It's frightening to think the ways we feel, think and behave can be so destructive.
Yet, without the right lessons or impetus to challenge them, we will continue to live in possibly harmful ways.
My main fallacy has been this: I have never felt loved for being, only for doing.
And over time, I came to the sad realization several others, like myself, saw self-worth as something that was earned.
They did not see it as something inherent in every being. I noticed people were looking outward for affirmations about themselves instead of having them grow from within.
Whatever the cause and whatever the case, this is how I was. I was desperate for affirmation, thriving on compliments and praise and doing things specifically to garner the right kind of response.
This is what my ex-boyfriend didn't like and, ironically, tried to fix about me: the conditioned habit of seeing myself through the lenses of whomever’s eyes were pointing in my direction.
He’d chastise me for dressing a certain way, for my social media obsession, for not being able to let a conversation end without my humor sprinkling the air.
He was the type of person who had strong beliefs and principles and lived by those alone. Call that narrow-minded, but it became something I grew to admire.
Consequently, I started to see why he hated the things he hated about me. I started to hate them myself.
So, my journey to form my own self-schema ensued. But, this was quickly met with hardships I never anticipated.
"What do I believe in? What do I think and feel? What do I even look like? How can I grow to like myself without even knowing myself?"
I was such a professional people-pleaser that I never recognized what pleased me. I was used to being lukewarm and fluid without substance or boundaries.
I knew I had to take mental notes of my thoughts and behaviors and dissect the reasons behind them. It was sort of a pseudo-psychology experiment.
Here are some things I've found, and am still discovering, through this journey to "do me":
1. Schema is ever-changing.
As we are never the same, our environments are never the same and life is never the same, it’s important to see yourself as being in constant flux and in harmony with the universe.
It is, if anything, unideal to have strict definitions that may hinder your growth or close yourself off from opportunities that lay outside the circumference of the aforementioned imaginary “self.”
My desire to define myself enlightened me this way: You cannot define yourself. You can only know yourself.
Self-awareness in whatever state you are in — short- or long-term, fleeting or significant — is the first step to self-love.
It's the first step to not crumbling every time someone else tries to touch something you're sure of. It's the first step to not base your value on others' opinions of you.
Okay, I don’t yet love or hate myself. But, I can say that I know.
I know what I like, what I believe in, what I’d die for and what I don’t really care about. When I’m presenting things now, it’s not because I think I’ll elicit a certain type of impression of myself.
It’s what I actually feel at that moment. I think it’s important for us to be a little more honest and a little less reluctant to share what’s going on in our minds.
And, of course, we should be confident it is coming organically, rather than from external pressures.
Something I’ve noticed recently is people will gravitate toward you more the more "yourself" you are.
I’d always been drawn to people who stayed true to themselves, and I always found myself attracted to those with quiet, humble self-awareness.
But, I was never able to practice it. Over time, the less contrived I acted, the more comfortable I felt, and the more comfortable I made others.
All the positive attention I worked so hard for came naturally to me. People would tell me things if they thought I could relate.
People would pay me compliments for sincere efforts. People I wanted to be around wanted to be around me.
Maybe the reason why — even when I was a quite successful “attention whore” — I still felt worth very little was because positive energy is meaningless if it's contrived.
“Thanks for thinking I’m great, but I’m only a great actress.”
I’m sure some people hate me. And to those who do, cheers to you, c'est la vie, to each their own — whatever floats your boat.
I’d rather be hated for what I am than loved for what I am not.
So, this is huge. It’s huge and never-ending. The transition from someone who thought she had to offer help, laughter, time, money and sex in order to feel like anything at all to someone who could just feel worthwhile breathing and existing is incredible.
I would love more love in my life. I am open to it, want it and crave it. But, I will never ask for it.
2. Free yourself from the concept of "deserving" anything.
When I was younger, I would lie in bed at night, cringing at the thought of all the injustices in the world. Poverty? Famine? Endangered species?
I would internalize every problem, large or small, as personal afflictions. I imagined myself transporting from region to region, crusading against evil.
But instead, I was crippled by my smallness, aware any action I took would be inconsequential in the grand scheme of the never-ending wrongs in the world.
I didn't envision myself as a failed hero. I probably wasn't even as concerned with all these tragedies as I'd like to think.
Rather, I was mainly frustrated by my inability to control a situation I saw needed fixing.
I hated that I was powerless. I was powerless to set the equilibrium of the universe back to the way it "deserves" to be.
Do people deserve to get hurt? Did victims of rape and murder deserve that? Do we lose loved ones in natural disasters and freak accidents because we deserve it?
The more I’m exposed to the random atrocities that plague this world, the more I want to reject the idea that anyone deserves anything.
If the world functioned in a way where people got exactly what they deserved, we’d have no need for prisons, courts, hospitals or heartache. Some things just happen.
The same frustration with my powerlessness I felt as a young girl stayed with me and eventually manifested in my relationships.
But, there are so many fallacies involved in trying to play God with other people.
By attempting to take control of people’s feelings or the situations surrounding them, we assuming , “because I’ve been through [blank], because I feel this for you or because I’m willing to do [blank], consequently, [blank] needs to happen.”
Some people just love, and some people don’t. Sometimes, we break our own hearts for other people, and sometimes it’s not enough.
