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Posts Tagged ‘self esteem’

What does it mean to respect yourself?

That is a question one of my friends asked on my last post, and I’ve been thinking about possible answers ever since. I’ve gotten to the point where I have a good idea of what respecting myself feels like, but as it turns out, putting that feeling into words is not without its challenges.

So I took myself off to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which defines respect as an act of giving particular attention. When we act with respect, we act with consideration. It’s also defined as high or special regard, i.e. esteem. So when we are talking about respecting ourselves, no surprise, we are talking about self-esteem and self-consideration.

It’s hard to talk about self-respect sometimes because we live in a culture in which confidence is sometimes equated with arrogance and self-consideration is sometimes equated with selfishness. And of course, arrogance and selfishness are attitudes that many of us strive to avoid, to the point that we can end up overcompensating. Which is why Matthew McConaughey’s point that it’s easier to respect others when we’re already respecting ourselves is so critical.

I think of self-respect as fostering a relationship with ourselves. Just as we put in a lot of time and effort building our relationships and friendships with other people, so we can put in time and effort into our relationship with ourselves. Getting to know ourselves, and getting to know how to take care of ourselves and what we need to function well are fundamental acts of self-respect.

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I can’t talk about self-respect without bringing up boundaries. Setting and keeping healthy boundaries is also an act of self-respect. Some people do this so automatically they don’t even have to think about it. And some of us have to practice and do this a lot more explicitly.

It is harder to maintain self-respect (or learn it in the first place) if you spend a lot of time in an environment in which you are not receiving external respect. When you’re with people who don’t value your opinion, your comfort, or your emotional or even physical boundaries, it becomes easy to internalize these attitudes of disrespect. And of course, it’s in these people’s best interests that you do so, as it is perpetuates the dysfunctional system. This is one of the reasons why mindfully choosing the people with whom we spend time and develop intimacy is so important.

What does self-respect mean to me personally? I’ve made a little list.

  • Taking care of my physical needs, such as doing my best to get enough sleep, eat good food when I’m hungry, rest and recover when I’m sick, etc.
  • Taking care of my emotional needs, such as having people in my life with whom I don’t have to pretend when I’m having a hard time, reaching out for support, doing self-care, fostering supportive connections with others, doing activities that make me happy, taking alone time when necessary, etc.
  • Taking care of my mental needs, like engaging in projects that I find challenging and interesting, trying new things, learning, asking questions, having an artistic outlet, etc.
  • Prioritizing my time and energy for people and activities that are generally positive to my well-being.
  • Setting and enforcing appropriate boundaries, and surrounding myself by people who support this.
  • Protecting myself from the disrespectful behavior of others.
  • Taking ultimate responsibility for my decisions, which also means not being too easily swayed by others’ opinions.
  • Embracing who I am and where I come from.
  • Being kind to myself and relaxing my perfectionism as much as possible; recognizing my own humanity and fallibility.
  • Being my own best friend.

What does self-respect mean to you?

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The Breakup Expert

In the wake of my most recent breakup (last Sunday night, woo!) I realized I have a lot of experience with breakups. In fact, I could put up a website proclaiming myself a breakup expert and not feel like a complete fraud. Not only have I experienced a range of breakups myself, but I have watched many other people’s breakups. And not even only on TV!

So of course I thought, the way you do when you’re me, I should blog about the post-breakup experience.

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I took the breakup with the first guy I was in love with really hard. We were together six months, and he worked all the time (not that I’m magnetically attracted to workaholics or anything), and I was going to be moving to the UK and he still had two years to go at university, so, you know, not the most practical relationship ever.

But I was so devastated when we broke up. Common knowledge had told me that after a breakup, I would need closure, so I went to have a closure conversation with him a few weeks afterwards. This taught me something about breakups: You don’t need to have a long closure conversation. You don’t need closure, full stop. What is closure, anyway? I have no idea, but I’d say ninety percent of the time, once the relationship is over, you can work things out on your own.

And then I heard this rule that has stuck with me ever since. It’s a stupid rule. It’s not true. But I’m going to share it anyway: It takes half the length of the relationship to get over the relationship. At the time I found this rule deeply depressing because it meant I’d feel terrible for three months, which seemed like a very long time to feel terrible. But lo and behold! By the time three months rolled around, I was only a few weeks away from feeling terrible about an entirely different relationship. Hmm. Maybe Past Self missed the point on that one.

