I remember as a kid being extremely confused whenever I'd hear the saying, "You can't love someone else, if you don't love yourself." I had no idea how to wrap my brain around the concept; nor did I understand why everyone believed in that saying so strongly. I vividly recall asking my mom, "Why do people say that? I don't get it... I love you, daddy, all my family, and my friends- even though I feel like I don't really love myself." [Let's note that to me, as a child, "loving yourself" held more of a vain connotation than it does today. I did not think at that age that I "loved myself" because admitting so, caused my innocent and adolescent self to feel 'conceited']. I remember my mom struggling to explain to me that it wasn't as simple as just being able to feel love for people... It had more to do with the complexity of building and maintaining different kinds of relationships with others, AND yourself. She did her best to elaborate in a way that I could understand, considering my underdeveloped knowledge of things at that age.
Now that I am older, I can say I fully advocate this notion. My personal understanding of this truly began developing after my first heartbreak. It was a relationship with a long time friend, that began in high school and ended my first year in college. I know, that sounds silly, doesn't it? Despite the lack of seriousness of relationships at that age, you feel what you feel, and you take what you will from those experiences. Being broken up with out of nowhere, after multiple years of dating absolutely crushed me. I just remember feeling like I had hit rock bottom... That I had no longer had value because this person I 'loved' no longer wanted me back... That I would not be able to recover from the sadness I felt because I'd never be good enough. And here's the thing, growing up, I would not have considered myself an insecure person. Sure, like any regular teenager, there were things I wanted to change about myself physically... But overall, I have always felt lucky to be me... To think the way I do... And to love the way I do. So it killed me realizing that I had lost myself just like that. This first experience of heart break was the catalyst for my self-discovery. It was after this, that I began questioning how I could let another person allow me to feel that valueless. As I dug deeper and dealt with the discomfort of being completely honest with myself, I realized that this break-up left me so lost because all that time, I had based my happiness on someone/something else, other than myself. It was difficult accepting the fact that I only felt value from being in a relationship... being wanted by this person... and from not being alone. I didn't even realize I was partaking in such unhealthy habits until it all fell apart! In realizing that my state of despondency was a result of my own lack of awareness and efforts to prioritize myself, I knew big adjustments had to be made. I didn't know where to begin, but I knew that I never wanted to let someone else make me lose sight of who I was ever again.
It's so crazy to look back at this situation from where I am now, and think about the fact that at that time, I thought that I would never get over it. I use this as an example to remind myself to stay positive through times that may seem like huge setbacks... There is always growth in experiences- good or bad. And if there is knowledge gained or growth found, how can you call it a setback? This specific experience was actually the start of a rebirth- as dramatic as that sounds. From this, I discovered a new appreciation for the world, new perspectives on life, and most importantly, a new-found love for myself. It was after this, that I started learning about 'mindfulness' and realized that I had the power to control what/how I wanted to let things affect me. An invaluable realization, I must say. It was the book, Anger, by Thich Nhat Hanh, that first introduced me to the practice of combining logic, detachment, calmness, forgiveness, and mindfulness to feel in tune with myself and the world around me. I remember buying this book and bringing it with me on my first trip to Yosemite, a few weeks after the break up. I'll never forget how good it felt reading this book in the backyard of our cabin in the woods, and thinking... I am exactly where I need be right now. I continued to practice mindful breathing and allowed myself to declutter my brain as much as possible to feel present in that moment. During this trip, my family and I hiked on The Vernal Falls Trail- a 4 mile round trip trail that ended at the top of a waterfall. Being surrounded by nature, and in the presence of such breath-taking landmarks truly humbled me. I remember standing next to that waterfall, taking in the view, and thinking to myself, "I am so small. I am so insignificant. And there is so much more to life than what is going on in mine right now." It's extremely beautiful, yet ironic how much power I felt in feeling so minute. Being present in that moment made me realize just how incredibly large and complex our world is. There are endless systems and cycles that work naturally and constantly, without ever being told to. It overwhelmed me to conceptualize that the enormous mountains that surrounded me, were only a speck in the bigger picture of this universe. I thought about the fact that when I returned home and settled back into my life, this waterfall would continue running, these mountains would still be standing strong, the world would continue moving on... And so should I. This Yosemite trip brought forth some of the most profound realizations I have ever had, and for that, I'd say it defined me as a person. I left feeling cleansed and enlightened- with full confidence that I'd be just fine.
After returning home from this trip, I felt extremely inspired and wrote a passage in my journal that reads,
"Be very mindful of the reality and dangers of attachment. Attachment to things, people, places... attachment to words... feelings. These are all temporary as much as we convince ourselves of their permanence. Attachment hinders us from accepting new challenges, finding comfort in the unfamiliar, letting go of toxic people/things, and in the bigger picture, personal growth. We tend to hold on tightly to ideas and concepts- finding comfort in things that are inconsistent. I think that's why most people struggle to find happiness... It comes and goes far too frequently to maintain any degree of stability. Think about it... How do we expect to find stability by constantly searching for it in things that are ever-changing? Truthfully, all we really have is who we are, and even then, that can change... But its the fact that it is the one thing we as individuals really have full control over- the mark we want to leave on others & our world. That is solely OUR choice & should be our main focus as humans: To work on ourselves by tweaking different parts of who we are until we become the type of person we're truly proud to be... This brings forth an internal wholeness that no external factors could ever replicate. These are the types of things that allow happiness to find a safe home inside of you while ending the perpetuating cycle of this constant hunt to only hold it momentarily. Remember, what you create for you, no one can take from you... so get to building! "
For me, the first step to my healing started with acknowledging that the sadness I felt, stemmed from the attachments I formed to abstract ideas. Which, don't get me wrong, are very powerful and real... but it's important to identify what specific things you have placed attachment to, in order to begin healing. In doing this, I realized that I would never be able to move on if I did not let go of the ideas that brought me comfort. For example, routines, memories, history, etc... I had to detach myself from the idea of things. The idea of being in a relationship... the idea of feeling secure because of someone else... The idea of being wanted by someone... None of those things are substantial for personal happiness because the second you lose it, you've lost yourself as well. Sometimes we get so lost in the things that bring us comfort and security, that we in turn, end up settling without even noticing. We forget to question, [what's keeping me here? Am I actually in love? Or simply in love with the idea of being in love? Do I really think this person is right for me? Or am I constantly making excuses to fit them into that mold? Are we really good for each other? Or are we only together because we are comfortable? Am I optimizing my life and potential?] These are all valid questions to ask yourself to avoid complacency. Although learning to love yourself does not necessarily always have to relate to romantic relationships, the lesson is commonly found within these dynamics. Which is why I think it is noteworthy to tie the two together...
