The one with himself! Here are some ideas to become a self lover.
It has been a long climb up a steep cliff to be able to get to the point where I can honestly say I love myself, that I am my own best friend, and that I am important to me. At times, I have faltered along the way. During the ascent, just when I thought I was gaining traction sometimes the ground beneath me gave way again and I slipped back, clawing desperately to gain purchase so as to not drop far back on what I had gained. The things that derail all of us derailed me: breakups, betrayal, divorce, getting fired, but I believe I have found firm ground at last.
We talk about all kinds of relationships as men: Our marriages, our children our friends, co-workers. We worry about how other people perceive us. Do we provide well, are we strong, can others depend on us; are we doing well at work? These are the typical ways we measure ourselves as men. The answers to these questions are important but they ignore a more essential question:
Who are we to ourselves.
Looking at the present state of men I worry about our high suicide rates, the prevalence of our violence against others, sexual assault, depression and anxiety. I think the seeds of these ills are sown in the way society regards us, but also in how we regard ourselves.
I often ask my clients a simple question: What do you think of yourself? Men are often baffled by the question and I am often answered by an uneasy silence. To help things along I ask follow up questions.
“Do you always put other people’s needs ahead of your own? Do you drive yourself too hard. Do you take care of yourself?”
To many men, caring for yourself may be obvious or even involuntary and reflexive, like breathing. Not to the earlier version of myself. Years of abuse gave me the mindset of a powerless victim and I lived my life accordingly. As a victim, you hand power to others. You assume the world moves against you and you look for evidence of the conspiracy.
I tried to fill myself up with booze, drugs, and food. I avoided my feelings by philandering. In the few serious relationships I formed, I alternated between neediness and being a martyr. My inability to feel satiated by the love I received caused those who loved me to bleed their good will dry, until they fled to escape my burden.
My focus was always on some fantasized version of the future, never on the present. I would be happy with that woman on my arm or when I got that important, well-paying job. These things would confer power to me and other people would see it and I would finally feel whole. When these successes eluded me, I settled back into the familiar role of the victim. Why won’t the world treat me according to my wishes as opposed to a more realistic point of view. How can I adapt to the world I live in? I had a negative view of the world and myself. To put it crassly,
“I suck, you suck, the world sucks.”
As long as I thought this way, why not booze and drug, why bother trying to make myself or the things around me better? I had a false notion of my powerlessness.
How does a man develop a better relationship with himself?
A good first step is to look at himself and his situation judiciously and ask some hard questions:
- Do I respect and believe in myself?
- Do I surround myself with people who respect me as well?
- Do I treat my body well?
- Do I do things that utilize my mind and spirit to the point where I feel engaged with the world around me?
- Do I face my problems head on or do I avoid and/or pass the blame to others?
The answers to these questions should drive the action steps to a better life.
Developing self-respect is a process and it begins with the hard labor of how you think about you. Thinking you are worth more or less than others is a distortion. I am not referring to abilities here as people have various skills and intelligences. I am not advocating for some flowery-feel-good meditation here. Taking stock is an honest stock taking enterprise and we must see our faults and abilities clearly.
This is more about dignity. You are as deserving as the next guy in the room, so challenge the negative self-thoughts you have. “Self-efficacy” or belief in a good outcome often determines success. This may be obvious to others but was not to me. Thinking of it another way, if you don’t believe you can do something then you surely won’t.
Who are the people around you and how do they treat you?
I often felt used by some of my friends but when I started to analyze, I realized I was the one to blame for this. I felt less than others, I overcompensated and others took advantage. I loaned money to people I didn’t really trust because I feared their rejection would confirm how I felt about myself. I decided to stop being an easy mark. I stopped hanging around with people who treated me poorly. Before long, I began to feel a better return on my relationships and a bit better about myself.
How do you treat yourself?
Do you over work, under-recreate? Do you get enough sleep? Do you abuse substances, over or under-eat? This category is one of the keys to a happy life. I would categorize it as basic self-care.
Sleep is one of the keys to a happy and healthy life. Not everybody needs the same amount, but most people know when they’ve had too little. When I am tired, my anxiety spikes. I become irritable and this adversely affects my functioning. Poor sleep habits lead to poor physical and mental health.
Our bodies need a decent quantity and quality of food. We can’t eat ourselves into happiness, and a barrage of fast/processed food is a ticket to all kinds of health problems. We really are what we eat! Check with a doctor or a nutritionist for what foods you should be eating and how much.
Our bodies were made to move. We don’t have to run marathons, but regular exercise of some kind is essential. Weight gain and loss is a basic equation. Burn off more than you take in and you will lose. Eat more than you burn off and you will gain, simple as that. I exercise a lot but not for how it makes me look, although that’s a nice benefit. I like the way I feel strong, confident, and filled with good energy.
Most men, including this one, are prone to over-working. This goes back to the societal and perhaps biological need for men to provide. However a good question to ask yourself is: Am I just living to work or working to live? Yes, my job is important and it helps provide for my family but I have a rich life apart from my job. I cannot be defined only as my job.
In this New Year, make a resolution to develop a better relationship with yourself. If you do you will find yourself happier, healthier and better able to give yourself the kind of life you want to lead.