As a little girl, I was raised to be nice to others over everything else. I was taught that it was important to go out of my way to please others, even at my own expense. It became apparent as a young girl it was valuable to be liked. At that time, all the girls I knew were being raised to be nice, especially if they wanted to attract a husband, the holy grail of worthiness. Not necessarily a good husband, but any husband was the prize. It meant that you were lovable. By the time we reached college it was made clear that if our desires were too "self-centered" they were wrong, meaning we were wrong and undesirable.
After a while (about the time we were entering the work world) we were really in a mess because we had spent too much time trying to figure out what everyone else wanted -- and wanted us to be. We had no idea what we wanted, except that we were still striving for the love and approval that we had no idea how to give to ourselves.
Somewhere in my thirties I realized waiting for approval from someone else was not going well. I had become an expert in believing I could predict what "everyone," which now included my boss, wanted from me and became impeccable at delivering just that; happy with my acceptance of inconsistent approval. I knew that the real deal was that sometimes nothing was enough, no matter what I did. I would need to try harder. Be better. Do more. Be more of anything than who I really was.
Many women I grew up with were more disillusioned than ever. We thought we were doing more that was expected. We were also confused about why we were not getting the kind of approval we craved. Too many of us found ourselves completely at a loss when asked "What do you want?" or "What would make you happy." We were an entire generation of women who forgot that wanting anything for ourselves was an option. Over a lifetime, we eventually lost touch with our own cravings- forgetting who we really were.
I had another epiphany a few years into my forties. Well not really, it had come many decades earlier during the reality of a messy divorce, an abandoned career to care for my children and a worn out inner approval whore, tired of turning tricks for a tough crowd. I finally decided to accept the truth of it all this in my forties.
I reluctantly decided there was really only one solution, making myself a priority. I needed to learn how to love myself first. My life depended on it.
"Loving yourself does not mean being self-absorbed or narcissistic, or disregarding others. Rather it means welcoming yourself as the most honored guest in your own heart, a guest worthy of respect, a lovable companion." -- Margot Anand
I was bad at the self-love gig because I had no idea where to start without the creeping guilt. I had been conditioned to believe that love and approval was more valuable--more valid and more deserved--when it came from someone else. I knew I needed to get good at loving myself if I wanted my love for others to be sustainable. I needed to fill my own cup first.
Then I realized something else: There's nothing more important for my children than me becoming more self-centered. I made a point to turn my focus to my own joy instead of looking to others to fill me up. I realized that was my job-to make myself happy first.
Loving myself created space for others to love me. I realized quickly what I would not tolerate from others. People only treat us as good as we treat us. If we don't truly love us, we create an obstacle course for others on their way to loving us. We set the bar.
I had expected and received nothing but the treatment I believed I deserved. Sometimes, the truth is that we do deserve better... we just haven't realized it yet. I raised that bar.
As I got more selfish and self-centered with my own self- love, my environment and relationships continued to change daily.
These days I think a lot about how if we all made our own happiness the number one priority, the world might be different. About how talking to our daughters and supporting each other to love ourselves first makes a difference. Besides not relying on others to make us happy takes a lot of pressure off. We know all about what that feels like.