It’s a pretty popular notion these days--loving yourself first. It gets tossed around so often that it loses its meaning. Or maybe we don’t understand it to begin with. Which sucks. Because being a human is hard enough without having to navigate the complex neuropathways of sufficient self-love.
What does it mean, anyway? How can we be certain we’re “loving ourselves first” at all? What if we THINK we are, but when it comes down to it, some of us have ALWAYS put someone first because it’s our default mode? It’s our core setting, when love is involved. But it gets especially tricky in matters of letting go.
Most of my life I’ve had to let go of the people I loved, for one reason or another, all out of my control. I never met my dad, my mom hitchhiked through my childhood, my grandpa—the one source of normalcy and care I had—died when I was ten. I had to let go of my family when I chose to love someone that didn’t meet their approval. I had to let go of a partner after 8 years, my brother to an untimely death, my sister to the convent….there’s been a theme here.
I think I’ve managed to let go pretty well. But I’m also pretty sure that life aims these experiences directly at me for some very important reason—much to do with loving myself, almost like it’s helping me rid my DNA line of any remaining tendencies to hold onto people when it’s no longer a good idea. That whole “let it go, if was yours to begin with it’ll come back…blah blah.” Or maybe it won’t. Or maybe it was never yours to begin with and that’s the part you have to accept. Problem is, I also have one very strong generational trait I’m deeply proud to have inherited—a powerful capacity to love. And with that comes fierce loyalty, protectiveness, dedication to others’ happiness and the harmony of interrelationships. If only it didn’t come with the deep ache of loss, as well. But it does.
And where does that all add up to loving yourself? I guess it’s simple enough: If choosing someone else’s happiness means negating yours, you’re not putting yourself first. If holding onto certain people inevitably detracts from your well-being, you’re not loving yourself enough.
I was running down the stairs of my apartment complex this morning, mulling over some things, when something like a fast-forward movie reel started playing in my head. It was every loss I'd known, and then my Grandmother, and the women that came before me, the impact of their inability to love themselves first. And I saw the last of that trait wanting to die in me—the universe offering me the chance to put an end to the practice. And some words popped into my head as loud and clear as they could get: “Your whole life has been a lesson in letting go.”
I got to the bottom of the stairs, slowed down to a stop and then rushed to my car just before the tears began.
Those times I am NOT meant to let go, I’ll know. It’ll probably be abundantly obvious…no guesswork involved. But there are still a few lessons to grasp in loving myself first—and enough—that needed my attention. I’m sure I’m not alone.