Not only is it horrendously unsound to view human relationships as such a mathematical exchange, but even if they were to pan out, what good is a love you have to ask for? A love you feel entitled to?
The more contrived it is, the more you’re contradicting yourself. If you feel you truly “deserve” something, should it not come organically?
If someone loves you, it's real, whether you deserve it or not.
3. People don't belong to each other.
Because I was constantly doing for love, I couldn't trust love existed in other people unless they actively expressed it. I'd try to manipulate the ways they could show it in a way that I saw it, but:
1. It's not practical to expect others to speak the same love language as you do.
2. Even if people love you to death, they still don't owe you anything.
So, of course, you can't control how much or what kind of love you get. You can only act on your own emotions. Express love as you feel it, and welcome its reciprocation.
I felt like I owed people something because they claimed to love me. I felt I had to earn that love, even if I was told it existed at no cost.
I didn't know how to be still in love. I was so convinced the moment I stopped working for it, I'd lose it.
"I love you for you; you don't need to do so much."
I expected so much from people without realizing these expectations were self-projections.
I felt inadequate in so many areas, so I relied on everyone else to compensate for the shortcomings I did not want to admit, let alone accept.
The very last time we talked, he said, "Control what you can. Let the rest just be. That's all we really can do."
4. "Goodness" is largely subjective.
For a long time, I obsessed over calibrating my moral compass to the “right” direction. I thought I could only find self-worth if I became someone deserving of it.
Over time, I started veering away from the idea there is, even specific to an individual, a strict set of moral codes that deem you “good” or “evil."
It is an illusion that sometimes good people do bad things, and bad people do good things. We are all just people doing things we think are okay. There are no real "good” or “bad” people.
I have done some extremely questionable things in the past. I have also been selfless and helpful. This does not make me a sinner nor a saint. I just did the best with what I had.
Perhaps altruism is less defined by the things you do, and more designated by what led you there and your ability to stand by your decisions.
Even Disney villains, when their stories are explained, make the audiences feel for them. We empathize.
Once we see how the “evil” ones turned “evil,” they no longer become “evil” in our eyes. They're only relatable, likable, even.
We are all struggling enough with the harsh practicalities of life and dealing with nebulous and unanswerable questions about whether we are good, deserving or worthy.
With all the time I’d wasted trying to figure out how I could be good, I wish I had realized I am. Despite all my mistakes and shortcomings, I am good.
5. Desire is not love. Need is not love. Dependence is not love.
It was difficult to realize I didn't need someone to spoon-feed me my self-worth.
What I needed was someone who empowered me to feel like I could stand on my own two feet, with or without the person.
Ironic as it may be, the best way to love someone is by making him or her realize he or she doesn't need it.
I used to think “love” consisted of this immovable, unquestionable higher power that bound two people to each other.
Having a say in whom or how much you loved seemed unromantic.
All the nuances that come with dramatic, movie-like or heartbreaking love depend, to some degree, on the notion of “meant to be.”
To me, love as a choice didn’t seem like love.
But, I’m learning love as a slave to your own desperation isn’t love at all.
Would you want someone who loves you helplessly out of a reflexive response to his or her “need,” or would you want someone who loves you because he or she just loves you?
Elevate your partner to know better.
Those who are “needy” have, for one reason or another, grown conditioned to believe their happiness derives from another person.
And those who perpetuate that “neediness” are the ones who give love like candy, instead of showing their partners they are capable of cultivating their own gardens.
I shouldn't need you. You shouldn't need me, either.
I am me, and you are you.
And if we decide to love each other, fully as we are, it will be beautiful.
It's really the only way.
6. Relationships thrive on mutual giving. Receiving is simply a side perk.
Although you may love giving for the sake of giving (a struggle many selfless people go through), you are often confronted with the imbalance of the reciprocity.
If your partner is purely a receiver, over time, you'll think about how little you're left with. And it'll disappoint you that:
1. You neglected yourself, and...
2. The person you gave to never once thought to give back.
And after you realize that, you'll start pulling back from people. You'll think twice about loving and caring because that's what keeps draining you.
Yet, giving is in your nature, and denying it hurts, too. And, you'd have to settle not just in receiving, but also in giving.
There are many components in love language. All of us have preferences and idiosyncrasies that make us interesting and challenging to love.
But a general, overarching rule is to not pay attention the the give-take balance, but rather to the give-give threshold.
Giving feels good, and so does receiving. But if we focus on both quantities, one of which you really have no control over, you'll drive yourself crazy.
7. First, be well.
We hear it all the time, but I don’t think we realize how literally and powerfully this translates to real life.
Your relationship with yourself sets the stage for every single relationship you have with others.
You can’t love, respect or appreciate anyone else without first feeling it for yourself. You can’t give away anything you’re not sure you even have.
How beautiful would it be if we each took the time to center ourselves? What if we devoted more time to realizing our self-worth rather than comparing and judging?
We need to be confident in the cores of our beings instead of settling as insecure, nebulous characters who only exist in the context of others, vulnerable and dependent on external influences.
No one is your enemy, and no one is your savior.
How beautiful would it be to act with love and respect — no matter how any else treats you — because you are loving and respectful?
How beautiful would it be if we could love and love those around us and never run out?
If we could inspire a love so pure, infectious and radiant that we'd almost forget it started humbly as a love for ourselves?