In my post, Rest Don’t Stress: Silencing the Madwoman, I discussed that to have a “rest” mindset, we must learn to love ourselves.
Loving myself is not a new concept for me. Years ago, I heard a pastor discuss the famous “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself” concept in the Bible. He pointed out that to do this, we must first learn to love ourselves.
I loved the idea! Sadly, I, like many people didn’t know how to do it in many ways.
What does “loving myself” even mean?
Our concept of love determines how we love ourselves.
Let’s look at my friend – I’ll call her Sheila. Growing up, Sheila always had adequate food, clothing, and shelter. Her parents and grandmother read to her and played with her. She had friends. She got presents on special days and vacationed with her family. Sheila always knew that she was loved.
As an adult, though, Sheila realized that she didn’t feel liked. Why not? Sheila’s father died when she was 10. Her mother began juggling two jobs. Sheila, her mom, and her brother went to live with her grandmother. Grandma provided support in many ways, yet Sheila now realizes that Grandma was also a perfectionist. Hypercritical.
Sheila could never do anything “good enough.” No matter how much time she spent sweeping the floor or doing homework, Grandma said it could be better. Grandma was always criticizing. Sheila laughed too loudly, she was too dramatic, her shoes were too clunky.
Adult Sheila always feels drained. Whatever she does, she isn’t sure if it’s the right thing, or if so, she probably isn’t doing it right. No method to maintain balance in her life works long-term. No “date night,” “girl time,” or vacation is ever long enough.
Sheila is not alone, and neither is her grandmother.
In Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, sisters Emily and Amelia Nagoski explain that the deck is stacked against most of us from a cultural perspective. Society demands more than anyone can give. The secret, the Nagoskis say, is to “embrace the mess.”
“Embrace the mess”
In other words, most days you won’t get it all done. You’ll cheat on your eating plan or arrive late to your appointment. You’ll leave the kitchen less-than-spotless or not have time to call that friend who’s been on your mind.
But that is OK. Accept it. You are human.
Also, recognize that impossible standards can stem from more than nitpickiness. In The Master and His Emissary, Dr. Iain McGilchrist ties growing rates of depression in Western society to our outsized sense of control. McGilchrist says that Westerners often overestimate how much control we have over outcomes.
Think about it: to the degree we believe that someone controls something, we hold her responsible for it. Thus, when something goes wrong, we criticize her – even if “she” is us.
A false sense of control, then, keep us from rest.
Interdependence Trumps Independence
Speaking of control, the Nagoski sisters write that family and friends often show up for us – if we let them. They want to help us shoulder life’s responsibilities, but we must give up control. We have to let go of having everything done how we want it.
Interdependence trumps independence.
It does so in more than one way. Dr. McGilchrist references a study that looked at students who failed to meet high goals. Japanese students suffered lower rates of depression than Canadian students in the study. Why? The Western world places higher value on individual achievement. In contrast, McGilchrist says, East Asian culture values interdependence more.
Interdependence can also teach us how to love – ourselves. In Burnout, the Nagoskis explain: we should surround ourselves with people who will show us love in ways different than what we learned. Or, as Dr. Henry Cloud puts it, we need “safe people” to model how to love us.
Conclusion: “Safe people” safety net
Consider Sheila’s concept of love. To her, self-love meant taking care of her physical needs and even some social/emotional needs. Yet, it also included an inner voice that always questioned whether anything she did was good enough.
For Sheila – and many of us – we need to do three things to love ourselves better. We need to “embrace the mess” in our lives. We need to stop trying to control everything and let others help us. Most of all, we need to learn from people who love well.
In short, for a “rest” mindset, involve others in your life. Not just anyone will do, though. You need mature, balanced people to lean on, to model love, and to help you value relationships over achievement.