I’m leaning over the sink, mouth full of toothpaste foam, the bathroom door half open. I hear him laughing long before I see his luminous face peek around the door. Like most of my friends here, he’s got globe-trotting wanderlust, bad. But in between gallivants he usually stops by.
So here he is, huge smile, laughing like a kid. I’ve got my toothbrush in one hand; I can’t talk because I’ve yet to spit, so I give him the, “What’s so funny look?”
Through laugh bubbles he says, “Some guy just told me I’m full of myself!”
I wait for the funny part.
I frown, puzzled, wondering why this is funny. For a second I’m offended for him. Why does he seem so amused by this blatant insult?
His laugh continues to bloom, he shakes his head and says, “Well, yeah, I’m full of myself! What else would I be full of?”
His comment is so simple, obvious yet strange, it sends me into a peel of giggles as well. Spraying toothpaste everywhere.
“I told him, I’m happy I’m not full of anyone else!”
And with that, he shut the door.
This particular friend has been traveling throughout Asia and South America since he was just a teenager. Apparently this common English idiom struck him as ridiculous and funny. (And for the record, he’s truly one of the best, most loving people I know).
I stand there in silence imagining my friend doing something wonderful and someone (obviously an English speaking someone) mistaking it for an act of ego.
But at least my friend had made an interesting point, what else should he be full of?
After he left I started to think of other phrases carrying the same sentiment. Like “self-centered” or “self-serving”.
I’ve known for a while that one of my own biggest issues is my lack of self-love. That phrase, “You can’t love others if you don’t love yourself” used to anger me to an unreasonable amount.
I’ve always been more comfortable scolding myself than embracing myself (though that’s changed so much). A former hostage to militant perfectionism, it’s been one of the hardest battles I’ve ever faced – learning how to really, truly love myself. It’s also been the most important thing I’ve ever done for myself and my loved ones. Ever.
So in the aftermath of my friend’s booming laugh, standing there, still gripping my tooth brush, it dawned on me. It’s not just me who has this issue, it’s a cultural thing that’s so deeply embedded, it’s smeared all over our language.
I realized that I know only a handful of people who truly love themselves, I’m talking real love, not the shell of obsession that people mistake for love. These people are without a doubt the most loving, prolific, change-making, earth-bettering, truly humble people I know. Their eyes literally sparkle with wholeheartedness. You feel it when you hug them.
While my generation and younger is thought to be full of selfish, shallow, entitled people (which I do not agree with), what I do think is that a lot of what we’re seeing is not too much self-love, but exactly the opposite. No real self love at all, in fact. Holes filled with insecurities. People who secretly do not feel worthy of the space they take up. People whose only memories of Earth have been of her demise, at the hands of humans. People obsessed with the system’s definition of accomplishment. People who are scared to look deeper, scared of what they’ll find there. People who listen to the voice of short-term happiness, over the deeper voice of long-term joy, because well they don’t trust the deeper one, or they’ve no idea how to hear it.
Looking back, growing up, I can’t think of a single conversation where my friends and I even mentioned the things we liked about ourselves, let alone reasons we loved ourselves. Just typing that makes me feel uncomfortable. The general message (especially as women) was that it’s okay to love things about other people but not ourselves.
As a Midwesterner, I come from the land of humble and hard-working. I value humility like crazy. We’re not big on self-love. But I’m starting to believe that you really do have to possess something first, before you can give it away.
In my experience without self-love you have two options for loving other people: 1) What you’re offering looks like love, but isn’t, and if things go south, later it will reek of resentment or 2) You’re offering real unconditional love, and it will deplete you. You’ll look to other people to refuel you, and you’ll find there aren’t that many who have enough to share.
I’m not going to write about how we’re all magical stardust beings (though it’s true), but I will say this:
You deserve love because, darn it, you’re here.
You deserve real love just as much as your child deserves it or your lover, your cat, your husband, your dog, your wife, your mom, your patients.
All of those people, they’re you too.
Wanna love em right?
Put your own oxygen mask on first.
It’s very hard to serve from an empty vessel.
*Ms. Hammell was Dr. Anderson’s first employee. She is greatly missed at Hope Springs, and has continued to make meaningful contributions in her writing and life service. She has had her writing published in many sources, such as the Elephant Journal and her own personal blogs. Thank you, Teela, for writing for us.
Guest Blogger, Writer Extraordinaire *
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