Are You Missing Out On Loving Yourself?

Alaina Stratton-0105.jpg

I used to beat myself up constantly. Few words or actions passed without my own inner dialogue of analysis and inevitable indictment of being too awkward, too eager, too stupid, not enough.

It became second nature, so much so that I could not separate out the criticism from my own true voice. I could guess that this came from having to perform when I was younger, so afraid of other people finding out about the things that weren’t so good at home. Or perhaps from wanting to never add to the burden my parents already carried. It likely didn’t help that I became a dancer — standing for hours at a time in front of mirror in line with other girls, competing for stage time and seeing who could do more, be better, win more praise.

But the truth is that all of us likely have complicated histories of our learned self-loathing — and it is learned. We were not born this way. The distaste for our personalities or appearance is acquired. Don’t be confused that anything less than optimism about you or your future is truth. It doesn’t make us better or wiser to assume the worst in the name of being smart or realistic — and that perspective can actually keep us from fully experiencing our lives or really loving ourselves.

Contrary to the way I perceived myself for years, I’ve learned that what’s true about me is that I’m extraordinary. I say and do things in a way that no one else can possibly do. I bring joy and an indescribable-something to every interaction and situation I face. I am kind, I am intelligent. I have a good heart and integrity and want what’s best for those around me. I am not selfish, I am not sinful, I am not awful. There is nothing defective within me. I am not a factory churning out mistakes, saying stupid things, or creating irrevocable damage in the relationships around me. I am powerful. I have peace. And who I am does not change regardless of people’s reactions or opinions about me.

And all of this is true for you.

The Lord once asked me something that made it much easier to really understand how much I was withholding love from myself. In a time of feeling particularly disappointed and full of regret, I felt him remind me of my friend Amanda.

Amanda is a person whom I love very much. In our friendship, it has always been incredibly easy to not only see what it wonderful about her, but to encourage her and feel excited about her future. Time and again she has responded to my texts or conversations with surprise that I believe in her as much as I do, something that is never not amusing to me. I see the good that God has put in her. I believe he is for her and there’s no chance her destiny and greatest gifts will not be fulfilled.

The Lord challenged me, asking if I thought I could respond to myself the way I did to Amanda. If I needed a grid for kindness, generosity, and love, perhaps I could remember how I treat this woman whom I admire and love, whose destiny I am convinced of and for whom I know there is nothing the Lord will not do. For her, I was convinced there was no mountain he would not move. For her, I was literally delighted and overjoyed by the things that made her uniquely Amanda — her carefree and joyful nature, her tendency to speak at length about what she was processing in life and faith, the fact that she was a little bit sassy and not the cookie cutter Christian mainstream society would like for her to be.

The real Amanda.

The real Amanda.

Did you know the name Amanda means "lovable" or "worthy of love"?

When the Lord asked me to use my interactions with my friend as a guide for how I’m allowed to treat myself, it wasn’t just a cute exercise I made up in my head. What he was asking is if I could treat myself like I am beloved — his beloved. Could I agree with the love that surrounds me whether I feel it or not, could I step into that same love and show myself the radical grace I am so pleased to extend to anyone else?

And if there was a barrier there — if for some reason, I don’t instantly react to myself with the same compassion and faith with which I have for Amanda, for someone who is Beloved, what exactly is standing in my way?

Whatever is in the way may be different for all of us. It may be shame or fear, struggles with worthiness or even a theology that majors in rules or shame rather than love and relationship. How it looks for me may not be what it looks like for you. But one tool I’ve learned through this is to return to those conversations with my dear friend and practice the same things on myself.

When Amanda shares with me things she is afraid of or ashamed by, I don’t remind her what the bible says about that character issue or slap a bible verse across her fear and move onward. When she is weeping, I do not look away from her gaze or try to rush her out of her pain so that I can feel more comfortable. In fact, one of my favorite and most life-giving things of friendship with her is that when she weeps, I weep. When I hurt, she hurts. We are comfortable sitting in each other’s shame or disappointment and no one is pushing anyone to move further than they need to. When either of us feels insecure, we remind each other who we are. And when I’m not sure what to say, I either ask the Lord how he feels about her or I ask her what she needs.

We have a trustworthy relationship, Amanda and I, because we allow for those questions — but we also allow for mistakes. I don’t ask her to be perfect, and I’ve found such joy and freedom in being able to apologize to her when I get it wrong. We’ve given one another permission to not be perfect or have all the answers, and from that has bloomed trust, compassion, and freedom for each of us to be ourselves.


Contrast that with how I have treated myself in the past:

I’ve let my fear define me and run rampant across my life. When I’ve felt shame, I’ve added to the pile and agreed with it. I’ve not always given my heart space to feel, I’ve not let myself off the hook no matter how many awful things have happened to me or valid reasons I have for feeling afraid or ashamed. I’ve quieted my tears or watched Netflix until I stopped feeling my feelings. I’ve not sat with myself in my greatest loneliness without rushing to distract myself or berate myself for not being able to keep it together. And you know what? I wasn’t always holding myself accountable to my faith — to engage with the Lord in those places or allow him into my pain.

For a long time, what I didn’t know is that I did not have trust with myself. There was a fracture within me, a civil war. How on earth could I live wholeheartedly with a brokenness like that inside of me? How could I love anyone else, how could I really love the Lord or receive love from my husband if I couldn’t even bear witness to my own shame and pain with love?

So this is what I’ve done: I remind myself I am beloved and give myself the compassion I deserve. I take more time to enjoy the things I love, I give myself rest and I choose to not berate myself for the things I’ve said or done. If I feel insecure I ask the Lord what he thinks, if I make a mistake I don’t dwell on it — which in itself is miraculous for me. I act like I’m beloved, even when I don’t feel like I am or I’m nervous or think someone else could do it better.

Over time I’ve seen how this is changing me. The old reactions aren’t so quick now — the inner dialogue isn’t so harsh. Like so many things with the Lord, a thousand tiny decisions in agreement with his word add up to miracles that don’t feel earned or deserved. My awareness of my prior, unkind reactions has risen and with it, a power to choose something else. My heart is growing softer and my appreciation for myself has grown.

Just recently while teaching a class I made a mistake — I said the wrong thing and then when I tried to correct it, I repeated the mistake not twice, but three times. In another recent situation, I had confusion over an interaction with some friends and had the opportunity to revert to my old ways of assuming I knew what they were thinking and deciding it had to do with me being rejected.

In both cases: I let myself off the hook. I let myself off the hook from being responsible for other people and their feelings or some arbitrary high bar of expectation I could not meet. The Lord had already told me who I was, and although it took great effort and hurt a bit, I knew I had to agree with it and not let my mind or heart continue to toil in anxiety or shame.

As a result, the mistake didn’t go away and the texts or connection I was desiring honestly didn’t come any quicker. But I knew I was okay. I gave myself grace. I didn’t come undone or question my destiny or my friendships because of a single instance, which I might’ve before. I had compassion for the mistake and security for the relationship misstep. When the class members and my friends eventually responded to me with acceptance and kindness, I was able to receive it.

This is the strength that comes from practicing self-love — and it’s well worth the effort and vulnerability it takes to cultivate it within ourselves. I will never be able to love anyone else more than I have been able to love myself — and I may miss out on one of the most wonderful miracles God gave me to enjoy in this life: the unique person he made me to be.

Are you missing out on loving yourself?

If there was one thing you could tell yourself today that you love and appreciate, what would it be?