The Love of Self Can Be Such an Elusive Quest

The love of self can be such an elusive quest.  We are not taught it well in our culture. Many of us may still confuse the love of self with an act of selfishness. This can lead us into being very poor emotional care takers of ourselves. Self-negation can feel a whole lot easier than self-love to those ill practiced at it – practice being a very apt word, for the development of self-care takes commitment and diligence. It is a skill that is learnt. There will be moments when we slip back into old habits but this is part of the process; persistence is key.

As a young teenager I was involved in an abusive relationship with someone older than myself. It came about in the devastating wake of my mother’s death. Nobody told my deeply hurting young self that bereaved children can look for love in the most inappropriate of places. Cajoled into a sexual relationship by the flattering attention of this troubled man, my introduction to the world of desire and sex was a dark, painful, and violent one. Despite my innocence, I had a hunch that sex might express itself as a deeply spiritual physical connection between two people. I was to be disappointed. My first lesson was that sex could be a weapon; a tool to wield power and control; a means for another to vent pain and anger.  For two years I was repeatedly told that I was ugly, while paradoxically remaining the object of this person’s need and desire. It left me very confused about my own physical and sexual attractiveness but absolutely clear about my worthlessness, painful enough for any adult but crippling for a young girl experiencing the turbulence of puberty.

I came to utterly believe in my own apparent ugliness. My body found refuge in dancing. In ballet my body sensed its own strength and beauty; it was a moment of loving fusion where I could express appreciation for myself. With a secret emotional life dominated by fear and powerlessness, in dancing I clutched at the ragged edge of a self-esteem prematurely ripped from its roots. But even here in this sanctuary I feared my ugliness; my dance teachers constantly requesting that I hold up my head, that I smile, both of which terrified me because in doing so I felt the risk of yet more ridicule and rejection. Needless to say, I grew into an adult who struggled with the way she looked.

To practice the precious art of loving oneself can be a tremendously healing experience. When it occurred to me that I could go back and be a source of nurturance to that young, damaged girl inside me, my entire life changed. Feeling compassion for the little me who had suffered so much, was powerful and moving; it also prepared the ground for that child inside to trust that I could at last be an adequate carer: up until then I had been guilty of colluding with my abusers – re-inflicting the original hurt over and over by continuing to tell myself how ugly and unlovable I was.

I eventually came to view myself as both mother and daughter. When feeling those old, negative judgements rising and spilling out of me, I would quickly ask myself ‘Would a loving mother tell her daughter she was ugly and unlovable?’ Of course she would not. So why would I do that to myself? Slowly and with much initial doubt and frustration, I became the mother I had lost; in learning to create a loving space of self-nurturance and self-acceptance inside myself, I discovered the courage to be the young girl I once was before she became so distressingly submerged.

My early attempts at self-love felt unreal, fake, as if I were mouthing the lines of a bad script. I learned these words and phrases that felt alien to my mouth and gradually, with perseverance and practice – as if my tongue were connecting to my heart- they began to come of their own accord. With gentle, persistent acts of kindness to myself, I began to reclaim a sense of self-worth, tentatively discovering for the first time my own unique beauty.

This all sounds easy; in actuality it has taken years and is still a work in progress. However, now when I look back at photos of the thirty year old me – remembering how neurotic and unhappy I felt about my body and face – the forty two year old me now sees how beautiful I actually was. I feel immense sadness that I wasted so much time feeling unhappy, not able to enjoy the woman I was; I feel an equally immense joy that I recognised that the time had come to heal; grateful in finding a method by which I could eventually come to take pleasure in the woman I am.

Now of course, aging brings its own challenges to my self-esteem and yet, despite the changes, I feel more at home in my body and face than I have ever done. They are me and my being and soul feel settled and comfortably contained.  To embrace a healthy and loving relationship with ourselves is never selfish and the first battleground most of us start this fight upon- particularly for women – is the territory of our bodies and faces. Looking around me at the images of supposed womanhood that leave most of us feeling unacceptable; at young girls starving themselves to fit an impossible ideal, it seems there is much healing to be done for us all.

It still shocks me to discover the cruelty we can inflict upon another, but it shocks me further still the cruelty we can inflict upon ourselves. We are potentially all our own mothers (regardless of gender), capable of instilling the deepest self-love and worth in our daughter/son-selves. Whatever age we are, whatever major damage we wrestle with, that seemingly elusive quest is ours to make.

 

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. okathleen said,

    January 15, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    Are you your own best friend?
    http://www.okathleen.wordpress.com

  2. luckyloom1 said,

    January 16, 2009 at 1:29 am

    Hello Kathleen,

    Many thanks for visiting!

    No, I need at least one of those (best friend that is) – cooly objective and absolutely outside of myself – to remind me when I am acting like a complete arse (it has been known)! But if you are asking me if I like myself, more so now than at any other point in my life – took quite a bit of uncomfortable and honest scrutiny; some owning up to self-sabotage; repeated attempts to seperate those hateful internal voices from my own, in order to pin point where exactly they had originated. When it comes to being mean to ourselves, sometimes we take up the work that others started. I guess I got tired of feeling exiled from my own life. Having rumbled around my dark stuff for years, it eventually dawned on me that happiness wasn’t such a complicated concept – it was something you chose or chose not to be. I didn’t want to spend a life circling myself in agitation or existential angst. We have more choice than we are often willing to own up to.

    Would you like to be your own best friend?

    Popped over to your blog – you are a fantastic writer Kathleen. Will pop back again soon. Hope your studies go well.

    M xxx

  3. okathleen said,

    January 17, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    I’m not sure if I fancy me as my best friend. Very high maintenance! I wonder whether the force of the Freudian ego can allow temperance to surface… the unconscious is so powerful, especially with the Convent grown guilt simmering constantly.
    http://www.okathleen.wordpress.com

  4. luckyloom1 said,

    January 17, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Yes, I agree the unconscious is very powerful, and there can be enough mirk and mire in it – both individually and collectively – to pose some significant and seemingly intractable challenges. However, I also believe that it’s a place within us that holds great potential (I don’t share Freud’s pessimism about humanity), expanding beyond the limited understanding and contructs of our conscious minds. Engaging with this fertile place – or at least finding channels that enable us to glimpse a little of what resides there – might leave us feeling like we have been steamrollered at times and yet such engagement has the potential to clear the way for much needed growth and change.


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