Growing Up with Self-Love is Not a Given
Many of you out there learned self-love from the cradle. Strong, confident, emotionally stable parents gave you a firm foundation with which to, first and foremost, love yourself.
Many of us weren’t so lucky. Too often, they came from backgrounds like mine which included generations of struggling to survive in a country that considered you scapegoats simply because of your heritage. Even leaving that environment was insufficient to kill habits which had become so ingrained as to be as much a part of the family inheritance as eye color or curly hair.
As life will do, circumstances aligned (or perhaps were attracted) to more solidly ingrain certain things into my psyche. One of those was a seemingly dormant level of undeserved self-loathing.
The Power of Lessons Learned from the Cradle
I lay no blame here. My mother and father did the very best they could with what they had. Self-love simply wasn’t a luxury their family believed worth indulging in. They had no idea it was more of a necessity, nor did they know enough to miss it.
My mother spent her life looking for validation from outside herself, and as typically happens, never found it. She died as she’d lived, feeling like she was never good enough. My dad may or may not have felt the same, but his crusty exterior hid most of the gentler emotions he might have harbored. I suspect his tendency to mask his emotions was his own inherited defense mechanism.
As luck would have it, losing both of them to suicide further exacerbated my lack of self-loving skills. Following on the heels of a 10+ year marriage to an alcoholic (not to mention previous dysfunctional relationships) my self-esteem was somewhere down among the scummy water and refuse flowing through the city’s sewers.
The Seed of Self-Love Exists in Us All
Fortunately, though self-love may lay dormant for years, and even decades, and though a person might not learn it early in life, I believe deep down, it’s an innate characteristic of humans. I say that because we all want to be loved on some level, so why wouldn’t self-love be there for the asking, if we only knew the right questions to ask?
My own innate abilities took more than their fair share of abuse, and lay bruised and battered in the pit of my psyche for many decades. Eventually, I looked at it the same way I look at computer software: it will do what I want it to. I simply need to figure out how.
Granted, after being dragged through the emotional cesspool of an alcoholic’s mind, followed by the poisonous chasers of both my mom’s and dad’s suicides, that germ of self-love I knew existed was reduced to a whimpering puddle of goo. But the very fact it had the strength to whimper gave me hope. It still had some fight in it, and I was bound and determined to build it up until it realized the clout it deserved.
The Long, Windy Road From Self-Abuse to Self-Love
The gelatinous mess resulting from a life-time of self-abuse certainly didn’t recover over night. But each small step I took towards the love I knew I deserved to give myself gave me hope I’d find a way to counteract generations of disuse and abuse.
As many who’ve lost someone to suicide learn, it’s easy to spiral down into a well of blame, guilt, shame, and above all, self-loathing. None of these emotions are the path to self-love. (a surprise, I know). After the smoke clears, it’s far too easy to continue beating ourselves up, when what we truly need is love, understanding, forgiveness, and acceptance.
Yet for years, I stuck to the old patterns, falling deeper and deeper into the same depressive state that likely enveloped my mom, if not my dad as well. Thankfully, that tiny germ who believed I deserved love more than I did all of the crap I was serving up on a tarnished platter was the same one who told me I deserved better than a life of misery with a man whose sole mission was to tear me down. It eventually found a way to give me the strength and desire to get out of my own way.
Reaching for External Lifelines
I was made aware first of programs like “The Secret” and “Laws of Attraction” which, if followed provide a road map for the positivity-challenged to climb out of their self-imposed abyss of misery and neglect. At first, my progress was slow, and not always in the right direction.
My biggest obstacle was overcoming the ingrained belief system which insisted I neither deserved to be happy, nor to succeed. Doing that alone proved nearly impossible, and asking for help was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. Coming from a family where self-sufficiency was considered a highly praised strength and asking for help, a maligned weakness, breaking that particular pattern was almost as painful as severing a limb. To be honest, it’s something I still struggle with, though the physical pain is no longer a factor (our minds are powerful things, and will create physical pain to avoid what they fear or resist).
Yet asking for help was a major factor in my success because, when you’re used to putting yourself down and speaking unkindly about yourself, you are unable to even recognize it as such. In this, I was no different. Insulting myself was as natural as breathing. What wasn’t natural was being kind to me. So I needed someone who could make me aware of the terrible things I said about myself, and more, to help me change the words I spoke and the thoughts I thought about the amazing human being I had become accustomed to using as a punching bag.
The Self-Abuse Addiction Can Be Broken
Over the years I’ve learned self-abuse is as much an addiction as alcohol or drugs. Once we get started on that path, we seem to require larger and larger fixes. To break the pattern, we first have to admit we have a problem, then start recognizing our triggers. I also had to break patterns which attracted me to people just like I was; filled with self-loathing and intent on destroying the very person who carried them through this lifetime.
I spent a number of years in a kind of limbo state; not fitting in with my old friends, but failing to attract any who would help me better myself. Those were the years I lived in my writing, or between the pages of a small mountain of self-help books. Not only was I reading about how to attract better feelings and a more positive lifestyle, but I got into a more spiritual practice that involved a weird, self-defined conglomeration of Tarot, Kabbalah, New Age Spirituality, meditation, and at the base of it all, faith in myself as a perfectly imperfect being.
I took a class in energy healing, where I learned to trust the feelings I’d had all my life about things happening outside the scope of my five senses. I learned I not only sensed things, but that I had a responsibility to act on them for the benefit of myself, other people, and humanity in general.
Finding a Purpose to Healing
Interestingly, it was this last part which pushed me past the worst of the blocks to loving myself. Having a purpose, in my opinion, is the single most important factor to loving ourselves completely and unconditionally. Believing we are here for a reason; to fulfill something nobody else can fulfill makes us see how we fit into the enormity of the Universe, and how failing to live up to our potential causes harm on a scale beyond anything we can see or feel while mired in a sea of self-pity.
I even came to realize that part of my purpose included losing my parents to suicide. As strange as that might seem, I had to go through some major traumas before I hit rock bottom and was ready to kick my own personal addiction to self-loathing to the curb and find something better. I had to live the extreme so I could talk about it for the benefit of others. Their suicides set me on a path, not only to self-realization, but to finding credibility in areas only my unique combination of circumstances and gifts could give me.
Going Where the Writing Takes Me
Today, I continue to write to help myself, but I also write to help others draw their own road map to a better place: a place where they can accept that no matter how they were raised, or how many times life has kicked them in the teeth, they were born to be loved, by themselves as well as others.
I am infinitely grateful to my parents for being dramatic representations of the life I can, and have chosen not to lead. I’ve learned that out of the deepest misery and trauma can rise the greatest bastion to love and joy. We simply need to be motivated to put forth the effort.
Sheri Conaway is a writer, blogger, Virtual Assistant and advocate for cats. Sheri believes in the Laws of Attraction, but only if you are a participant rather than just an observer. She is available for article writing and ghost writing to help your website and the business it supports grow and thrive. Her specialties are finding and expressing your authentic self. If you’d like to have her write for you, please visit her Hire Me page for more information. You can also find her on Facebook Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author.
Be sure to watch this space for news of the upcoming release of “Forgotten Victims: Healing and Forgiving After Suicide”.