Harvey is a young man who wants to do good for others; he supports his friends generously with time and advice; he likes to take care of people—but not of himself. I asked him, “How come everybody else deserves good treatment, and you don’t? Don’t you count as much as the next guy?”
Harvey answered that he doesn’t want to be selfish. He looked a little embarrassed, guilty, even. He has a good life; who is he to say he wants more? Although he did admit that his living situation could stand improvement. But many other people have it a lot worse than he does, as he was quick to point out. I think Harvey is as worthy as anyone. I asked him if he was proving his virtue by denying his needs.
Harvey said, “It’s hard to know the difference between a real need and something that isn’t. Maybe I don’t deserve anything. Maybe I deserve everything. I think about this a lot. Like with my girlfriend—how much should I give? How much should I take?” Harvey was experiencing a lot of self-doubt, on this issue.
“Maybe you over-think it,” I said. “Could you treat both her and yourself more lovingly?” One purpose of therapy is to examine these kinds of questions with some objectivity.
I try to help people learn what their real needs are, and then find ways to provide for them. You can’t take care of anybody else until you learn how to take care of yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have the ability to care for anyone else. If you can’t love yourself, you can’t love anyone else. Harvey had a good relationship with his girlfriend, but he was scared, sometimes, that she might leave him. He had trouble showing her how much he cared, and this made her feel hurt and angry.
Guilt, depression, and low self-esteem sidetrack loving feelings. Sometimes you don’t know how to express your feelings because your early caregivers didn’t know either. Harvey’s parents were envious and competitive, they always measured giving and receiving, and if they gave something to you, that meant you owed something to them. There was little room for true generosity of spirit. Harvey is a very loving man by nature, but he was raised by people who were bookkeepers of love—who didn’t know that love is immeasurable.
Harvey grew up on starvation rations. And I’m not just talking about food—I’m talking about having fun, enjoying life, relishing the sunshine, the simple smells and sounds and textures of the world around you, and being fully there when you’re with other people, feeling loving and loved.
For those people out there who have not had it demonstrated for them, here are some simple ways you can show love.
9 Ways to Show Love to Yourself and to Others.
- Look into people’s eyes and really see them.
- By the same token, let yourself be seen.
- Inhale. Then exhale and let go. Focus on long slow breaths, and keep calm. If you’re relaxed and connected you might help other people feel that way too.
- When you first wake up in the morning, take some time to welcome the good things around you. Can’t find anything? You’re breathing, aren’t you?
- Are there certain situations where you always feel tight? Is there something you can do about that? How does your body feel when you are loving and happy? Aim to relax your body in that same way.
- Listen to the talking in your head and experiment with a different script. Minimize criticism.
- Let your honey know you care for him/her, and that you know he/she cares for you too.
- Remember: Life is bountiful; gifts of love have no price tag.
© Copyright 2011 by By Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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