I have a friend who can’t keep a job. Ironically, he is also incredibly hard-working, conscientious, and pleasant. The problem is this: he is subconsciously rebelling against authority, and sometimes he is the authority in his life, so he is literally rebelling against himself. This causes severe problems for him, to the point where he won’t show up for work for weeks, and he becomes extremely depressed. He does not know how to be happy with himself.
The saddest part of this is he doesn’t even know that he’s doing this to himself. It’s a pattern that has repeated for years, and the longer it happens the more depressed he gets about it, since he has a strong sense of responsibility and it’s very important to him to be a successful breadwinner for his family.
As with all things psychological, there are several aspects to this problem. The first is that his grandmother, who raised him, convinced him that “money is the root of all evil.” So if his working life starts to get too successful, he rebels. His grandmother was quoting the Bible, of course, but that’s not what the Bible says. The phrase is that “love of money is the root of all evil.” In other words, if you put your love of money above everything else, you will make bad decisions for bad reasons, and everything in your life is going to suffer.
Another aspect is that when he is working, he works extremely hard. He is his own slave driver. He is like a machine, not working at a sustainable pace but more like a very ambitious robot. He is ignoring his own body and needs as he strives for perfection. He is asking more of his body than his body is designed to give.
So, of course, his body rebels, in the form of illnesses and fatigue. But there is also a deep-seated resentment that he “has” to work so hard, and, when he gets home, he puts just as much energy into being a husband and a father. There’s resentment there, too.
Between work and his home life, his body (and his soul) never get a chance to rest or recreate. (“Recreation” is an interesting word; we think of recreation as going to the park or hiking, but in fact, it is literally the act of re-creating ourselves, gaining new energy and a renewed spirit).
Every time he ignores his own needs, he is setting himself up for more passive-aggressive rebellion. He is literally rebelling against himself and his responsibilities, which leads to all sorts of problems.
Another person I know hates himself. He is the kindest, most caring person toward others, but truly believes that he is not worth the same consideration. He is his own worst enemy. He judges himself, saying things to himself that he would never dream of saying to anyone else. I’ve written about negative self-talk before; it’s a dangerous force in our lives that clouds our minds, drains our souls, and can literally break our hearts. If we can’t even love ourselves, how can anyone else love us?
People who dislike themselves wonder why they have so much trouble making and keeping friends. Why are people repelled, rather than attracted to him?
The answer? If we, who live with ourselves 24/7, don’t think well of ourselves, other people will wonder what we know about ourselves that they don’t. They will take our word for it: we’re unworthy. This is something that insecure people often fail to see; it’s unrealistic to ask others to think more highly of ourselves than we think of ourselves.
It’s the rare person who will think more highly of you than you think of yourself. This person will encourage and inspire you. These people are precious and make wonderful friends. And, somewhat ironically, the best way to reward them for their efforts is to actually work on improving your relationship with yourself.
The secret ingredient: comfort
Hugging someone or just sitting with them quietly is too rare. Everyone is too busy, it seems, and there’s a lot of noise in our busy worlds. But comfort is what everyone needs, from those they trust.
Healthy self-love isn’t the showy, loud, nervous, or controlling (think passive-aggressive) kind. It’s quiet, reassuring, self-forgiving, and comforting. It’s being realistic about our strengths and weaknesses, not beating ourselves up for our weaknesses but simply working on them every day. It’s not about competing against others for love or attention; it’s just about accepting ourselves for who we are, as we would someone we cared about, without worrying about what others think of us. We are who we are, and that’s OK.
Ironically, healthy self-love also comes from a humble place. We are not unduly embarrassed when we make a mistake; we know that everyone makes mistakes, and that we will do our best to avoid making that mistake in the future. We give ourselves a few seconds of comfort when we realize we’ve made a mistake, and then we simply work on correcting it. We did make that mistake, so we do need to own up to it and apologize for it, and tell whomever is affected what we are going to do about it in the future.
It’s easy to see how much stress this will remove from your life. When you pay attention to your self-talk, and realize how often your thoughts are dominated by negative messages you are sending to yourself, it’s quite cleansing and freeing to change those harmful habits and start to be comfortable in your own skin. This is the first and most important step toward creating a life for yourself filled with love, peace of mind, and companionship.