confident in myself, and I am determined to overcome anything I need to. I love other people deeply even though they might not know it because I don't tell them. But just because I don't tell them how I feel doesn't mean I don't feel. I feel. Probably more than the average person, which means I also hurt, probably more than the average person."
My strength should not be mistaken for not giving a shit. My strength comes from the strongest desire to be vulnerable so I can one day be loved without contingencies. My avoidance shouldn't be mistaken for irreverence. I'm simply self-preserving, but I know that's hard to see sometimes.
"I would rate the love I have myself a two," I replied. I didn't like that number. That was a failing number, and I don't want to fail or fall short.
I want to feel. I want to love myself. I want to be the girl who confidently moves through life, not giving a shit about what anyone else thinks. I want to smile, laugh, and stay in the moment. All of them. I want to travel the world and rave over the dinner I had the night before. Taste the wine from the conversation in front of the fire before I fall asleep. I want to be as kind to myself as I am to others and give myself as much grace as I need. I want to feel like this. I want to love myself.
I mean, don’t you?
But first, that means letting go of all the people, places, and things that don't foster that desire. It means cutting the strings to everything conditional to my behavior, my performance, and my success. It means selecting people that support me. That comes to me for a conversation when they disagree with something I've done. That picks up the phone and says Happy Birthday, or I'm proud of what you did. It means actively working to build relationships that are healthy, inspiring, and meaningful. It means valuing the people who for the first time in a relationship have said the words, “How did that make you feel?” and actually listened (and cared) about what you had to say.
Toward the end of this conversation, I realized a harsh reality.
I don't love myself. Not because there’s nothing to love, because there is. I don’t love myself because I’ve never had anything else to model it after. I also realized that I will never be able to love myself unless I create the environment for that type of love to grow. And unfortunately, the goldfish bowl that I've been swimming in… well, it's getting a little cramped.
Naively, I thought making those I love proud of would be enough to earn unconditional love, but it wasn't. Now I know that this type of rarity can't be earned. That's the opposite of everything it stands for; it undoes its value.
I thought boldly creating a life that was mine, by me and only me, would be enough, but it wasn't. I thought starting a business, buying a house, and a car that still had a factory warranty for the first time would be enough, but it wasn't. The more I worked, the harder I tried, the less love I felt.
The more conditional it became.
The stakes would get higher and they could keep the same standard of expectation, but me? Me? I had to keep rising higher. I had to be perfect. I couldn't slip up, make a mistake, or do something that needed an explanation. Why? Because I knew that when or if I did, I'd lose even more love, I'd be punished. Bags would be packed, words would be spoken or worse: silence. Feelings would be hurt, things would be taken away, and I would be putting even more of what I'd worked for at risk.
Make a mistake, and I leave. That's not love. That's not how we should love others nor how we should love ourselves. Do something I don't like, and it's time to play a game. That's not love. That's not how we should treat people. If I do something wrong, I will tell everyone you did it first. I have to save face. I have to be the victim. That's not love. That's. Not. Love. People.
When the words came out of my mouth, I was shocked to hear them. "If the people who are supposed to love me don't even love me, how can I ever love myself?"
I don't like the way that sounds, and I certainly don't like the way that feels. But I committed to feeling, even if I don't know the words or the answers. So, that's what I'm doing. I'm sitting here putting words on a page, feeling, because that's what she told me to do.
Because in four months I’m going to celebrate a milestone in my life. Because I will have done something I have never done. I’m sitting here putting words on the page, editing words on the page, re-reading words on the page, and I can’t keep a dry eye, not even on one pass. Part of me questions what this has to do with anything, especially business but in my heart I know it has everything to do with business.
Because business is personal. We are human. We have feelings. We care. We love. We lose. We need to be understood. We need to belong. We need to create the space to see, learn, and grow. And sometimes, we need to put ourselves out there for the sake of others. Because we care beyond ourselves and because at the end of the day we know this will matter, because we matter.
And then you walked in.
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