For the last several weeks in one of our domestic violence support groups, we have been discussing the idea of loving ourselves better as a way of healing from domestic abuse as well as walking through life with healthier relationships. Interestingly enough, this topic came about as a bi-product of other questions. I, as an advocate, had been asked by several clients what a good man looked like or how you can tell whether a man is good or bad. What I was hearing was a longing to know what we should be looking for in a good relationship. So I initially set off to cover the topic of what a “Good Mate” looked like. There was only one problem though.
I quickly realized I would be spinning my wheels if we didn’t first start with whether we loved ourselves well or not. We could spend all the time in the world looking at what a good relationship or romantic partner might look like, but it wouldn’t do much good if our clients had a poor or broken view of themselves to begin with. We as people can be all too willing to give ourselves away to anyone if we don’t think we hold much value. We tend to meet our needs based on what we think we deserve. So, if we hold ourselves to a pretty low standard, we also only hold our partners to that same low standard. However, when we hold ourselves to a high standard and view ourselves as precious and amazing beings, then we hold our partners to that same standard and expect to be treated with that level of honor.
As something I read recently stated, “We have to learn to be our own best friends, because sometimes we fall too easily into the trap of being our own worst enemies. We love the idea of others loving us, and we forget to love ourselves.”
Week to week we have been examining a number of practical ways that we can begin to love ourselves better and make some positive changes in our lives. For instance, on a daily basis, we can begin to tell ourselves the things that we love about ourselves. Why is this such a big deal? Well, domestic violence victims have often times been facing years, if not a life time, of verbal abuse and ridicule. I often hear that victims didn’t begin believing the vile things abusers would spew at them, but after you hear it a hundred times you begin to question whether it is true or not. You in essence become brainwashed to thinking negatively about yourself. So, we began to practice verbalizing the specific things we love about ourselves on a daily basis, with a goal of really believing we are awesome people with great value, and aiming to grow that list of positive qualities.
We also examined being content with who we are as human beings. We accepted the fact that none of us are perfect creatures, and that’s okay. There is a great peace in accepting who we are as individuals and embracing the uniqueness of us all. One of the greatest obstacles to this peace is the struggle of holding one’s self to unrealistic expectations that simply need to be let go of. Often times, we see domestic violence victims who are taking their compassionate hearts and allowing it to be the demand that they fix and save everyone around them. The natural consequence being that victims stay in unhealthy and sometimes unsafe relationships because they feel responsible for the abusers well-being and future. So part of loving ourselves means to simply be content and responsible for our own being (with the exception of minor children of course), not holding ourselves to unrealistic expectations and responsibilities, letting go of negative thoughts about ourselves that have seemed to stick over time, and learning to love the little imperfections and quirks about ourselves that make us the wonderfully unique people that we are.
A third tool to be used in loving ourselves better is simply focusing less on winning the approval of others. We sometimes need to remind ourselves that we don’t have to be like everyone else, do what everyone else is doing, and fit in with the status quo. We don’t need permission to do things differently either. Real love recognizes honest effort and good faith. When we feel like we are constantly failing someone or letting them down, even when our best selves are being put forward, the issue may lay with the person we are trying to please and not with our efforts. I see this especially common in both family domestic abuse as well as relationships. It is the painfully endless battle of those with impossible to please parents and “lovers” who live to tear them down and let them know how they have failed. You can begin asking yourself, “What things do I do in life simply because everyone else seems to be doing it?” Is that really a good enough reason to be living the way you are? Where in your life do you wish you had the courage to be different, take a risk, or be the first to jump? Loving ourselves well means believing in ourselves enough to take risks and follow our dreams even when others don’t approve, and ultimately surrounding ourselves with those who are supportive and encouraging. Which brings me to my last point.
Loving ourselves well means distancing ourselves from those that bring us down. All of our clients are victims of domestic violence, and therefore all of our clients have people in their lives that are lowering their enjoyment of life. Everything from abusive parents and family to roommates to romantic relationships, domestic violence victims live with a circle of relationships that often times do a lot more pushing down than picking up. The reality is, being in no relationship at all is much better than being in a wrong one. The question becomes, why do we keep those that cause us pain so close? There may be some real complicating ties, especially when it comes to family. Maybe a healthy dose of boundaries and space is the right answer for that type of relationship. In any case, think about what relationships produce more pain than good which you need to let go of, and even think about how different your life might look without them in it. In the end, your circle of friends and relationships should motivate, inspire, and respect you. Begin loving yourself by putting people in your life that can love you as well.
Ultimately, if we are focused too much on listening to others and pleasing them, then we probably aren’t spending too much time trying to become the person that we really want to be. So take some time for yourself. If you have been dealing with a circle of abusive relationships, maybe take all the time for yourself (at least for a little while). Learn to love yourself well, and then when you learn how to truly love others in a healthy way, you can also begin to expect that same kind of love in return. Because guess what, you are worth it.
Client Services Coordinator
Dove Domestic Violence Program
Written by Marc Chernoff
Original source material16 Simple Ways to Love Yourself Again
Written by Marc Chernoff