“You have to love yourself before others will love you.”
People have been telling me this for most of my life – in middle school when I wanted the cute guy from the bus stop to notice me, in high school when I wanted my crush to choose me over my best friend, and in my early twenties when NO ONE would so much as glance at me on the rare occasion I went to a club or bar.
It wasn’t just love that had me down, though. I was overlooked for so many things in my life that it just became routine for me to blend into the curtains. I was never presented with any awards for outstanding academics or music or sports (HAHA – sports! I was the kid who accidentally on purpose wore dress shoes to school on gym days so I didn’t have to participate). I was never considered for Homecoming Queen or even a member of her court. I was never named employee of the month and could never even seem to win a game of Life or Monopoly.
This lack of fortune, star power, or whatever you want to call it may have been due to several contributing factors, but by the time I was thirteen or so, I was convinced something was wrong with me – my appearance, my mind, my emotions – EVERYTHING. And anytime I got passed over for a date, an award, or any type of recognition, it damaged my self-esteem even further.
I started getting really down on myself on a regular basis, and when my parents, friends, and relatives noticed, they’d tell me that no one was going to appreciate me until I appreciated or loved myself.
Well. Easy for them to say. I hadn’t come into this world disliking myself. I thought I was just fine and dandy until people started treating me like crap because I sucked at kickball and didn’t wear $90 jeans.
I’ve spent the last thirty or so years learning to love myself, and am happy to report that over the last year or two, with the help of EMDR, I’m finally getting there.
But weirdly enough, loving myself has come with some unexpected challenges of its own.
The thing about coming to accept and love myself is that I’ve become very bold and outspoken. While my pen may have always been mightier than my sword, I’m now finding that not only can I give someone a tongue-thrashing via email or Facebook, but I can also do it in person. I don’t mean that I walk around degrading the woman in the grocery store for wearing a black thong that’s TOTALLY visible through her sheer pale pink cotton skirt, but I no longer shy away when people challenge my opinions or try walking all over me.
But I’ve found that the people who used to tell me stand up for myself or stop allowing others to walk all over me are the same people giving me the most pushback. When I assert myself, whether it be at home, at work, or online, they raise their eyebrows, mutter “who does she think she is,” and look at me like I’ve just declared myself Queen of England.
And, well, here’s the thing – I am the Queen. Of me. It’s taken me more than thirty years to realize this – that I am actually in charge of my own life. I get to choose how I want to live, who I want to hang out with, who I’m not going to take crap from, how I can try to change a bad situation, and how to react more positively to a situation I have no control over. While I’m still struggling a lot with that last notion (I still feel the need to save the world!), I’ve suddenly become so personally empowered that it’s actually becoming a bit overwhelming.
Let me explain.
In the past, if I was invited to a birthday party, a wedding, and baby shower, and a writers’ conference all on the same day, I would somehow attempt to make it to every single event so I could please every single person – except myself. If keeping friends and family happy meant oogling at baby toys and breast bumps, then rushing to a wedding for a distant cousin I’d met twice, then leaving early to do shots with some friends to celebrate someone’s thirtieth — and missing the writers’ conference in the process, I’d do it. I was so desperate to maintain relationships and satisfy others that my wants and needs came absolutely last on the totem pole.
But now that I’ve restructured my life and thought process to make myself a priority, sometimes I find myself going to extremes.
For example, there are days when I physically have to restrain myself from getting up from my desk at work and letting a co-worker, customer, or my boss know EXACTLY what I think. Note: not all of these things are productive. Or particularly kind.
I’ve also realized that I’ve been neglecting some important people in my life, in particular my parents. I’m embarrassed to admit that even though my mom and dad live, like, half a mile away from me, I hardly ever pop in to see them or give them a call. It’s nothing personal, and I’m not doing it on purpose, but this is the first time in my life where I’m putting myself first, and I’m still working out the kinks that come along with that.
A few blog posts ago, I wrote about balance. And while I still believe I’m doing better at achieving it, I know I still have some work to do. Just because I go swimming on a regular basis now doesn’t mean my dog doesn’t need walked. And just because I’ve vowed to dedicate 30-90 minutes a night to writing doesn’t mean my husband doesn’t need attention or affection.
But after thirty years of sacrificing my wants and needs for everyone and anyone else, learning how to navigate a world where I am my own priority is a good problem to have.