“Self-love” and “self-care” are quite popular terms in today’s culture. Everywhere we turn, there is an action-filled list of ways we should treat ourselves. Especially as women, we are encouraged to make time to enjoy temporary indulgences as a means to restore our sanity and give us the fresh perspective we need to keep on keeping on. And while I will admit I am drawn to and often subscribe to these lighthearted lists of ways to rest and refresh, what I find most appealing about them is their ability to provide instant relief and gratification. It is for that same reason that I also find them superficial in the grand scheme of things.
What I mean is that while taking a bubble bath or joining some girlfriends for a pedicure does indeed make the world seem a little less weighty for a few moments in time, these things do little, if anything, to initiate true transformation in our lives. That is why I think these acts of self-love should be our end game, but not our long game. We should be doing these things, but not before we understand why we should be doing them. Rather, if you ask me, self-love starts with self-awareness, which leads to self-discovery, which promotes self-preservation, which, in its most healthy form, fuels continual self-development.
The old saying goes, “To know me is to love me.” So, tell me, friend, do you know yourself today?
What is Self-Awareness?
Self-awareness can be defined as the conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires. To achieve self-awareness means to allow oneself to be willing to both face and embrace the good, the bad, and the ugly. Moreover, entering this state of vulnerability allows us to unpack our personal tendencies in a way that helps us rid ourselves of the ingrained dysfunctional habits we have come to practice in our daily lives. In one of my favorite TED talks, Dr. Brené Brown identifies vulnerability as “the birthplace for innovation, creativity, and change.” In other words, if we want to achieve true self-transformation, we must acknowledge that the only way through is through.
What keeps us from becoming self-aware?
While many of us might classify ourselves as being self-aware, few of us ever actually achieve this state of true mindfulness. Rather, we submit to our fears and our misguided perceptions of who the world thinks we are and wants us to be. Or perhaps, if we have known success in the past, we use power and experience as a crutch for pardoning ourselves of the “soul work” that needs to be done in order for us to find sustainable inner peace and blossom into the best version of ourselves.
Arguably, one of the most prevalent factors hindering our capacity to become self-aware is the belief that our identity is found in the labels society has placed on us. Suddenly the person who suffers from an addiction simply becomes “an addict.” The person who is affiliated with the democratic or republican party simply becomes “a Democrat” or “a Republican.” The person who likes to spend time alone simply becomes “an introvert.”
The problem with subscribing to the fallacy that these labels define our identity is that when we look at them in isolation, we fail to see ourselves as real human beings. Instead of reflecting on the feelings, motives, and desires that make up our true character, we assume that we are only a product of these labels and that everything there is to know about us can be discovered in a quick Google search of that given term. And almost always, when we look at the results, we become ashamed.
But do you know what fear and shame are born out of? They are born out of the lies we tell ourselves. The lies that tell us that because we are a _________, we are boring, we are poor, we are dumb. We are not pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, exciting enough. The lies that tell us that because we made a mistake, we are a mistake. You see, by telling us that we aren’t enough, shame keeps us from revealing our true self to others. And that’s where we really miss out. Because at the end of the day, all we really want is for someone to look at us with compassion and utter the simple words, “Me too.”
How does self-awareness impact our relationships with others?
You know that lovely safety demonstration you get just as your flight takes off? What about the part where you’re told that in the case of an emergency, air masks will drop down? And what are you to do if you’re traveling with a minor? That’s right — you’re supposed to put on your own mask first.
The first time I heard those instructions I was taken aback. Save yourself? That seems a bit selfish. But as you well know, the logic behind this approach is quite simple. If you’re not conscious yourself then there is nothing you can do to help others on the plane, which could be fatal for those who are too young or inexperienced to help themselves. Relationships work the same way. You can’t help someone else if you don’t take care of yourself first.
For those of us who are people-pleasers, embodying this “save yourself first” philosophy gets a little sticky. Yes, you know us well. We are the “fixers,” the ones always looking for a human project. Nothing is out of our reach. If we just do enough research, give enough pep-talks, and pray enough prayers, we will surely be able to control the situation and turn the outcome in our favor. And never mind that this volunteer, “fixer-upper” work we’re doing is secretly driven by a self-serving agenda. No one needs to know that. And in fact, let’s not even tell ourselves.
If you haven’t guessed yet, I was, and in some ways still am, that [wannabe] “fixer.”
I can remember clearly the first time I realized I had lost myself and all awareness surrounding who God created me to be. I was newly married and my husband and I were fighting a particularly difficult battle. A battle in which he was the bruised and battered warrior, tainted by the lingering impacts of addiction. I was the wife who had chosen to stay — the wife who refused to accept this new reality. I was the wife that was going to fix this. To fix him.
One day a friend who knew our situation looked at me with deep compassion, and she asked me, “How are you doing?” The first words out of my mouth were, “Well, he…” I must have rambled about his progress and current condition for half an hour, and God bless her, she let me finish. But when I finally hushed, she looked at me again and said, “No. I asked how YOU were doing.” And suddenly, I realized that not only did I have no clue how to respond, but that I had no clue how I felt or why I felt that way. And more than that, because I had failed to allow myself to process this new reality and grieve my unmet expectations of what this season of my life was supposed to look like, I was not only punishing myself, but I was punishing everyone around me.
After that day, I found the courage and the grace to look inside myself, and I started to perform a full-blown self-audit. I began to examine the things about myself that I had long prided myself on but were inevitably the same qualities that had landed me in the despair I was in. And I’m here to tell you that it brought me back from a place of brokenness and borderline insanity, and it gave me back my life.
I want that for you too.
My Wish for You
Maybe you’re the wife or parent of someone who is recovering from or living with addiction. Maybe you’re a mom who can’t find the time to breathe because she is so busy running after her precious, wild babies. Maybe you’re the caregiver of elderly parents who depend on you for life’s most basic needs. Or maybe you’re a woman stuck in a career that you can’t remember why you started. I don’t know your heart today, but regardless of where you’re at or what you’re dealing with, I hope you remember that “to know you is to love you.”
So, take the time to get to know yourself. Your flaws make you vulnerable, but they also make you beautiful.
Until next time,