Learning to love yourself

I’ve realised something this week. Professionally, I’m very hard to satisfy! This isn’t a reflection on others- it is the way I feel about myself- I never seem to be satisfied with my accomplishments.

In my professional life my lack of satisfaction is sometimes very debilitating. I have spoken elsewhere about how I live my life worried that someone is going to expose me as a fraud- someone is going to discover one day that I can’t do all the things that I suggest I can. Somehow, I have blagged my way through life, and really I’m a big fraud. I know logically this is ridiculous, but this does not stop me thinking that I’m rubbish, or that I’m not worth the nice things that are sometimes said about me.

It’s only recently that I have realised that saying yes to new challenges, to prove I am better than I think- doesn’t work- as can be seen from my CV no end of saying yes to everything I’m ever asked to do will take away those feelings.

In some ways I have been looking for external approval of who I am. The problem is that although we may hear a thousand times how wonderful we are, the moment we have one knockback or negative comment it is that which consumes our thoughts. Everything we think about ourselves becomes validated in that one event or comment. No matter that it is isolated or unusual- it is the negative thing that we listen to. I realise that I need to step back and look at the positives- but that is easier said than done. I remember a Bon Jovi song that contains the line: “If you could see yourself as others do, you would wish you were as beautiful as you.” Recognising our shortcomings is important for personal growth, but focussing on them to the exclusion of all else is dangerous for our emotional health.

So what have I decided to do? Please bear in mind that the following is my intention and may not actually reflect what I will do, just what I hope to do. They will also be things that I already do- I just need to do them consistently:

  1. Listen to the voices that speak positively about me and believe the words that they say. There is a caveat to that, Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said:

    ““They will treat you very kindly. They will say nice things about you.” He laughed a little and then said, “Dieter, be thankful for this. But don’t you ever inhale it.” That is a good lesson for us all, brethren, in any calling or life situation. We can be grateful for our health, wealth, possessions, or positions, but when we begin to inhale it—when we become obsessed with our status; when we focus on our own importance, power, or reputation; when we dwell upon our public image and believe our own press clippings—that’s when the trouble begins; that’s when pride begins to corrupt.”

    From my own faith perspective, I recognise my own positive qualities but recognise my reliance on God. For me, the ultimate boost is to know that I am loved by God and also by my family. My brother in law once said that the nicest thing about being married is that you know someone loves you who doesn’t have to- they choose to!

  2. Listen to the voices that speak negatively but only to see if there is something to learn, and then move on having learned what I need to. There is a benefit to constructive criticism, but when it crowds out everything else it Is not healthy. We have o see if there are things that we can change. I recently reviewed a spreadsheet of feedback about some training I delivered. There were hundreds of responses- one column focussed on the positive and the other on the negative. Guess which one I read? We have to recognise that we will not please everybody and we will not be to everybody’s taste.
  3. Be happy with myself and love the person I am now and will be as I am always in the process of becoming. This is one of the things I struggle with- I am always looking forward to what’s next. Well actually, who I am and what I am doing right now is important. We need to take time, breathe and enjoy the lives that we are living rather than the ones just around the corner. I am blessed with an amazing family and a career that far exceeds my childhood hopes. What I have right now is enough. Things will change but I can always be happy with where I am and what I am doing. This doesn’t take away ambition or a desire to improve, but puts it into a healthy perspective.
  4. Speak positively to others so that they can understand what benefits they bring to my life. I once read a quote from David O. Mackay:

“Among life’s sweetest blessings is fellowship with men and women whose ideals and aspirations are high and noble. Next to a sense of kinship with God comes the helpfulness, encouragement, and inspiration of friends. Friendship is a sacred possession. As air, water and sunshine to flowers, trees, and verdure, so smiles, sympathy and love of friends to the daily life of man. ‘To live, laugh, love one’s friends, and be loved by them is to bask in the sunshine of life.’”

This is the association we have. One scripture I love is the command to “strengthen your brethren in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings” (Doctrine and Covenants 108:7). I am grateful for all the blessings that my associations bring to my life. There is a line in my favourite musical, Wicked, that says:

Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But because I knew you. I have been changed for good.

Every time I hear this line, it makes me reflect on those people who I have known who have had a lasting impact on my life. Those people who, because I have known them, I have been changed forever. It also makes me want to someone who builds others up rather than bring them down.

I’m now left wondering why I have written this. Maybe as a form of therapy- or maybe because of the idea that if I write it down it may just sink in, and I may well act on it. I hope so.

Outside all of this, or maybe integral to all of this, for me is the love of my Saviour and my family. It is remarkable every day of life that people as wonderful as Ruth and the children (and lots of others) love me and want to spend time with me. They get me through each day. I have shared it before but reflection on my relationship with God is a similar strength:

Who am I? They often tell me I would step from my cell’s confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a  squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me I would talk to my warden freely and friendly and clearly, as though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me I would bear the days of misfortune equably, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which others tell me, or am I only what I know of myself, restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness, trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation, tossing in expectation of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, faint and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the other? Am I one person today and tomorrow another? Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling? Or is it something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved? (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).