I have noticed that I have a very difficult relationship with some words. For instance, the sentence, you’re welcome. When someone thanks me for something, I usually respond with, “No problem,” or, “Sure,” or just a nod. I can’t get myself to say the words, “You’re welcome.” I’m not entirely sure why, but I think it has to do with not believing that I’m good enough. Somehow saying, “You’re welcome,” would be me acknowledging that I’ve done something good for someone, and I have such a hard time acknowledging that. I am very free with thanking people for things they’ve done for me, but find it so hard to accept thanks.
Another word I have a lot of trouble with is deserve. I can’t ever get myself to say that I deserve a vacation, or that I deserve any thanks for what I do, or that I deserve to feel good, or anything like that. It just sticks in my throat. Sometimes I’ve wondered if it’s a twisted form of Lutheran theology – certainly, I can say with some authority that according to Lutheran teaching, we don’t deserve the good things God gives us; they are given to us by pure grace. But I have taken that too far when thinking about myself. I am happy to say that other people deserve good things, that other people deserve a break, that other people deserve health and joy. But not me. I don’t deserve any of that. I can say that I need good things. I can say that I’m grateful that I have so many good things. I can say that I have good things. But I can’t get myself to say that I deserve them.
It has become clear to me that the most important word I have trouble with is love, and it may be that my problem with this word is the root of my trouble with the others. It has become clear to me in the last few days that I do not love myself. That is why I can be so cavalier about whether I live or die. That is why I have such trouble motivating myself to use the coping skills I’ve learned over the years. That is why I keep slipping back into these patterns. That is why I struggle so much with whether I even want to get better. It’s because I do not love myself. I don’t know how that happened – I don’t know how I missed the memo somewhere along the way that you’re supposed to love yourself. I don’t know where this lack comes from – and I’m not sure if I should feel differently.
But it’s become abundantly clear to me that everyone around me, my family, my friends, my congregation, my therapists at Alternatives, and so forth, they all want me to change this. They all want me to love myself. So for right now, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt. For right now, that’s one of the things I’m working on. I’ve been thinking about the unconditional love that I’ve always received from my parents, the unconditional love I feel toward my own children. “I may not always like you, but I will always love you.” I heard that as a child, and I say that as a parent. And I mean it. There is absolutely nothing my children could do, absolutely nothing, that would make me stop loving them. I might stop liking them, I might be angry with them, I might mourn for their choices – these are all possible. But I will never stop loving them.
I believe that’s the kind of love God has for us. And I believe that’s the kind of love God calls us to have for one another. “Love one another” doesn’t mean “like one another” or “be fond of one another.” It means “care about the welfare of one another.” It means “do what you can to help one another, despite whatever your feelings toward that person are.”
And now I’m challenging myself to try to do that to myself. To love myself, despite whatever my feelings toward myself are. Yesterday, I looked in the bathroom mirror at myself, and said, “I may not always like you, but I love you.” It was so hard to say. I twitched and winced. Then I said it again. I’ve been saying it for the past day. I’m not sure that I believe it yet, but I know that sometimes altered behavior can lead to altered thinking. I am changing my behavior to tell myself, “I love you,” in the hope that it might change my thoughts about myself.
I don’t know how much this is going to help. I think it might. There’s a part of me that thinks I’ve hit on the real problem behind all the problems. I don’t know that for sure, but I do believe that this new technique is probably a good one, even if it’s not a cure-all. I’m going to have to see where this goes, and keep hoping.
So for now, I’ll say it again. I may not always like myself, but I love myself. And I deserve that love.
Damn, that’s hard to say. But I have to keep saying it. I love myself. And I deserve that love.