Who Loves Ya, Baby? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Who Loves Ya, Baby?


Courtesy Jesse Flowers

Learning to love yourself is the best way to learn to love others.

My dad favored intellectualizing over warmth. He kept his affections under tight control. A photo of my mother in her 30s, her hair in a lacquered twist, the satiny dress perfectly fitting her curves, reminds me how narcissistic she could be. Old snaps of me show a chubby kid in thick-lensed glasses, usually close to tears. I earned the down-turned corners of my mouth.

Nearly everyone has tales of family woe. Feeling unloved and unworthy rakes in money for self-help books and courses, therapists and psychiatrists. Our search for the perfect soul mate to fill the holes in our hearts has spawned a $1.25 billion online-dating industry, where people frequently "stretch the truth" to make themselves appear more desirable.

It took time and a lot of soul-searching to discover that no one would ever fill my bottomless need for love. If I couldn't accept myself, no amount of love and nurturing could ever feel authentic.

"Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it," wrote the 13th-century Sufi mystic Rumi.

Before we can give love freely, we first have to love ourselves. It doesn't begin "out there." I struggle with that. It takes practice. Harsh words can still have me feeling like an imperfect 7-year-old. Luckily, I've learned some things to set myself right.

Make the decision. No one is perfect. Everyone's heart has been broken. You have to decide that you can still love yourself, especially when the evidence is stacked against you.

Be kind to yourself. In Corinthians, Paul tells us, "Love is kind." Buddhism's instructions in loving-kindness directs us to begin with ourselves. "Until we are able to love and take care of ourselves, we cannot be of much help to others," writes Zen monk Thich Nhat Hahn in "Teachings on Love."

Directing kindness to yourself can take many forms: meditation, eating right, getting your nails done, laughs with a buddy or snuggling your puppy. Whatever you choose, true kindness and gentleness toward yourself can bring you back into balance.

Affirm your worth and beauty. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else—especially the airbrushed models in glossy magazines. If you're short and wide (like me!), no amount of positive thinking will make you tall and thin. Finding your own beauty may take deep, honest self-evaluation and, perhaps, some counseling. You may find it through journaling or by posting reminders on your mirror. You're gorgeous just as you are. You can choose to believe it.

Get into action. Make a budget. Set a realistic goal. Apologize. Be grateful. Grief and fear are real, so allow yourself the time and space to experience them. But you don't have to dwell in a pity party all the time, forever. Finding and fixing (or letting go of) what isn't working opens space for you.

Serve someone else. Sometimes, the best therapy is to make a difference in another's life. In "Help, Thanks, Wow," Anne Lamott writes, "My personal belief is that God looks through Her Rolodex when She has a certain kind of desperate person in Her care, and assigns that person to some screwed-up soul like you or me, and makes it hard for us to ignore that person's suffering, so we show up even when it is extremely inconvenient or just awful to be there."

Try it. Be well. Be loved.

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