“If someone spoke to you the way you do to you, I’d put their teeth through; love yourself.” – IDLES Television
Four years ago, our family had a significant amount of change. All of us experience and adapt to change on a regular basis, whether it is adjusting to the entrance of newness into our life or the passing of an era. We entered 2016 in a whirlwind that carried through the year, which for me brought a combination of self-realization and self-loathing.
Equal parts self-inflicted stress joined with uncontrollable circumstances brought me to a place of mental anguish. I do not believe that this mental anguish was unavoidable, though I was not mentally prepared for the chaos, nor did I have the tools I needed to cope with it all. While taking a long walk with my wife downtown, we hashed out a path forward if we were to sustain a healthy relationship and an optimistic future; I needed counseling.
I entered into counseling with resistance and resentment, because it seemed like an admittance of mental weakness or a failure of faith, though it was now the only way to find my way home. By the end of my first appointment, I was given the following homework: be kind to myself. This was not what I expected to hear, but apparently, it only took 45 minutes of talking with me to discover that I viewed myself as unworthy and spoke to myself in an abusive way.
A little background
I grew up in a faith culture that warned against selfishness and promoted selflessness so much so that guilt became the companion of confidence at times. I believed that all things could be handled through prayer, that a strong enough belief in God could conquer any shortcomings, and that a failure to overcome was a result of weak faith. Though this was not the intent of that teaching in most cases, that was a negative impact that it had on me. What I viewed as a result of a weak mind and a weak faith, was actually the result of a lack of self-care.
The world of psychology is a science of the utmost value for the sustainability of an impactful, loving, healthy, and world-changing life. Equal parts faith and science are what turned my life back onto the right path. Balancing selflessness with loving-kindness towards ourselves is the recipe for a healthy mind. Mental health professionals are not a last line of defense in a failed life, though they can provide the tools that can rescue someone from despair, they are valuable resources to help us understand our minds, our lives, and lead us toward the path of meaning.
Balance is necessary
A negative impact is not always a result of negative intent. When we dive into the dealings of the heart, mind, and soul we must ensure that we take for ourselves what we wish to give to others. If one of the greatest faith teachings is to love your neighbor as you love yourself, then we better make sure that we love ourselves. I do not blame my faith upbringing for my mental shortcomings, though I do recognize now that there was a disconnect between the teachings of the heart and the science of the mind.
There will be times in life when our core beliefs and practices of prayer will bring us to a place of clarity and purpose, and there will be times that specific breathing exercises will bring us the same results, and there will still be times that both are required for us to pursue the best version of ourselves because the world deserves our best.
I know the phrase “love yourself” can make a lot of people cringe, but I think that cringe comes from a misunderstanding of the importance it plays in the lives of those around us. I was a hard person to be around when I started counseling, and I still am at times unless I stay aware of my mental health.
I chose to start this article with the verse from the song television by IDLES, because it gets right to the point of bringing awareness to how we treat ourselves without being buried by eloquent speech. This is a letter to myself as I reflect and examine the path I am on, and a message for you to “love yourself.”
One thought on “A Letter to Myself, and a Message for You”
Some call these times a Dark Night of the Soul. I understand what you’re saying, I too had a rough 2016, partly due to some poor choices but also things outside of my control.
One thing I have noticed is that these periods of personal crisis are the springboards of tremendous personal growth. A dear friend and retired psychologist told me that psych-ology is the study of the Soul. Or the study of the Mystery. Sounds about right to me.