Getting to know yourself...

It's an interesting challenge, slowing down long enough to make friends with ourselves. Usually, when we get into stressful situations at work or in our marriages, we try to ignore them by being too busy to care. We are often so afraid that the situation that is "going wrong" is somehow our fault. Nobody wants to be the bad guy.

So we hide from this imagined truth by adding more activities and commitments into our day. We take on more responsibilities, and we try to be "everything for everyone" in a few more peoples' lives. We watch more TV, and we stay up too late so we aren't awake enough to lie in bed and actually THINK before we go to sleep. We don't want to know.

We don't want to know our marriage is failing, or our work situation is unhealthy, or that our eating habits have brought us to this situation where we hate our bodies and indulge in comfort foods to feel better about everything. My dad doesn't want to know he has Alzheimer's. So after the first three tests came back clean, he decided he's FINE, and has refused any more tests.

With Alzheimer's, you keep doing the same tests over time to show deterioration of faculties, memory, etc. And it's a process of elimination. You take tests for everything else, and when you don't have any of the other diseases that involve memory issues, you have Alzheimer's. But my dad doesn't want to have that disease, so he tells me he's too busy to keep taking all those tests. And they cost a lot, too.

I find that we often use the family budget as another reason to let the status quo remain. We worry that being divorced, we wouldn't have enough money to support ourselves (and our children, if we have them). We worry that our partner wouldn't be able to take care of him or herself-- either physically or money-wise, or even emotionally-- if we weren't there with them.

The truth is that we are enabling unhealthy situations. My dad's mind is worth spending money to preserve. It's easy to make choices about our lives by refusing to act, by refusing to pay attention. And yet, by refusing to take responsibility for our own happiness, our own fulfillment, our own future... We are being complicit in our own suffering.

And what we THINK we would know about ourselves if we actually stopped to think about it-- stopped to look at ourselves clearly-- isn't always the reality. Maybe the marriage just needs more attention, and maybe if we stopped to notice what was missing, we could find a way to add it into the relationship. We could actually improve our marriage instead of ending it. We could actually value ourselves enough to make a healthier choice about our bodies or our food or our embodied stress or our right to be treated with respect.

Getting to know yourself is different from sitting down for a hate-fest of self-abuse and self-recrimination. That is called a pity-party. And it can be very destructive to sit and dwell on all the things we THINK are wrong with ourselves-- over and over again.

I'm talking about getting to know yourself. Looking past all the stories you've told (or been told) about how unkind, inconsiderate, passionless, closed-minded, stupid, fat, etc etc etc we supposedly are. Looking at our lives without the drama for a few minutes. You went to school, and did well there. You are a wage-earner for the family. You budget well with the money you have. There may not always be enough money, but your budgeting is not at fault for that. You are loving and you put others' needs before your own MORE often than is actually healthy for you-- and there is nothing selfish or self-centered about that. You value your friends. You have tons of awesome skills, and a really great sense of humor. You are worth knowing.

Often, the foods we eat (or don't eat) when we are feeling bad about ourselves and our lives are not indulgences-- they are punishments. We try to punish ourselves for "failing" by giving ourselves reasons to be unhappy with our choices. Eating too much, eating unhealthy foods, refusing to eat anything at all. We express our discontent by contributing to our own physical deterioration, as a punishment for being imperfect. For being human.

And the truth is that we are all human. That perfection is boring. That there are valid solid serious reasons to love and appreciate each person on this earth-- including you. Do you kill for fun? Do you have a spare-closet-full of expensive clothing you've never even de-tagged so you could wear it? Do you eat puppies for breakfast and drink the blood of virgin sacrifices for dessert? Do you tell evil lies about your coworkers to get them fired? I think not.

What does your mental picture of a good, likeable person look like? Don't think about you for a minute here-- I know you've got that ready list of dislikes in your back pocket, and we're circumventing those for the moment. Jumping right past them without looking down. What are traits you value in your friends and/or mentors? Write a list of things you appreciate in real-live people around you. Yes, we like Mother Theresa for her selfless life... but it's hard to say what made her likeable as a person if you didn't actually know her personally.

Remember to add in those silly jokes your son makes just in time to break (or distract) family tensions-- the ones that keep everyone from arguing about who spent more on the credit cards this month. Remember how much you enjoy that one friend who says outrageous things and makes you laugh. Remember the guy at work who ALWAYS brings his lunch, and then gives his cookie to the girl at the front desk. Remember that the things that make a person lovable aren't always super-human.

Have your list? Okay. Now, add five numbered spaces at the bottom. Here is where I want you to pull out the "what I hate about me" list from your back pocket. What five things about yourself are you most annoyed or disappointed by? What do you most wish you could change about yourself? What do you spend the most time being angry or disappointed in yourself about? Just put down five that you're really dwelling on this week. We numbered the spaces because you have to pick five. Not six.

Don't agonize over this. It's an exercise in getting perspective. This is not the list that God will use to decide if you are worthy of heaven. (I don't mean to be flippant or derogatory-- and I don't mean to be exclusively Christian. I'm giving you perspective on making your list of five things you wish you could change about yourself.)

Now take that list (the list of things you'd like to be, and the things you think you are) to a few folks who love you, and who you trust to be brutally honest with you anyway. Ask them how this list compares to the way they see you. Trust their responses. Trust that THIS IS HOW YOU COME ACROSS TO OTHERS. You may be shocked to discover how many good traits people already think you possess. How strongly they disagree with your list of five negatives about yourself. You may notice how badly out of proportion you've blown these supposed faults of yours, and how little credit you've given yourself for your accomplishments and good traits.

Our self-awareness, our ability to see ourselves and judge our own merit realistically often gets thrown off-center. The more we dwell on our short-comings, the more our minds turn them into monsters. We may occasionally indulge in a latte or a new pair of winter shoes. This does not make us spend-a-holics. We may occasionally express a preference to our spouse. That does not make us selfish or mean.

In fact, it's pretty hard to be self-confident and proactive about our lives if we don't know what we do and don't want-- if we fail to have preferences and set healthy boundaries for ourselves and our interactions with others. If we don't know who we are, nor acknowledge what we are capable of. Self-confident successful men and women have opinions and a strong sense of purpose. They have goals, and they succeed because they make decisions and take actions accordingly.

We can be considerate of our partners and coworkers without being subservient-- without being slaves to their preferences and opinions. We can be gentle and loving without basing our lives on the premise that we are here to make someone else happy. The only person who can make you happy is you. The only person who can make your grumpy coworker happy is your coworker. It's okay to ask for-- or offer-- help. It's okay to have bad days. We all do. But it's vital that we don't give away our power to make positive changes in our own lives.

It's vital that we acknowledge our own success, our own skills and abilities. It's vital that we befriend ourselves enough to forgive--and learn from-- the occasional mistake. Would you expect of your most loved and respected mentor or friend the perfection and strict adherence to certain "rules" that you expect of yourself in your daily life? Maybe it's time to be your own friend. To give yourself a break, and acknowledge all the things you actually do right.

You are an amazing person. Take a few minutes to slow down and find out why the people you appreciate also appreciate YOU. And then decide if your marriage is over or your work situation is hopeless or if you don't deserve to have nice friends. Maybe all you need are some tools to help you take responsibility for meeting your own needs, expressing your own truth, reclaiming your own power to make positive changes in each of these situations.

Get to know yourself. You're worth appreciating.

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