There was no concept of self-love where I grew up. Forget self-love, feelings just wasn't something people talked about. I don't remember any of my relatives ever telling me they loved me. Maybe it was just my family, but we just didn't say those words to each other. Being the smart little girl that I was, I assumed that if my relatives were smiling and wanted to spend time with me, that meant they loved me. If they were sad or unhappy, I assumed they didn't and that I should try harder. I learned that if I behaved well and did what others expected of me, I would be rewarded with a smile. With a pat on the head. With love.
I learned that stepping outside the boundaries of "accepted behavior" lead to major trouble and disappointment. I learned how to adapt. How to be a good girl. Being that good girl meant getting rewarded with the feelings of being accepted and loved. I was a sad good girl that wanted to feel loved so much that she put other people's comfort and feelings above her own.
When I started dating I adopted my behavior to match any given boyfriend's needs. I believed that if I met their expectations and was a good girl, I'd be rewarded with their acceptance and love. Unfortunately, my strategy inevitably failed because no good behavior could give me the feeling of self-worth I needed to develop on my own.
I started to notice a pattern in all of my relationships - every time I would start dating a nice boy, everything would go well for a few months. I would be the good girl I hoped would make the nice boy love me, but after not getting enough of that love and acceptance I was hoping for, I'd become needier and needier. The boy would get more and more distant, which would make me upset until eventually I'd push him away because I wasn't getting what I wanted.
When I was nineteen I moved to a different country with a different culture. I started dating a guy who smoked weed and wanted to experiment with other people in bed. That was all kinds of unacceptable to then fresh-off-the-boat me. However, that relationship didn't fit into my usual scheme. I felt that instead of being a good girl I had to be a bad girl. Through the course of that relationship my belief system started to crack. I started to want to be more open minded, to care less about making others happy, and to be more like him - like I really didn't need anyone to feel loved. I started to learn that it wasn't about being a good or a bad girl. It was all about being me and being accepted the way I was.
That boy planted the seeds of self-love in my soul. It wouldn't be years until they sprouted, but they definitely started producing some self-respect and self-acceptance hormones that brought me to where I am today.
When my husband and I decided to open up our relationship, it was possible only because I was finally honest with myself and with him about what I needed. Not because I wanted to be a good girl or to be different for someone else. I was finally able to prioritize my own feelings, my own choices and I stopped caring about public opinion. This change of self-prioritization didn't happen overnight. It took years of therapy, self-help book consumption, yoga and meditation, having kids, and slowly unlearning life as I knew it when I was a little girl.
Once I started dating again after a decade-long break (except for an occasional date with my husband who I am securely attached to) I realized that I had an anxious attachment style, especially early in the relationships. This was an interesting realization for many reasons, which I described in detail in one of my recent posts. I noticed it first when I was in an unhealthy relationship with a virtually unavailable man. Despite the fact that he was unavailable I still chose to continue seeing him because I needed a fix of those hormones every once in a while. In another relationship I started feeling needy and clingy and had to physically restrict the amount of time I was spending with my partner. I noticed that my brain was drawing very elaborate visions of how things should go with a given person and when those visions didn't come to life I would get upset.
Here is how one article describes anxious attachment relationship style:
You love to be very close to your romantic partners and have the capacity for great intimacy. You often fear, however, that your partner does not wish to be as close as you would like him/her to be. Relationships tend to consume a large part of your emotional energy. You tend to be very sensitive to small fluctuations in your partner’s moods and actions, and although your senses are often accurate, you take your partner’s behaviors overly personally. You experience a lot of negative emotions within the relationship and get easily upset. As a result you tend to act out and say things you later regret. If the other person provides a lot of security and reassurance, you are able to shed much of your preoccupation and feel contented.
For me the main problem with being anxiously attached is fear. The fear of being abandoned, replaced, of not being good enough. This fear leads to clinging. Clinging leads to pressuring people around me and to trying to control everything and everyone. When I recognized this pattern I started catching it earlier and working through the fears as they came up rather than letting them take over.
Digging deep into those fears had helped me see something I hadn't been able to see before - that I had a wounded inner child - that the little girl inside still needed to feel loved and had a major fear of rejection and the fear of not being good enough. I finally understood that nobody except me could comfort her and give her what she needed. I needed to focus on my relationship with myself, to find the love for myself, and to accept myself with all of my needs, fears, and sadness. I knew that learning to love myself would eventually open me up to even deeper connections with others too.
Opening up forced me to really think about my priorities. Juggling multiple relationships, kids, a full-time job, and a bunch of hobbies is no joke, if you ask me. I had to learn to say no - something I've been struggling with since childhood. Learning to say no, in turn, taught me to say yes to more things that were really important for me. It forced me to be more authentic not only in my relationships, but in all areas of my life. I started to really like the true me that had no room for bullshit and that was brutally honest with herself and others. That was a new feeling - liking myself. I started to love my alone time and to let go of my need to feel accepted by anyone except me. I was finally able to give the little girl inside what she needed so badly - love, acceptance, and self-worth.
Learning to love myself has indeed led me to deeper connections with my kids, partners, and friends. To me, loving myself means prioritizing my own needs and feelings over those of others. It means not letting anyone define my value or self-worth. It means being kind to myself, being able to give myself the care I need when I need it. It means not caring about public opinion and going with what feels right to me. I hope I can teach this to my kids.