I am not going to pretend that this will be one of my more positive posts. It is not. But, I needed to write this. I needed to share this because I feel like it is true of so many of us. In social media, we only paint the best possible picture of ourselves. We want to exhibit lives of happiness and excitement. We do not share the harder times because that is not what people want to see. I am here to directly oppose this status quo. I think it is important to talk about not only the good, but also the bad. Humans are such lonely creatures. We thrive on community and interaction. However, it is hard to have genuine interactions with any one any more, because we only display a one dimensional side of ourselves. I wanted this blog to be bigger than that. So, there will be times when posts are not just meant to inspire, but to also be relatable.
Recently, I have been in an ongoing conversation with several women on Facebook. Not my usual go to place for enlightening discussion, but this came quite unexpectedly. I commented on a video posted by Huffpost Black voices, an off-shot of the Huffington Post, in which the always fabulous Tracee Ellis Ross discusses the importance of loving oneself. You can view it here.
In the video she discusses how a quote by Pema Chödrön, a Tibetan Buddhist with several books published in her name, managed to change the course of her life. Here is the quote that influenced Miss Ross,
“Right now can you make an unconditional relationship with yourself? Just at the height that you are? The weight that you are, with the intelligence that you have, and your current burden of pain? Can you enter into an unconditional relationship with that?”
– Pema Chödrön
This was the quote that made Ms. Ross see life in a whole new perspective. Entering into an unconditional relationship of love with yourself is no easy feat. It takes a conscientious effort to be loving, kind, compassionate, forgiving, and encouraging of oneself to achieve this sort of affection. For many who watched the video in its entirety, Ms. Ross was seen as inspirational and gratitude was shared again and again for her positive perspective. However, there were a few who pointed out that when you are the daughter of celebrities – such as Tracee is to Diana Ross – or the offspring of anyone of influence, wealth, and connections, it is easier to dismiss those who would bring you down. That when you have money, and all that comes with it, to back you, telling those who would hurt you exactly what they can do with themselves is not such a challenge.
But, what about the regular people?
What about the everyday men and women, born into everyday circumstances, who work everyday jobs, have average (or below average) bank accounts, and live life unnoticed by the majority of humanity? What about those people?
Personally, my frustration with these sorts of “messages,” is that they come from people who have already “arrived,” if you will. They come from people who have already gone through what they were meant to go through, and have come out on the other side wiser, stronger, wealthier, more successful, happier… reaping what ever rewards awaited them upon exit. It comes from the people who have all the good to show for their struggle. However, I cannot help wondering if this was their train of thought while at war? Was this their way of thinking when one obstacle after another came their way? Were they capable of maintaining these ideals when they repeatedly watched themselves come close to happiness only to have it slip through their fingers?
This will not be the most optimistic thing I have ever said, but I believe that people have a much easier time loving themselves, when they are sure that there are others around them who love them. For celebrities, this is especially easy, in my opinion, because for as many of those who hate them, there are just as many who absolutely adore them and make no efforts to hide it. If I had thousands of people singing of my higher qualities with exuberant bravado, then, yeah, ignoring the haters and loving myself would come with not a hitch.
But if you are anything like me, you are a regular everyday person, with a family, a moderate number of friends, a pet or two (or three in my case), maybe even a significant other (or not). There is no substantial fanbase to buffer the attacks of those who dislike you, want to hurt you, and make it no secret. I do not know about you, but that is considerably harder to shield yourself against. It is harder to say, “I love me,” when you walk into a lion’s den on a regular basis.
So, take the remnants of a shy, quiet, rather intelligent little girl with a tremendous amount of empathy, sensitivity, and low self-esteem. Mix with an upbringing in a society that systematically works to dismantle the fragile confidence of said girl’s demographic. Add the unfortunate repeated encounters of people who have only shown the darker side of humanity, and you are left with a woman who is more jaded than not at a younger age than expected, whose only expectation of others is to be disappointed. I introduce you to A. Reneé…
So, I watch this video, I read this quote, and I think to myself, “How?”
“Self-love? Now, how on earth am I supposed to do that?”
I ask you, how? How does one love themselves – unconditionally – when they can hardly recall anyone else loving them unconditionally? That to me is the real challenge. I genuinely struggle with this because I have not seen differently. When others have actually gone out of their way to tell you you are worthless or unworthy of acceptance because you are not smart enough, you are too poor, your family is not good enough, your career choice is not lucrative enough, your just a Black woman and thus unworthy… how do you still stand and say, “Well I still love and accept me, even if you don’t”?
Hearing those messages time and again messed me up so badly that I became obsessed with success, in particular, material success; and not the material success of others, but of myself. I thought that if I became successful – materially and monetarily – than that would prove that I was worthy, and then I would be loved and accepted, and I would feel ok with loving and accepting myself. I would have confirmation that I am lovable and worthy, and I would not feel guilty for embracing myself. As a result, nothing I did was good enough anymore, nor would anything I do be good enough again.
So, now I am at this impasse in life. I know that none of these standards I hold myself to make sense. I know that to withhold love from myself to myself because I am not exactly where I want to be in life is absurd. I know that I am trying, and that if it were anyone else, I would like this person I am. She is thoughtful, articulate, with a strong sense of conviction. She speaks up for herself and others. She has a snarky, mildly dark sense of humor, but she is good-natured and will defend you to the end. She is loving, delicate, and caring. She works hard at everything she does, and expects excellence mostly of herself before anyone else. She is not superficial, and is forgiving of others shortcomings. She knows exactly what to say, how to say, and when to say; and reads subtle cues of others with diligence and care. She enjoys cooking and nurturing others, reading, and cultural and art events. She believes in compassion, understanding, and tolerance of others; and is sensitive when it comes to caring for animals.
Overall, she is a good person. I would like this person.
The problem is that this person is me, and because it is me, I have a hard time loving her. Because, despite all of this, she – I – need to be better. Or at least that is what I tell myself.
So, as Pema Chödrön asked, “Can you enter into an unconditional relationship with that?” If she was anyone else but me, than yes, I could. I could enter into that relationship and I would do my best by her. However, when I am referring to myself the answer is a resounding no. Not yet. Not now. Not as I am.
And I know that if this was about anyone else, that would be a cruel and callous answer.
This is my daily struggle.
And I am trying to learn how to reverse it.
So, I pose this question to you. How does one enter into an unconditional relationship with themselves? How does one practice self-love?
… because it eludes me so.
As always, may you be sweetly (and lovingly) inspired.