Here’s what I think is true: getting over a relationship takes the time it takes, and it always takes longer than you want because who wants to feel terrible? So when I felt like a flattened pancake on Monday morning, I reminded myself this was a process and time would help. And then I worked on my novel and wrote a certain blog post and I wasn’t really thinking about the breakup anymore and I totally felt better. So, you know. Time. And distraction. Distraction can be good too.

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After going through enough breakups, you also begin to get a sense of the normal phases you go through.

First I feel kind of numb, and everything seems very quiet. Maybe things don’t seem completely real, or maybe I feel a sense of relief. Or both.

Then I feel completely wretched, like my insides are collapsing while at the same time I am obviously completely hollow and empty and don’t even have any insides. I know, it makes no sense, but that’s how it feels. This tends to be when I start to cry. This also tends to be when I phone someone up. If I’m going through a bad breakup, this step might repeat a bunch, in which case I can’t call someone up every time. But for a minor breakup, it will probably only happen once or twice, in which case calling someone is pretty much always the right thing to do.

Then, in no particular order, the following things might or might not happen: I feel mopey. I eat ice cream. I don’t sleep well. Or I sleep a lot because breaking up is exhausting. I spend a lot of time thinking, and I have all the emotions. I feel like I’ll never find anyone to date again. I feel like I never want to date anyone again. I feel like I have to start dating immediately. I think that maybe someday I’ll get back together with the person. I realize I never want to get back together with the person. I get bored thinking about it all.

It’s become pretty predictable, so I’m sitting there going, “Oh yeah, now I’m at the part where I’m pretending we might get back together, and I know that’s total bullshit so can we move on to the next thing already?”

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Apparently catharsis can be good. Photo Credit: Brother O'Mara via Compfight cc

Apparently catharsis can also help. Photo Credit: Brother O’Mara via Compfight cc

Other things that make me feel better after a breakup:

Thinking about the bad things. I read this in an article once, that people recover from breakups more quickly when they focus on the bad parts of the relationship. Maybe because they pass over a bunch of the phases more quickly this way? It’s hard to think too seriously about getting back together with someone when you immediately remind yourself of why you were unhappy.

I mean, you all know I’m a positive person, but I am a big believer in focusing on what wasn’t working. I look at it this way. I will spend the rest of my life being broken up with this person, so I have plenty of time to think kind and charitable thoughts about them. So I can damn well spend a little bit of time being irritated first, while thinking of all the things that are no longer my problem.

Plus this way I learn what’s important to me and what I want, and that’s pretty much the point of dating in the first place. I mean, if you’re not going to be beautifully and madly and happily in love. That would be another point.

Friends. I always think people who neglect their friends while they’re dating are incredibly short-sighted. Or, um, maybe just really optimistic?

So last week I was upset because a hurtful thing happened with the guy I was dating and I knew it was bullshit behavior, so I texted my friend, and he brought me a chocolate milkshake from In N’ Out. He brought it to me. And then we’re sitting there and I’m being upset, but there I am with one of my favorite people in the world, drinking a chocolate milkshake, and then we just start to crack up about all my ridiculous dating stories from the past couple of years. Because they kind of suck, but they’re also pretty funny, and how can I be super miserable when my friend just brought me a milkshake? I just can’t maintain the woe.

Especially because the next night another friend feeds me chocolate popsicles and cheese and strokes my head and tells me funny stories. And then on the weekend there are awesome people and cookies and sushi and shopping and movies and the best pancakes ever. And then on Monday night I’m swinging an inflatable sword around shouting “Inconceivable!” and smacking myself on the forehead with yet another wonderful friend.

And then of course there’s the friend I called in tears on Sunday night who told me I could call any time.

Any time.

Now that is love.

Self care. Metta meditation. Long walks and good books. Hot baths. Little dogs. Eating. Sleeping. Blah blah blah. You know the drill.

Looking fabulous. You know the stereotype of someone who feels miserable and slouches around all day wearing saggy sweatpants and a T-shirt that’s falling apart? When I feel bad, I usually dress UP. I want to look amazing. It’s harder to feel woe when you look amazing. Plus you can make tragic faces at yourself in the mirror, and that’s pretty fun.

Being fabulous. It turns out all that self-esteem work really pays off come breakup time. As does all the work to make your life as amazing as possible. Sure, maybe the self-esteem needs a little shoring up, but when you already know how to do that, then you can just do it instead of floundering around for long periods of time practicing self-flagellation. And dating is just one part of your life. It may be an important part, but even so, it’s still JUST ONE. Having other things in your life that matter to you makes all the difference.

