This post was originally published as part of Be Love Month on Kathleen Nelson Troyer's Gently Moving Forward site.
Sometimes our life lessons come easy, but most often they are difficult, messy and uncomfortable. Yet, it is in these dark and challenging times that our greatest opportunity for healing exists.
I’ve been through a number of crises in my life. Some of these challenges took me so deep into my personal pit of hell that I wasn’t sure I’d ever see the light of day again. Each situation taught me very important life lessons about setting boundaries, standing in my power and allowing my light to shine even when it would be easier, and safer, to play it small.
The biggest gift that these crises gave to me was lessons in how to love myself.
Sure we’ve all heard how important it is to love ourselves. It seems that everywhere one turns these days someone is talking about self-love, but how many of us know what it really means?
I’ll be honest; I didn’t have any idea what it meant. I’d heard so many times over the years about how important it was to love myself but I just didn’t get it. I know now that part of the reason why it didn’t make sense to me was because I felt so much hatred towards myself. The very idea of self-love felt like an impossible feat.
Self-love wasn’t modeled for me growing up, not in my home but also not in school, on television or in the media. There were so many messages about how selfish it was to take care of yourself and to place your needs over the needs of others. I’m not sure when I bought into the myth that everyone’s needs were more important than my own, but I bought into it hook, line and sinker.
I imagine that much of the self-loathing that grew within me over the years stemmed from my interpretation of how selfish it was to have needs. I had such a strong desire to feel loved and be comforted and yet these very thoughts made me feel unworthy of love.
So instead of finding a way to learn to love myself, I put all my energy into making sure that everyone around me felt loved, cared for and safe. Often, putting myself in financial, physical and emotional stress in order to accomplish these superhero feats of spreading love.
The more I loved on everyone else, the better I felt.
That is until I didn’t. It is not surprising to me to look back at many of the major crises in my life and see how the more I resisted loving myself, the more painful and challenging the experiences were for me. And ultimately, those that I gave the most love to were often the ones who hurt me the most.
The reason for this had to do with the fact that I was defining my self worth by how well I was able to “make” the people in my life happy. Each time I found myself falling short of my goal, I hated myself even more.
Five years ago, my son had a health crisis that stretched nearly two years in duration and proved to be the turning point in my understanding of what it means to love myself. Much of this realization came when I found myself unable to help my son, fix his situation or “make” him well. I finally got to the point where there was nothing left for me to do but surrender the entire situation to a higher power. And in the moment of surrender, a spark of light ignited within my soul.
I started to realize how important it was for me to take care of myself during his crisis.
I went back to my yoga practice and started running. I set boundaries and honored them more often than ever before. I began to release myself of the belief that my value as a mother and as a person was reliant on the outcome of my son’s illness. Most importantly, I began to love myself. Truly love myself.
Since this time, I continue to be given opportunities to learn to love myself more and more. My heart is filled with love for me. It is a love that isn’t based on what I’m doing, what I’ve accomplished or whether I have succeeded or failed. It is a love based solely on the deep knowing in my soul that I am lovable and worthy just as I am.