In discovering the truth in my answers to these self-asked questions, I realized just how blinded I had been to the attachments of my ideas. Coming to this conclusion made it easier to let go. I decided to lay out my own blueprints for happiness. And I knew they would all begin with myself... Build a strong foundation to rely on. One that is constructed of all your core values, morals, thoughts, and goals. Define what makes YOU special. Know who you are and have an idea of who you want to be. And if you don't, brainstorm and put more effort into finding out what it is you truly want. Who and what we strive to be can remain the same for years, or even change on a day-to-day basis. It never has to be set in stone... All that matters is that you stay true to yourself and make sure it aligns with your honest desires. When you learn to love yourself for all that you are, you will learn what you aren't willing to settle for. So get to know yourself in your truest form. Dig a little deeper... Ask yourself, What makes you proud to be you, in all your uniqueness? What do you feel most happy doing? Where do you feel most happy? Find security in those things. Things that you can actually hold on to. Things that can always be there to center you. Running, reading, music, art... whatever it may be. Discover new hobbies... Adventure! You NEVER know what you could be missing out on if you don't travel out of you comfort zone. Once you find that happy place within yourself, everything else is complementary.
This brings me to a segment from a journal entry I wrote 2 years ago:
"My ultimate goal is to be so in tune with myself that no matter where I go- even when surrounded by the unfamiliar, I can find comfort in myself... not in things, nor others. You have to remember that nothing should be too unfamiliar if you remain mindful that we humans are more interconnected with our world than we realize. Once you discover what it feels like to synchronize all the components that your being comprises of, you will understand that you can wander without being lost..."
Remind yourself that not everyone is meant to stay in your life forever... This is why you shouldn't put your full happiness in the hands of someone else. whenever I think back on my first heartbreak, I feel grateful to have been able to learn so much from it. It's very easy to harbor good feelings, considering all of valuable lessons I now get to carry with me in my future relationships. We cross paths with certain individuals for different reasons, and it is our job to define those purposes. We are constantly being molded by the people we meet and the observations we make of each encounter. It is easier to understand the variation of roles people have in our lives when we view each of them as our teacher. We must accept the inconsistency of their permanence in our journey by acknowledging that they too, are on a journey of their own. Ironically, the exposure to the negative allows you recognize the positives. Without the latter, its hard to distinguish which things are actually worthy of your time. This is why you have to make sure you are giving your time to the right people. They should bring out the best in you. This does not mean that everything should be perfect all the time, but rather, that you love the type of person you are around them, or strive to be better because of their positive influence in your life. You can only be as good and who and what you surround yourself with.
Please note, this is not me trying to pretend that I've got it all figured out... It's really more of a note to self- expressed through my experiences, and documented here to be shared with whoever may need to be reminded as well. I am continuously working to reach this level of self-love... And even when I think that I have, I know that there will be yet, another thing I can work on. Don't forget: you are a constant work in progress. You must love yourself in all of your phases... Take pride in all of your strengths, as well as accountability for your weaknesses.... Accept that it is okay to have weaknesses, because you always have the option to strengthen them. This honest acknowledgement will help you avoid the various issues that often deter growth- both personal and in relationships (of all dynamics). By being able to take accountability, you avoid the danger that comes with: projecting your insecurities on others... victimizing yourself, displacing your own personal anger onto others... building walls that block healthy communication... refusing to compromise... and the list goes on!!! This is why I believe, you truly "can't love someone else, if you don't love yourself." You can only put out what you have in you... You can not give love, if you are bitter inside.
This post was a little all over the place... So to close it out, I'll emphasize that if long-term happiness is what you're looking for, it is so crucial that you find that deeper level of love for yourself... Even if that means you have to practice a bit of selfishness! Place priority on yourself in order to discover and define your worth- on your own terms. Without recognizing your value and potential, you can not give yourself the respect you deserve. And when you do not respect yourself, how can you expect anyone else to? You must teach people how to treat you, by first showing them how you treat yourself. You gotta fall in love with yourself first to see life through the lens of love. This will allow you to gain SUPPLEMENTAL knowledge and happiness. How you perceive the world, others, and yourself, will change for the better. You will look for growth in situations, rather than feeling reduced by your setbacks. You will power through any darkness with the illumination of your own light. This light will radiate onto others and inspire them to find their own. You will gain dignity in discovering your worth, and you will carry it wherever you go... Become your own investigator in this open and ongoing case we call, "life." Search for your answers. Find your truths. Establish your purpose... For you, and only you.