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I cannot end this blog post without addressing the elephant that’s hanging out in the corner over there. You kind, wonderful people, I know some of you will be concerned after reading this post. I know you’ll be thinking, “Oh no, Amy broke up with someone? On top of everything else? Is she okay?”

So allow me to reassure you. It was early days, which tends to make things a lot easier, and I am fine. If I were not fine, I would not have written this piece because I’d be too busy being curled up in an oozing puddle of misery and self-pity. But that is not what is happening.

My blog stats tell me that you really like it when I talk about dating. So here is some truth for you. When you’re dating, breaking up is fairly inevitable. Not everyone finds someone they’re super compatible with right off the bat. Is this unfortunate? For sure.

But being too afraid of breaking up is the true tragedy. And breaking up is no longer my chief fear. When I was hanging out with my milkshake friend, after some laughter had made the truth more easily accessible, I told him, “I’m afraid I’m letting myself down.”

He gave me a knowing look.

So know this, friends. I am no longer afraid I am letting myself down. And that is what matters the most.

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I read this essay by the movie reviewer Film Crit Hulk (it’s interesting, but it is also super, super long, so fair warning), and I thought, oh, I should blog about despair. Because it seems to be going around lately. I know a lot of people who have been having a rough time personally, and then there’s been the whole GamerGate thing, and the global warming impending apocalypse thing, and the posting nude pictures of actresses thing, and a bunch of other things. And, well, it’s not a huge stretch to think that some people are experiencing despair right now.

Despair is a difficult experience to live through. It comes with its own built-in gravity well, in that once you find yourself in that despair place, it is not always obvious how to move forward or through it. So there you sit, in this incredibly painful state, feeling like really important things are broken and there’s nothing you can do about it.

And then I read my friend Damien’s post about Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly, and you might remember I adore Brene Brown and think the work she’s done is really important. And reading through the list of strategies she talks about, I think they are somewhat applicable to dealing with despair as well as living a wholehearted life. So that’s one resource that’s out there.

But really I want to talk about what I do when facing despair, because that’s what I know. As usual, take what seems useful and discard the rest.

  1. Self care, self care, self care. If you are feeling despair, then you are going to need to self care the shit out of yourself. Beyond the basics (eat, hydrate, sleep, exercise/move), this includes giving yourself alone time or people time depending on what you need. For me, I often want lots of time with Nala. This also includes allowing yourself to be distracted or take a break from the despair. I don’t care how a big a problem it is or how big a realization you’ve had; being in full-on despair mode 24/7 is simply not healthy. Dealing with it is great, but not at the cost of complete burn-out. Finally, this covers allowing yourself to disengage and set boundaries as needed.
  2. Focus on the present moment. Sometimes despair involves things that happened in the past or things we’re afraid will happen in the future. And those things are important and provoke strong feelings and need to be grappled with. But to pull myself out of the despair, paying attention to right now right this second instead can be helpful.
  3. Baby steps. Despair requires patience, because maybe you’re beginning to feel better and then something happens and you fall right back down the well. But if I can think of even one tiny positive thing I can do to help my situation or take care of myself or reframe, then I am better off than I was before.
  4. Vent. Or cry. Or both. Sometimes I just need to let it out, and if I have a safe space in which to express myself, it can be extremely helpful. This one requires judgment because it totally backfires if the space turns out not to be safe after all. But you can do it alone or in writing (or with a pet) too.
  5. Try to stand apart from your emotional reality. Or in other words, try to call yourself on your black and white thinking. Despair can be overwhelming, and it can feel really, really big. For example, if you have been experiencing a lot of really bad behavior from other people, it can begin to feel like all people are awful, or all people are going to betray you, or whatever universal your brain has decided to come up with. But while your experience of that feeling is real, that doesn’t mean it necessarily reflects the external reality. So to pull out of it, you can think of one person who has treated you well. Maybe you can even text them or message them or call them or whatever it is you do to communicate. Or you can just think of a nice thing they did or said that one time. Then think of another person. Then another. Look at data if you need to: pull up a nice text or a nice email someone sent you.
  6. Don’t give up on yourself. Even if you really feel like it. You can give up on everything and everybody else, especially if you’re having a nice venting session, but hold onto that self-esteem like you’re in space and it’s your oxygen tank. YOU WILL NEED IT. GUARANTEED.
  7. Find a reason to hope. It can be a dumb reason, like the fact that ice cream exists or Nala is consistently adorable. That’s okay.
  8. Remember: everything changes. I don’t know if anyone else finds this idea comforting, but it has been my fall-back in hard times for at least ten years, maybe longer. If none of the above works, or if it’s not possible at the moment, and you’re wrapped up in the stifling blanket of despair, knowing it won’t go on forever and ever because that’s not how the world works gives you something to hold onto.
A reason to hope.

