About 16 years ago, I was ready to jump-start my life. I signed up for a weekend retreat offered by a world-class personal development company promising to help participants redefine what’s possible in relationships, work, families and communities. I had heard great things about the program and was ready for change.
On the first day of the retreat, I thought to myself, “What did I sign up for?” It was when the facilitator collectively asked the group, “Can you stand in the mirror and say I love you?” My gut response was, “Oh no, is this retreat going to be filled with a bunch of woo-woo stuff?” I didn’t sign up to experience an overly emotional or spiritual journey that weekend; rather, I wanted practical and effective ways to see things differently and improve my life.
Sure, there were areas of my life that needed an overhaul. I had just finalized my divorce, so the retreat was the ideal time to purge some emotional baggage and re-frame my perspective. But on the question of self-love, I figured, I loved myself enough. I had an impressive track record as a financial service executive at some of the largest financial institutions in the country, was satisfied with my career success, and was financially independent.
I believed that self-love wasn’t what led me to success in life; rather, it was the practice of daily disciplines, basic planning and good choices.
I nodded and thought, “Yes,” to the facilitator’s question.
“Yeah right,” my insides disagreed as soon as I began the nodding. The voice within me whispered, “You’re not being honest.”
“No,” I reasoned with myself. “I love myself enough…and that’s been good enough to get me where I am today.”
I found myself caught in my own rationale. “Good enough” wasn’t the life I wanted to live. I was there because I wanted to live a more fulfilling life and realize potential beyond my current reality.
I lowered my defenses a bit and thought, “OK. I can improve my self-love. So what’s the point?”
Life is not as complicated as we make it out to be.
This resistance to self-love is an ongoing dilemma many of us face. We resist self-love in small ways like I did on that first day of the retreat, and in big ways, like believing negative, self-sabotaging stories about ourselves. For me, I had struggled with my own negative story for years, but I had never fully addressed it, nor realized the control it had over every area of my life…until that weekend.
By day two of the retreat, I had let down my guard and was ready to plunge into deep internal work. We were given an assignment to face our personal stories and write them down. My story was that I was fat and unlovable when I was young. I was sexually abused, overweight and felt rejected. Writing the story was painful because I had to face the unhealthy ideas I had about myself and relive so many disparaging emotions I had tried to avoid for years.
As I struggled to find the words to express myself, I began to recognize the elaborate systems I had built over the years to protect myself. For example, to avoid rejection, I purposely kept quiet and stayed behind the scenes to make sure I wasn’t noticed by others. I accomplished being invisible, but that only reinforced my negative perceptions of feeling unloved and unworthy.
There were other common things I struggled with that others wouldn’t think twice about, like looking at a man straight in the eyes. This was extremely intimating in my early years, as I had often felt a mix of shame, hatred, distrust and anger. I of course learned how to cope over the years, but the stories I believed about myself were still quietly at play.
Once we completed the writing assignment, we assembled together as a large group. I was surprised to hear the facilitator instruct us to read our stories out loud! As one can imagine, this was an extremely vulnerable moment for all participants. These stories were very private, and we had worked so hard over the years to make sure nobody knew the “truth” about ourselves.
We paired up and began to read to each other. The first time for me was emotionally excruciating. I had to stop a number of times to take a deep breath and gather myself.
Then we were instructed to read the stories again and again. This had a powerful impact on both the readers and the listeners. Hearing ourselves forced everyone to commit to their own personal story, and in the process of exposing our truth, it became easier to face it. Every spoken word released some of the repressed emotional energy that had been buried in our subconscious minds. Eventually, we began to realize how amazingly preposterous it was to believe and cling to such humiliating and degrading ideas about ourselves.
By the end of the second day, I was tired of reading my story. I was ready to let go of the words I had written. I had felt an incredible catharsis, coming to accept what had happened to me, and ready to see life differently.
It was the first time I felt a sense of empowerment from my story. I realized…
I am good enough.
I am likeable.
I am lovable.
I am worthy.
I can feel good about what I’ve overcome and accomplished despite what I’ve experienced.
I am a survivor.
I have nothing to be ashamed of and everything to be proud of.
I deserve great things.
I can be myself and don’t have to worry about being liked.
I can trust myself and others.
I can experience deep and intimate relationships.
…And, I can look in the mirror and say, “I love you,” with comfort and sincerity.
These realizations didn’t come overnight, but the seeds were planted and the tears I cried watered them well. It was the beginning of what I knew would be a long journey over the years and a healing process. One day at a time.
One thing is for sure: I can attest to the fact that life becomes much easier when we consciously love ourselves.
It has been 16 years since that personal awakening. I am currently a business consultant and coach, and my job is to help my clients take off the lens of their own perceptions so they can see clearly, identify the barriers they are facing or creating, and make decisions aligned with their values.
We all have had bad things happen to us. The problem is we assign negative meanings to the bad things, and like I did as a child, we begin to build an elaborate belief system and protective schemes to support those negative meanings. Every client faces different challenges, and I don’t have a standard or formulaic way I coach all of them, but I do rely on tools that enhance one’s emotional competence (EQ).
I believe one’s EQ is twice as important as one’s IQ. By understanding what makes us tick, how we think, and what our values are, decisions about life become easier.
For those clients who seek personal development, I help them create a plan on two levels: an emotional track and skills track. For the emotional track, I oftentimes ask them to take a peek into their soul like I did 16 years ago, and read their stories out loud to me or people they trust, over and over again, until they are able to let them go and change the meaning in their lives.
For the skills track, I help them make intentional decisions aligned with their values. It’s the simple stuff. The behavioral change that they know they should be doing, and I’m there to support them in following through.
Life really isn’t as complex as we make it. Learning how to love and appreciate oneself may be the hardest part, but once we embrace it, we can get passed what stops us. With a lot of self-love, some wisdom and daily persistence, anyone can change their life.
So what’s your story? I encourage you to explore it today.
Interviewed and written by Alyce Renee, Founder of Real & Inspiring
Photo Credit: Sasha Davas via FreePik.com
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