By Michelle Hernandez
I was raised to put God first, others second, myself third. This sounds like a great ideal for a good Christian, self-sacrificing and putting the needs of others before mine. Fast forward to motherhood, and my concerns focused on my children with their needs coming before mine. They ate before me, they bathed before me, they got to bed before me, they got new shoes before I did, and the list goes on. Somewhere along the way we lose ourselves, our identity, our purpose, our value. We are so busy loving others that we forget to love ourselves, warts and all.
What does “toxic” self-love look like? I would start with grandiosity, an exaggerated sense of one’s importance, power, knowledge or identity. A person who is grandiose believes he is superior to others, perhaps even perfect. Self-love becomes toxic when it is exclusive of others and self-indulgent. A person who is grandiose is unable to fulfill—or even see—the needs of those around him, so he operates strictly from a standpoint of getting his own needs met.
Flawed and social
As Christians, we know every human being is flawed, so there is no such thing as a superior or perfect person on this earth. A person who believes he is perfect and unbeatable is lying to himself and may even border on being delusional. God made us to be social beings, which means in relationship with others. God made us interdependent, meaning He wants us to rely on each other.
I do not always have the most creative ideas, for example, but if someone else has great ideas, I am good at organizing a plan and making those ideas a reality. Some people who are very creative may need others to organize their ideas. The phrase “opposites attract” fits in here, as we tend to be drawn to others who have the traits or gifts we lack. Hence, we complement (different from compliment) each other and balance each other out. That is part of the beauty of God’s creation of the human race and what makes relationships challenging, and at the same time intriguing.
Appropriate thru Him
How do I love myself appropriately? How does God intend that to look? Just as we are taught to look at others through God’s eyes, we are to do the same for ourselves. I am not sure where the phrase “God don’t make junk” originated, but that message has stuck with me over the years when I see flaws in others and in myself, and have difficulty seeing the value and the goodness in another person or in myself. We are made in His image and likeness. When I self-loathe, or hate others, I am loathing and hating God!
Loving ourselves and others requires a delicate balance, insight, awareness, maturity and acceptance (not an exclusive list). If I lack the insight, awareness and maturity to first of all know myself and my strengths and weaknesses, and if I am not able to accept all of these things about myself, I will not be able to love myself in a healthy, balanced way. To the extent that I fall short of loving myself, I also cannot love others completely. If I am unhappy with myself, how can I be happy in any relationship, since these relationships all involve ME?
Start with the simple, almost cliched practice of creating a gratitude list to help you focus on and thank God for the good He has created in you. Whatever your positive traits are, they are a gift to yourself and to the world that you are meant to share. Pray for a balanced perspective on yourself that will allow you to love yourself (and hence others) more fully.
Michelle Hernandez is a parishioner of Our Lady of Wisdom Church and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Lafayette.