A reason to hope.

Hang in there, my friends. Or, as Theodora Goss said:

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I’m getting ready to go on vacation, and it hasn’t been the most uplifting time around here, and then just as I sat to write this, the news of Robin Williams’s suicide broke.

I feel like we need something inspiring on the blog today, something to counterbalance the mud pit of suck.

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I haven’t been very inspired lately. Mostly I’ve been bone-weary, and that’s when the doubts began to pop up and frolic in my landscape of discouragement. They didn’t help my mood any. I felt pretty horrible until I remembered something.

Sometimes things get worse before they get better.

I don’t know if you all are going to find that very inspiring, but it helped me a lot last week, so it’s what I’ve got for you.

Some of you will remember that I had my birthday epiphany about a month and a half ago. I wasn’t sure at the time what was going to happen with it, or if it would even stick.

Well, it stuck.

And it has been both a difficult and an amazing thing. In the long term, I’m pretty sure it will be mostly amazing. But in the short term, it has been mostly difficult. At the threat of such a large change in perspective, all my deepest fears have been coming out to play and fight for their continued existence, and they are as big and as scary as they’ve ever been. Meanwhile, I am already seeing myself and my life differently, and making different choices as a result, but I haven’t yet developed the emotional muscle and skills to deal with these choices with anything resembling ease.

So yes. In some ways things have gotten worse. But I can see how they are going to be better. I can see the people-pleasing behavior beginning to recede as I make real progress in setting firm boundaries. I can hear the desperation in the loudness of my self-critical thoughts. I can appreciate the generous and heartfelt support of the friends I’ve reached out to in the last few weeks. Some of them are newer friends or don’t know me as well, and it certainly felt like they could have easily dismissed my overtures and requests for support. But they didn’t. They were there for me, and even while I was in the middle of disappointing and discouraging circumstances, these people helped rebuild my hope in what my future could look like.

So if I can leave you with one more inspiring thought, it is this: You matter. Your choices matter. You reaching out to others and being there for others when they reach out, that matters. Your kindness matters.

It has certainly mattered to me.

Photo Credit: Thorsten Becker via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Thorsten Becker via Compfight cc

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I love selfies.

I know there is a lot of judgment swirling around the idea of the selfie, along with a lot of criticism. Apparently there are many of us who are ultra super threatened by the idea of someone else posting a photo of themselves…because…?

Heaven forbid someone else feel comfortable with how they look. Or experiment with identity through appearance. Or make a bold statement: THIS IS WHO I AM, WORLD.

This is who I am.

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OMG, world! This is who I am.

OMG, world! This is who I am.

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I was opening up the photo gallery on my phone to show a photo to my friend, and he was looking over my shoulder. “Wow, you have so many selfies.”

Yes. My phone is full of selfies.

When I find myself in front of the mirror, I make faces. I’ve done that ever since I can remember. I want to know what different expressions feel like. I want to be aware of the form of self-expression that is my body and my face. I want to know how I’m opening my mouth when I sing. I want to know how I perceive myself from the outside, just as I want to know who I am from the inside. And I want to know how the inside and the outside interact.

Mirror, selfies, what’s the difference? Mainly that I can use the selfies to trace the development of my identity over time.

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Justine Musk has smart things to say about the phenomenon of the selfie:

“I don’t buy that every time a young woman (or an older woman) posts a selfie, she is seeking external validation and approval because she’s so insecure. She is telling a story about who she is – I’m the kind of woman who goes to Positano – and in this very act of declaiming her identity, she continues to create it.”

Selfies tell a story, just as status updates tell a story, just as blog posts tell a story, just as autobiographies tell a story, just as how you behave when with other people tells a story. This is a story of identity, and when it is about your identity, it is one of the most important stories you will spend your life telling.

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Selfies have another important purpose; they are one way to disrupt the narrative of low self-esteem, of constant self apology, of being afraid of taking up space. Because they are prone to receiving judgment, they become a way to face that judgment and say, “You know what? I don’t really care what you think about me.”

