I never thought I didn’t love myself.
If someone had asked me if I loved myself, I’m confident that my 20-something self would have said, “Yes.” The truth is, in subtle ways I neglected to honor my needs, my voice, my expression, my feelings…my being. This showed up in many ways. I worried about what other people needed and forgot what I needed. “What do you need?” was never a question I asked myself. I’d say “yes” when I really needed to say “no.” I’d allow people to dump their feelings on me in service of being a good listener. When I walked away from the conversation, I felt drained and emotionally beaten up. I avoided sharing my feelings or point of view to keep the peace.
When I thought about what mattered as Valentine's Day approached, I knew I had to write on self-love. While there are countless articles and many self-love experts, I have discovered that self-love is perhaps the most difficult dance I'm learning to dance. After decades of wiring my system to care for others first, learning to care for myself first is a slow, steady, bumpy, sometimes up and down road.
I've come a long way. I stop and ask myself "what do you need" occasionally now. I put my phone on do not disturb when I want to finish a work project so I won't feel pulled to attend to others' needs if they text me. I know how to recognize the signs that I'm moving towards a sense of overwhelm, and I journal in the morning to keep attuning to my inner voice. Yet some days I forget. I take the phone call that comes instead of doing that meditation my soul wanted before I teach. I agree to help a friend with a project in their work and discover it's 10 pm and I'm only now finishing my work day. I underestimate signs in my body asking for rest and find myself completely unable to concentrate at work from fatigue. And so it goes. The cycles of learning when we are creating lasting change.
Lasting self-love is a slow, gentle process. A process that requires much compassion and endless forgiveness because we will fall along the way.
Anyone that tells you otherwise has forgotten how challenging the path is in the first place. I heard this brilliant excerpt recently from Amy Poehler's book "Yes, Please." She spoke about the mistake she made when she started writing her book. She spoke to people who had completed writing their books. They were past the process and looking back in nostalgia about how great it was. They had forgotten the painful moments of writer's block, boredom, almost giving up, and obsessive over-editing. She compared her decision to seek advice from writers who already completed a book to someone who asks for advice on how difficult child-birth is from a parent who's child is now 4.
I remember a very tense conversation I had with one of my teachers one day. I was totally flustered and frustrated with trying to let go of an old habit and thinking pattern. It seemed to stick to me like superglue and every time I tried to shift it would come boomeranging back. Annoyed I turned to him and asked "how did you do it?" "I just drop it Marci. Anything that no longer serves me, causes me suffering, I just drop it. Right there." I found myself more irritated. Well that's not helpful! That is not my own experience! I thought. I wondered if I was dumb, incompetent in the mindfulness department, or if I was missing a secret door. Honestly, it wasn't until I heard Amy's words the other night, many, many, years later, that it all made sense. My teacher was past the new habit creation. He forgot the challenges in the beginning, middle, and end of the path. What seemed easy now, was once before, hard as hell. After difficult paths, our brains like to create simple stories so that the simple beginning, middle, end go something like this... Old habit pops up, see it, drop it. The End. But the truth, I'm sure is far messier than that. Something like, old habit pops up, get totally lost in it, realize you are lost in it, see it, decide to drop it, still hang on to 90% of it, get trapped in the 90% part, realize you are trapped in it, see it, decide to drop it, still hang onto 50%, and so it goes.
What if we acknowledged that self-love is really hard...but not impossible.
Want to love yourself more? Start by loving on the incremental moments of self-love you create. It's easy to get caught up in "how far we have to go" or how messy the story is. But really, who's human story isn't messy and complicated and up and down and beautiful and ugly and everything in-between? It's never a straight linear line like we want it to be. It's far more wavy and jagged and even in circles at times.
For this week's Joy Tip Wednesday, I want you to try on a little self-love. Check out my LifeHack.org article How To Love Yourself More HERE for my favorite self-love practices.
Let me know which practices you try on for size and the messy, swirly, never boring results of your experiment in the comments below. In the meantime, know that we are in this together. There are no simple answers, but there are endless opportunities for exploration. In this infinite sea of moments to get up and try again, I hope you'll keep trying.