Everyone’s heard this cliche fact: We need to love ourselves before we can love anyone else. We need to be taught to love aspects of ourselves–again and again–by the people around us.
As much as we want to control our future, the humbling truth is that sometimes the only way to learn self-love is by being loved-precisely in the places where we feel most unsure and most tender. When that happens, we feel freedom and relief and permission to love in a deeper way. No amount of positive self-talk can replicate this experience.
Yet if our vulnerability is met with derision or disinterest, something tender shrivels and retracts within us, and we may think twice about ever sharing that part again. In a Chipmunks episode, Simon falls head over heels in love, but has no idea how to win the (chip)girl’s heart. Dave exhorts him, “Just be yourself.” In response, Simon wails, “I tried that already!” When our authentic self doesn’t work in the world, we create a false self which lets us feel safe and accepted–but at significant cost.
Imagine taking a pet you love and putting it in a yard with an invisible electric fence. When it moves outside its allowed space, it gets stunned by an unexpected shock. It will only take a few jolts before your pet gets the message: if it goes too far, punishment will be instantaneous. In a short period of time, your pet won’t act as if the borders even exist; it will simply avoid them. If pushed closer to the danger zone, it will exhibit increasing signs of anxiety. The world outside the fence just isn’t worth the pain.
Now imagine turning off the charge from the invisible fence, and then placing a bowl of food outside its perimeter. Your pet might be starving, but it will still be terrified to enter into the newly free space. And when it finally crosses the line, it does so with trembling; anticipating the pain of new shocks. It is the same with us; even though we yearn for the freedom of our true self, some deep reflexive instinct still tries to protect us from being hurt again.
We can each learn more about our true and false selves by answering these two questions:
* What parts of your authentic self did you have to hide or camouflage in your childhood?
* In your current relationships, where are you confined to too small a space? What parts of yourself are you not expressing?
When we suppress these challenging gifts, we’re left with a sense of emptiness and loneliness.
This shame around our most vulnerable attributes is almost universal. And even our best thinking will barely budge it.
So, how do we free ourselves? The best, sometimes the only, way out is through relationships; relationships which instruct us in the worth of our most vulnerable self.
Of the people you know, who sees and relishes your true self? Who isn’t too afraid of your passion, or too envious of your gifts? Who has the generosity of spirit to encourage you toward greater self-expression? These people are gold. Practice leaning on them more, and giving more back to them.