They are a way to reclaim a love of self.

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We are afraid of this love of self. We throw around words like narcissistic and selfish very freely. There are people who are narcissistic. There are people who are selfish. And then there is everyone else, people who are afraid to “brag” and “toot their own horns.”

Please tell me, what’s wrong with liking yourself? What’s wrong with liking specific aspects of yourself, whatever those may be? Maybe you like the way you look. Maybe you like your smile, or your eyes, or your teeth that are pleasingly straight after years of orthodontic torture. Maybe you like the way you play soccer, or the way you’ve become an expert on geopolitics, or the way you paint, or the way you can walk out of a party with five new friends.

I fail to see what’s wrong with any of that. Good for you! And good for you for celebrating yourself. I want to celebrate you too. There is a difference between being humble and not allowing yourself to appreciate your positive qualities and accomplishments or acknowledge them in any way.

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Oh no, not another selfie! Because selfies are *serious business.* Ha!

Oh no, not another selfie! Because selfies are *serious business.* Ha!

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And what’s wrong with taking selfies? As far as I’m concerned, nothing at all. A selfie is just one more tool for expressing who we are.

 

 

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Even when the blackness of night envelops us, we look for specks of light in the sky. We call them stars.

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Most of us live so very much in our own heads. We impose our internal reality on external reality. Thus it becomes of critical importance to be able to differentiate what comes from ourselves from what comes from others.

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All beings suffer. Comparing this suffering is a fool’s game. We do it anyway.

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With true self respect comes an unwillingness to play a supporting role in someone else’s story. Especially a supporting role that makes us smaller than we actually are.

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We are all awash in stories. When we believe in a story hard enough, it becomes true to us, even when this is a story that doesn’t need to be true and will act to hold us back.

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It is easier to dwell on differences, but we are also all the same.

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We cannot fix another person. Most often we can merely be present, and then only if we are allowed, with grace, to do so.

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Remember the stars. Hope matters.

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I’m in the middle of birthday week. I really like birthday week. Even this year.

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I had this epiphany on Sunday night. I think it might come across as cheesy, or maybe simply incoherent. But I’m going to tell you about it anyway because it’s birthday week. That’s the great thing about birthday week. I feel completely comfortable asking everyone to humor me this week, and in general, people do. Even though most people don’t celebrate a birthday week themselves, it seems to be a concept that is easy for people to understand and get behind. Of course, that doesn’t give me license to be cruel or insensitive. But it means I can tell you stories that might lack a certain punch, and you’re more likely to bear with me.

Which is awesome. And is one reason why I am so fond of birthday week.

Here's another reason I love birthday week: Fun Times!

Here’s another reason I love birthday week: Fun Times!

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So, back to my epiphany. It was Sunday night, and even though birthday week had started on Saturday (or Thursday, depending on who you ask), the last couple of days had not been completely smooth sailing. I hadn’t let this spoil my fun, but I was definitely feeling tired. So I was thinking back on the rocky bits of the weekend, and suddenly my brain went ka-chink, and I had my epiphany. (Is that the way epiphanies work for other people? Like suddenly everything just clicks together and makes a lot more sense than it did five minutes ago?) The events of the weekend, I realized, had had no effect on the core of myself.

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Let me explain. (You’re bearing with me, right? Because birthday week?)

I wasn’t plagued by doubts: wondering if I’d done the right thing, or if I should have behaved differently, or did I do anything wrong, or how I could have avoided all unpleasantness.

I wasn’t trying to fix anything: the situation, any other person, or myself. I was perfectly content hanging out with Nala that evening, and if I hadn’t been, it felt as though I would have been perfectly all right not being completely content, too.

I didn’t think any less of myself. I didn’t think any differently about myself at all, really. Some stuff had happened. I hadn’t wanted it to happen, I had feelings about the fact it had happened, but I had responded to it to the best of my abilities. I knew there might be consequences in the future, but the future wasn’t right now.

My life, my circumstances, and my emotions were rippling in response, but the deepest parts of me were unmoved.

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I’ve always hated that saying about how people only have the power to hurt you if you give that power to them. Because I mean, really, if someone is determined to hurt you, it’s not a cakewalk to keep them from succeeding. If you’re being battered repeatedly by life, there is such a thing as getting really freaking tired.

But for the first time, I understood where whoever said that was coming from. I felt like I had a choice.

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I don’t know if this epiphany will stick. But if it does, I think it’s probably the best birthday present ever.

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