As the Love Project’s month of self-love comes to a close, I’m faced with a decision. I can write the easy post, or I can write the hard one.
The easy one would be all about how good this month has been for me. How I carved out time for me and consciously lived those moments being kind to myself, generous in a way that, all to often, I’m not. I played more, walked more, read more. I met new people, and wandered over physical, emotional and intellectual landscapes that took my breath away. The easy post would talk about the things I learned – that downtime makes my up time more productive, that self-forgiveness is more powerful than any amount of external validation, that being kind to myself opens me up, allows me to connect with my world.
The hard post isn’t so pretty.
The hard post is about our dysfunction. The hard post is full of thorny questions like, why do we feel guilty when we do something that’s just for us? Why do we so often feel a need to defend doing what’s right for ourselves, while martyrdom seldom requires justification?
On one of my posts this month, a commenter accused me of having no children, abundant time, and more freedom than she could ever dream of. I’m using the word “accused,” not because I think she was actually accusing me of anything, but because that’s how it felt to me. In the face of her reluctance to do anything for herself (even feel sadness for the effect it might have on her children), I felt guilty, selfish, defensive of the time I was giving to myself. (A stupid reaction that is about me, not her.)
I wanted to explain my situation to her, point out all the ways that my life is not the carefree adventure she envisions. I wanted to tell her, in infinite detail, all about raising my boys, getting my degree, writing a book, the hours I work for not nearly enough pay, the commitments I meet, the heartbreaks I suffer, the times when I (like every single person I know) put my needs last, until, inevitably, I crash and burn and relearn the lesson of self-love.
I didn’t do that – inundate her with ridiculous detail – but I wanted to, because no one questions martyrdom. In our culture (maybe in every culture), selflessness is celebrated. Sacrifice for your children, your parents, your friends, and we will all applaud you. Take a moment to breathe, to push back, to say no to one more commitment, and suddenly you’re on the defensive. God forbid that you let the laundry pile up, the house get messy, the kids eat delivery pizza so that you can do something you love – your art, your work, your cause – the thing that lights you up inside.
Ask most people about self-love and they will tell you that they are in the habit of putting themselves last. I believe it’s true. I also believe that it’s easier to admit suffering than it is to admit that you are kind to yourself every day. One of my favorite comments this month came from Pam Carlson who wrote, “I’m quite permissive with myself (it’s one of my not-so-secret weapons in life)… I’m allowed to have the best time I can with the time I have.”
I think Pam’s brave. I think in the same way that choosing love in a world full of cynics takes courage, choosing to value yourself in a world that considers it selfish is… well, badass.
And here’s the amazing thing. When you do it, when you choose to love yourself in tangible ways, to give yourself permission, to say no, to consider your own needs as carefully as you consider the needs of others, you get happier. You feel less trapped, more open. Less resentful, more generous. Getting good at loving yourself makes you better at loving others. It’s true, cliché or not.
… And yeah. I decided to write the hard post.