Story time: It’s Tuesday in the late afternoon. It’s only 4pm, but I’m hungry for dinner. I want a nap, I have a headache. My body is using all of its usual tactics to motivate me to leave a threatening situation. Big surprise – I’m at my bi-weekly coaching session at the Wright Institute talking about my own personal growth.
We’re talking about a particularly stressful and painful situation. I’m feeling my feelings and cycling from angry to sad to scared all the way back again. Finally, my unconscious gets the best of me and I try to squirm out of facing facts. “Man, this whole ‘life’ thing is just a pain in the – “ Before I can get the whole sentence out, my coach stops me.
“No,” she says with a stern look on her face “You’re not allowed to say that. You can not say that to yourself.” Her words are passionate, impactful, and hard-hitting. What she says doesn’t just shut me up – it shakes me to my core.
There are two people in the room, but only one of them is taking care of me.
It’s made me think how my ways of treating myself and of treating others sometimes differ wildly. As a therapist, I put great effort and pride in helping others reach their full potential and find meaning in their lives. I would never say that life is a “pain” to another person. Mainly, because it’s not representative of how things really are. Life is hard sometimes, sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s a “pain”. It’s worth it – completely worth it.
So why wasn’t I busting at the seams with that handy little clarification when I was talking to myself? Why is it sometimes easier to take care of others than it is to take care of ourselves? For those of you who are parents, would you rather endure pain yourself or watch your child go through the same amount of discomfort?
People often think of self-centeredness and selflessness as opposite points on a continuum as if they are mutually exclusive. I think there is a more productive way of looking at things. Picture two separate ranges: Love of self and love of others. The idea is for us to maximize love of self and love of others. Trust me, there’s more than enough to go around!
Jesus commanded us to “Love your neighbor as yourself” as part of the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-39). Love of yourself informs and enhances your love of others. And if we conceptualize it in a “this or that” or “this instead of that” mentality then love gets pushed out of the entire picture. Love doesn’t mean simply getting things (attention, gifts, time). If that were true, then love of self and love of others become mutually exclusive – there’s only so much to go around.
But the most meaningful love means being valued and honored, and there is always plenty of that to go around. I can value and honor you just as much as I can value and honor me. And the beauty of God’s commandment is that the more I value and honor myself, the greater depth and meaning come along with my value of you as a person.
How do you think you would rate your depth of love for yourself and depth of love for others? Would they match up? What actions and outward symbols of your relationships with others and with yourself provide evidence for your ratings? I think honest answers to these questions might make you stop and think, and even grow a little bit!