Saturday, September 10, 2016

Living Loved: Random Musings on Loving Self

As is normally the case for me, I'm reading three books at once and it occurs to me that there is a common theme to be found in all three.  Brene Brown provides an intriguing definition of love in The Power of Vulnerability.  Brown says that
"Love is not something we give or get but something we nurture and grow; a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them.  We can only love others as much as we love ourselves."
Hmmm . . .

She goes on to assert that behaviors that damage love include shaming, blame, disrespect, betrayal and withholding of affection.  If loving self is a prerequisite to loving another it seems logical that shaming, blaming or disrespecting myself impacts my love of self  OK, that hurts--a lot!  I think all of us struggle with self-shaming, blaming and disrespect towards self; all of us abandon or betray ourselves at some point, especially if we are impacted by addiction or dysfunction.  These behaviors do not lend themselves to love but rather destroy or damage love.

Brown's research indicates that knowing ourselves is important but that how we treat ourselves is more important.  I learned the Golden Rule as a child but was never taught that in order to know how to treat others in a loving manner, I had to learn how to treat myself lovingly.  So much of religion focuses on self-denial or self-abasement and teaches that self-care is selfish but not so, I'm learning.

Knowing, accepting and loving self are major themes in Glennon Doyle Melton's memoir titled Love Warrior.  She chronicles her struggles with alcoholism, promiscuity and bulimia and poignantly describes her crushing desire for acceptance, connection and belonging.  By the end of middle school she had learned that the only way to survive was to send out her "Representative" and to keep her true self hidden and protected.  Alcohol and risky behaviors helped to numb the pain of not having her true self be seen and accepted.  Like Glennon, we often believe that acceptance and connection hinge upon fitting in, but according to Brown this is the primary barrier to true belonging.  The thing we long for the most--belonging, that innate human desire to be a part of something larger than ourselves--is sabotaged by our attempts to gain approval and acceptance by fitting into a prescribed mold.

Elizabeth Smart was 14 when she was abducted from her bed at knife-point and and held for over nine months.  She details her experience in My Story. Immediately after her abduction and every day of her captivity, she was brutally raped.  She describes her horror, despair and sense of being incredibly soiled, repulsive and not worthy of love or belonging after her initial rape.  She believed that God and her parents could never love her again.  She describes several events early in her captivity that changed her view of what had happened to her and that enabled her to believe again in God's extravagant and unconditional love for her.  Early in her ordeal, Elizabeth made the decision to do whatever she had to in order to survive.  She had come to believe again in her intrinsic value and refused to accept the view that her rapist had of her.  She was able to transcend the daily assault to her body and sense of self by seeing herself as someone worthy of love and belonging and who was loved lavishly and without restraint by God.

After her rescue and reunion with her family, her mother held her and whispered these words to her:
Elizabeth, what this man has done is terrible.  There aren't any words that are strong enough to describe how wicked and evil he is!  He has taken nine months of your life that you will never get back again.  But the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy.  To move forward with your life.  To do exactly what you want.
You be happy, Elizabeth  Just be happy.  If you go and feel sorry for yourself, or if you dwell on what has happened, if you hold onto your pain, that is allowing him to steal more of your life away.  So don't you do that!  Don't you let him!  There is no way that he deserves that.  Not one more second of your life.  You keep every second for yourself.  You keep them and be happy.  God will take care of the rest.
This became the mantra of her recovery.

So loving myself is a prerequisite to loving my spouse, my children, my family of choice or family  of origin, my friends, my neighbors and my God.  Loving self means that I "Don't shrink; don't puff up, but just stand my sacred ground." (Brown)  I show up and allow myself, the real me and not my "representative" to be seen.  It means that I do not abandon or betray myself and that I root my intrinsic value in my existence and in God's extravagant love for me rather than the values or opinions of others.  It means that no matter what happens to me, my past or pain does not have to define me or my future.  I can choose health, recovery and yes, even happiness.  I can choose love.