Reflections on self-love

Throughout the month of May we’ve been talking about self-love in the Redefining Love Community. As always, I am in awe of the wisdom and insight that each of our members bring to the discussion. I often say that I grow from you as much as you grow from me. I wanted to share a couple of crucial tidbits shared by other members of the community that enhance the conversation started in my self-love blog post:

Avoid victim blaming!

It’s true that neglecting to set boundaries for ourselves makes it difficult for other people to honor the space we take up in the world. How can other people know where they end and we begin if we haven’t established that space?  

However! The idea that we teach other people how to treat us is one that can be a bit tricky for those in abusive situations. Abuse has nothing to do with boundaries, and everything to do with an abuser’s desire for power over others. If someone is determined to abuse, manipulate, and control someone else, emotional boundaries are not going to get them to stop.

The idea that we can teach other people how to treat us well only works with two relatively healthy, well-intentioned people. Once the relationship becomes toxic, the situation is not going to change unless both people are willing to work together towards meaningful growth.

In abusive situations, the notion that abused individuals have somehow created their own circumstances becomes victim blaming. This creates imbalance of the three pillars of boundaries, accountability, and grace by not placing accountability where it belongs – on the abuser – and not giving grace to the survivor.  

Acknowledge the struggle

The hardest times to take care of ourselves are the times we need self-love the most. We tend to push ourselves to our limits, and give of ourselves until we have nothing left. It’s easy to take time to meditate, breathe deeply, set boundaries, and dig deep when we are well-rested and relaxed. But that’s not typically when self-love becomes a struggle.

The hardest times to focus on ourselves are the times when we are trying to keep all the plates in the air, when we don’t have a free minute to spare to collect our thoughts, much less take a bubble bath or give ourselves a firm talking to about the direction our life is headed!

For this reason, self-love needs to start with grace. Chances are, you are doing the best you can. So start there. Let your first step in self-love be to acknowledge that life is tough, and then remind yourself of all the things you’ve done right, before digging in to areas that could benefit from some boundaries and accountability.

Are you giving yourself points for self-sacrifice?

Many people, especially women (but also some men), draw satisfaction and a sense of identity from denying their own wants and needs, something I call martyr syndrome. For generations, women’s self-sacrifice has been rewarded by culture. We watched our mothers and grandmothers give up on their hopes and dreams in order to make life comfortable for everyone else.

Now, we subconsciously believe that even simple self-care tasks like eating and bathing are selfish. The entire bubble bath industry is grounded in the idea that for a woman to bathe, she “deserves to take time out for herself.” Wait, what?! It’s a bath, for crying out loud! Not a vacation!

Women also often have to provide a good reason for having hobbies or pursuing a career. Recreational interests must be justified and going to work must be defended. We don’t usually hear a man saying, “I’m really sorry, honey, but I need to go golfing or I’m going to go crazy,” or “I have to work late tonight so that we can pay the bills!”

They just go golfing, work late, or do whatever else they want or need in order to feel settled, accomplished, and healthy. Yet, women say things like this all the time. In reality, no one should feel like they need to explain why they need to take care of themselves.

Are you being too strong?

Another misconception that has been passed down through generations is the idea that our children need to see us be tough in order to learn resilience. And certainly, if we are crying to our kids every time we stub our toe or have to work hard to finish a task, we might be passing on some unhealthy coping mechanisms to our kids.

But there is also danger in always putting on a brave face, no matter how hard life gets. Kids need to see us struggle, because struggle is a part of life. If they grow up thinking that nothing fazes their parents, they might think that there is something wrong with them when the hard times are hard.

There are valuable lessons to be learned by watching other people experience hardship – cry, grieve, get frustrated and stressed out – and then watching them persevere. Struggle does not only happen to “weak” people (what does weak even mean, really, and who gets to measure that?). Pain, sorrow, disappointment, and loss are a part of life.

Rather than try to pretend it doesn’t affect us, we should focus on authentically naming our struggles, and then acting to release them in whatever way feels right – maybe tears, maybe punching pillows, maybe talking it out, going for a run, or visiting a rage room! There are so many ways to release the big, hard feelings in a healthy way. When children see adults processing life’s difficulties with honesty and grace, they learn resilience. And that is true strength.

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