Loving Yourself Better

by Jonathan J. Dickau ©'99 - all rights reserved

( This piece is the Introductory Lecture,
which was followed by a Group Discussion,
for a Summer Sunday Program, given at the
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
of Poughkeepsie, New York
on June 27, 1999 )

There are several ways to interpret the title of today's program. One might think of loving yourself, and doing this better than before, or better than others can. This is always a good idea. One might think of loving, in order to make yourself better, and this is getting a fair amount of press these days, since studies have shown that regular sex will keep you younger looking and vibrant longer. We can talk about loving ourselves, in order to get better, and there is a lot of sound Psychology behind this approach. No matter how healthy we are, in body, emotions, thought, and action, we all have room to grow in vigor, and to become more fit, and loving yourself gives you a reason to want health and fitness. On the other hand, the process of getting better, and healing, needs to be a stepping stone to fitness and well-being, which is the true goal. In the ideal sense of things, we want to identify with this state of perfect fitness and well-being, and facilitate the process of getting better, without getting so caught up that we identify ourselves by our diseases and problems.

By this, I mean to say that when someone labels themselves, by identifying with a disease they are fighting, by thinking, for example "I'm a cancer patient.," often enough, it can have a toll almost as great as the disease. This can limit the opportunities for healing. Unfortunately, this is how people in Medicine often refer to their patients. So do Lawyers, when they are dealing with their clients, the Judge, or the jury. Whether the cry is "I'm an accident victim," or perhaps "I am a rape victim," we are human beings first, and victims after that. When someone says "I'm a schizophrenic," or "I'm manic-depressive," enough times, it's gotta have a numbing effect on their psyche. How about "I'm an alcoholic."? When people go to AA meetings, are some of them merely becoming more ingrained with the mindset which promotes addiction by calling their authenticity into question? What if they said "I'm a human being, and I've had problems with alcohol," instead?

I think the victim mentality is a serious problem, and I have enough personal experience with it to know just how serious it can be, but I also believe in the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity. We owe it to ourselves, and also to others, to love ourselves better. We need to feel worthy and capable, if we hope to experience the best of what life has to offer. Happiness is possible, but only if we can free ourselves from the mentality of being a victim first, and a free human being after that. In order to overcome this problem, we primarily need to stop thinking of ourselves in derogatory ways, but this can be extremely difficult, because in order to do this, we must also be prepared to defend our views and decisions to others. We need to think and speak of ourselves in ways which empower us, rather than creating learned helplessness, but we can't do this in a pretentious way without creating prob;ems. We need to develop a certain immunity to criticism, by believing in ourselves, and refraining from the use of language which perpetuates the problem. There are several ways to do this, but the process requires fortitude.

The first step is the realization that you determine the value of your own experience. You also control some of the content. Nobody else can tell you how much certain things mean to you. You are the only one who is having the life experience you are now living, and you are better off appreciating your life's value, if you can find value in your life events, even if others believe you are wasting your time. You are as real and authentic as any of the folks who would say otherwise, and you have a right to be your own person. Loving yourself better may very well require that you believe in yourself more fully. Are you prepared to do this, or do you think that to do so would be pretentious? Would it be better if everyone thought you were worthy and capable, but you? And what about the change; do we really want to make changes in our lifestyle, in order to get to a place where we enjoy life more overall?

With more love in our lives, there is more to go around, but how do we put it there? Love is kind of strange, because the only way we can fill ourselves with love is by giving it away. Do we really need to have the praise of others, in order to fully love ourselves, or do we perhaps need to practice love for others, in order to feel genuine love for ourselves? Can we put ourselves first, without being haughty and pretentious? Can it be necessary, sometimes, to put yourself first, in order to be in a position to assist others? I think this is absolutely so. The victim mentality arises from the idea that life happens to us, but we are creating our destiny, at the same time. Getting caught up in self-pity, or self-criticisim, can be a side trip with no clear destination. It is important to honor yourself, and to honor what you are feeling, whether you think those feelings are appropriate or not. Remember that your journey starts from where you are, and evolves from who you are. If you want to love yourself better, believe in the best you can be, but accept who you are, and love that person so much that only change for the better is possible.

by Jonathan J. Dickau ©'99 - all rights reserved

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