How we treat ourselves affects our interactions with others. If I beat myself up for not being perfect, how will I be loving toward a friend or a romantic partner who has “failed” me? How will I be able to set realistic expectations for others if they aren’t realistic for me?
So often, we are unloving toward our perceived flaws. We criticize our bodies, without thanking our body parts for the important functions they serve. We criticize our personal qualities, without practicing compassionate curiosity. Our mistakes are rarely used as opportunities for growth. Instead, our mistakes are used to create a track record proving how “incompetent” we are.
In an ideal world, we would be in control of our lives and tailor them to our liking. In the real world, however, we are faced with messiness on a daily basis. There are more gray areas than black-and-white ones. Our plans don’t always pan out, and our expectations are not always met.
It always surprises me how dehumanizing our problems can be. Anxiety convinces us that we are “crazy.” Depression convinces us that we are “worthless.” Perfectionism convinces us that we are “never enough.” Yet we invite these abusive voices into our daily routines. Whatever happened to healthy self-love and self-respect?
In today’s modern world, many people appear to be self-absorbed. We often spend more time on our phones than actually socializing with those around us. There is difference between being self-absorbed and practicing healthy self-love, however. Being self-absorbed centers on the idea of empty external validation. On the other hand, healthy self-love invites acceptance, integrity, and creates space for personal values. Healthy self-love is the ability to notice one’s “flaws” and attempt to improve those areas through compassionate healing. Healthy self-love allows a person to be human. Healthy self-love does not connect one’s self-worth to one’s performance.
Think about it: A lack of healthy self-love leaves us feeling ashamed and alone. Over time, a lack of self-love can lead to depression, anxiety, loneliness, and a sense of emptiness. These issues develop such a centralized position in our lives that we may grow fearful of leaving them behind. We latch onto them as though our identities will be compromised if we try to move beyond what they have planned for us.
If it was up to depression, we might lay in bed most of the day. If it was up to anxiety, we might avoid speaking in public. We know that not loving ourselves may leave us feeling lonely and tired. We know that negative self-talk may only invite more anxiety. Yet we continue to stay married to our challenges. We offer loyalty to our problems and, in doing so, leave less space for self-love.
If it were up to depression, we might lay in bed most of the day. If it was up to anxiety, we might avoid speaking in public. We know that not loving ourselves may leave us feeling lonely and tired. We know that negative self-talk may only invite more anxiety. Yet we continue to stay married to our challenges. We offer loyalty to our problems and, in doing so, leave less space for self-love.
Our problems attempt to compare us to an unrealistic standard that is never consistent. The standard continues to grow as we age. As we age, the standard attempts to find a new cohort to compare us to.
We carry “suitcases” from childhood into adolescence. We fill up our suitcases with more unmet expectations and perceived disappointments and carry them over to adulthood. The cycle continues until the day we die or we realize our problems will never allow us to love ourselves.
When we judge others, it’s usually because they have “failed” to meet an expectation that our problems have set for us. Either we have “failed” to achieve that expectation as well, or we have “succeeded” at complying with the expectation. Lack of self-love steps in and whispers: “I have failed at meeting this expectation, and so has this person. I don’t like myself, so I don’t like this person, either.” Lack of self-love also can whisper: “I have complied with this certain expectation. This person has ‘failed’ to meet this particular expectation. They are not perfect and not worthy of my time.”
The way you treat others is a reflection of your internal dialogue with yourself. If you have cheated on a romantic partner, it is less about your romantic partner or the third person in the scenario. It is more about who you would have hoped to be with, alongside the third person. It is about you.
If you have judged another person, it is more about your relationship with mistakes or differences than it is about the other person. Problems have a way of tricking us into loyalty. Problems guide us to black-and-white thinking. Our goal is not to step away from personal values and morals. Our goal is to have acceptance and love for ourselves—enough acceptance that we are able to remind ourselves that we will be okay regardless of how others choose to live, regardless of other people’s actions.
Do you love yourself enough to forgive yourself for the things you think you have not accomplished? Can you be compassionate with yourself and accept yourself so fully that you stop looking for others to do what you have “failed” at? Can you remind yourself that where you are at this very moment is exactly where you need to be?
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