Self-love is not my strong suit. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that self-love is practically non-existent for me. I know that everyone has issues with various parts of themselves, like the stick thin woman who thinks her thighs are fat, or the over-weight but otherwise happy woman who hates her hair, or the “popular” girl who worries about what the neighbors think of her landscaping. Everyone has their own private self-hate, and occasional doubt.
For me, though, if self-hate & doubt were an Olympic sport, I’d win the gold medal. I start every day chastising myself for my bad hair, wrinkles, sagging neck, and stomach fat. I then move on to my failures as a mother, housekeeper, wife, friend & daughter, and I top it all off with an internal rant about how bad my cooking is. Oh, and in case some positive thoughts try to sink in, I fall back on all of the things I can’t do, like learn new apps, or get the air level in my tires right, or change the burnt out light bulbs on the roof of my house.
I developed this self-hate during my childhood. I am the 3rd of 4, and [thought] I had nothing to offer my family.
My older sister, in addition to being the oldest, a highly treasured spot, loved sports. She would follow dad around all weekend watching football, basketball, and baseball, learning the rules, the players, the nuances. I, on the other hand, don’t know a fumble from a 4th down, even after having 3 boys play football; nor do I care. She continues to watch sports, with both her husband and dad, and loves every minute of it. She continues to be dad’s favorite. She could also cook and sew, two highly treasured skills for a girl in the 70’s. And, she was smart. Damn.
My older brother loved to debate. He would spend an hour at the dinner table debating current events and economics. These debates often became quite heated. While the rest of the family seemed to thrive on this, I tried to shut it out, feeling increasingly uncomfortable with each passing minute, waiting for the table to explode, or dishes to start flying, or punches thrown (none of which ever happened, btw). He continues to debate, although as his views have diverged substantially from dad’s, they do so less and less. But the possibility is always there. That, combined with his tremendous business success (he owns a house in London that has no address, just a name!) cements his role as the smart one.
My younger brother was the beloved youngest. He was their last, by choice. As is usually the case, the youngest holds a special place in a mother’s heart. Because he is the youngest, the mom has more time to spend with him, she is less stressed, and she cherishes every moment, understanding how fleeting that childhood time is. And, he is really funny, and a truly nice guy. So, even when he screws up, he’s still her favorite.
My claim to fame was being independent. I did everything on my own. I did my homework with no reminders, I brushed my teeth every night, I laid out my outfit for the next day, I got myself up and ready for school by myself, I made little in the way of demands. I was called “practically perfect”, and I came to associate basic human needs as bad. I cringed from physical contact, I engaged in little to no conversation, I shared nothing of my own thoughts. I shied away from learning to cook, or sew, because my sister was so good at all of it, and I was not, which drew much unwanted attention. I escaped into books and my own inner life. When company came I put on my “practically perfect” persona, I became charming and engaging, but I always yearned for the end of the night when I could escape back into myself, drop the act, be the dolt I believed I was, with nothing to offer except a pretty face and no hassles. (as a caveat, this changed substantially in my teenage years).
No wonder I ended up in a terrible relationship, and stayed in it for 25 years. My ex tapped right into my comfort zone – being ignored. In other relationships I actually felt insecure because of the attention I got. The more attention I was given, the less I thought of the boy giving it. God forbid he “cherish” me; there had to be something wrong with him, right? Small nuggets of attention were all I needed, all I was used to, and that was all I got. As the years went by, those nuggets became less and less, as happens in all marriages.
In our marriage though, I got sick, and became actually needy. (Interesting aside – there is an increase in illness when married to a narcissist. True fact.) I was ashamed of my neediness, he had no time for my neediness, and I found myself caught in a vicious cycle of despair. I’d get sick, he’d ignore me, I’d get sicker, he’d fold a load of laundry, and I’d feel like the luckiest woman in the world, overly grateful for this tiny bit of assistance. As I got sicker I developed a greater sense of gratitude for ever smaller bits of assistance, or attention, while also increasingly despising myself for needing him. It was a very sick pattern in retrospect. Monday morning quarterbacking (yes, I know something about sports!) I now see that even though I needed more than the average wife, he gave much less than the average husband, instead using his time to do those activities that he either enjoyed or that brought him attention and respect, none of which he got taking care of a sick wife. I accepted that this was all I was worthy of, and all I could attain.
While I have always understood that I have a serious lack of self-love, it is only recently that I have come to understand the extent of my self-loathing. If pressed, I can say a few nice things about myself, but always with a qualifier. “Sure I’m a good mom, but only because I have really good kids” or “I guess I’m good at baking, but who isn’t? It’s not rocket science” or “I’m not really creative; I get all my ideas from other places”.
A few weeks ago, during Savasana, the teacher had us place our hands on our chest in a pose that comes from Indian dance, and is called Garunda (translated, means Eagle). You place your right hand over your heart, your left goes next to it with your thumbs crossing each other, essentially forming a butterfly shape on your chest. This was a transformative moment for me. The moment my thumbs intertwined and my hands came to rest on my chest I felt a jolt in my heart. An actual jolt. Had I been alone I would have sobbed, not cute little crocodile tears, but anguished, extremely unattractive, breath robbing sobs. It was in that moment that I felt what self-love must feel like. It was like I was a baby, and my hands were my mother, holding me in a way that only one with unconditional love can do. It was how I held my children, how I hold my pets, how I hold anything that I love beyond words, and in that moment it was how I was holding my own soul.
I promised myself that I would do that pose every day . It would be so simple to do that every night as I lay in bed, or every morning in those few minutes after my alarm goes off but before I get out of bed, or while watching tv, or doing my home meditation. Guess how many times I’ve done it? Zero. Zilch. Nada.
I do believe that Yoga can bring me the self-love I so desperately need. Yoga is the only place I truly like myself. It is the only place I can be, where others are skinnier, stronger, and better at poses, yet I don’t feel inadequate. It is the only place I can be where I can let my stomach stick out and not be bothered by it. It is the only place I can be where I can watch others succeed in ways I can’t (like bird of paradise) and rather than feel envy, feel glee at their accomplishment. It is the only place I can be that I accept myself, good and bad, and feel self-love. And as such, it seems to be the only place I can love myself, be my own eagle, mother my own soul.
How do I bring it home with me? That is the question.