If some random person on the street offered you a big box wrapped up in shiny red paper and a big golden bow, what would you do?
Would you grab it from their hands and rip it open without a second thought?
Would you smile sheepishly, wonder “Why Me?”, and accept the box anyway?
Or would you deny yourself the “gift” and turn and walk uncomfortably away?
Myself, I would probably deny the gift, thinking that someone was trying to play a joke on me and wanting to see my reaction when I was humiliated.
That’s just the way I roll.
That doesn’t mean it is true though. In fact, most of it is probably made up. Who would do that anyway?
Every time someone shares a compliment, reaches out with a tender touch, or offers love in whatever form, and we refuse…it is like refusing a gift-wrapped box from someone else.
When discussing relationships, we often hear the phrase “unconditional love”. It is usually referenced when speaking about couples.
But in an interesting twist, what if we thought about unconditional love as it applies to ourselves.
After all, there is probably a deeper reason for denying ourselves gift-wrapped love and affection from someone rather than just because we don’t feel like it, right?
LOVE AT HOME
As children, we live with our family. The parents are the directors of this circus, and if they do it right, we end up leaving the nest someday with a healthy perception of self and the world around us.
Of course, as a child (or more correctly, a teenager), I thought it was just that easy, and that my parents were wrong and just couldn’t figure it out. But now, as a parent myself, I realize it is so much more, and that, as a parent, I am wrong and just can’t figure it out.
There are days when I really can’t believe someone has entrusted the molding of these small hearts and minds to me. I am responsible, for the most part, for how my children will learn to love themselves. And in return, for how they will give and accept love from others.
For how they view themselves in the grand scheme of things.
Yes, it is true, that everyone is responsible for their own happiness, but how do we even know what happiness and acceptance is if it is not given to us first?
In fact, unconditional love is often connected to a mothering type of love—one that is nurturing and supportive. It is a love that provides empathy to the receiver, and empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
As I have watched my own children navigate the rocky stoles of life, I am amazed at the gamut of emotions they run into on a daily basis. From pure elation of Pokemon characters to unfathomable inferiority over not being invited to play with the neighbors, I feel like I am walking a mile in their shoes as I relive my own childhood dramas.
Now, when I remember my own mother saying to me: “I know dear. I know,” I really believe her. And in that moment of clarity, I am so glad that I had all of those experiences so I can empathize with my own children and help them to understand the world around them.
Empathy is more than just understanding their feelings, however. Combined with unconditional love, loving someone no matter what, it is how we respond to situations that an individual might find themselves in.
Are we going to shame someone for making a mistake, or are we going to pick them up by their boot straps for another go ’round?
Shaming someone is assuming that they deliberately chose wrong.
When I think of many of the mistakes or poor choices my children have made, they are not due to outwardly negative actions. They were, more often than not, due to not being able to conceive of every possible outcome of said actions, other than “I wonder what would happen if…?!”
“I wonder what would happen…” is not necessarily “I am going to break my mother’s vase because I am bad.”
Assigning shame to someone over and again teaches that individual that they are, in fact, bad. It creates a disconnect with reality because they begin to believe that they are the only one doing wrong when everyone else is doing good. And how could anyone that bad be deserving of love?
Even unconditional love?
So, let’s twist this around now. How does this apply to unconditionally loving ourselves?
After flying the coop and starting off on our own, we are alone. We have left mother and father, and their nurturing environment, behind. Who will take care of us now?
Well, the answer would be, naturally, ourselves.
This is our chance to become something on our own, without the help of anyone else. And so, if we are going to achieve this goal, we are going to need a cheerleader.
Hopefully we have been taught by our parents how to do hard things, but even then, if our life doesn’t follow the plan we have set out for ourselves, sometimes we begin to feel shame.
It is easy to get down on the one person we should be building back up—ourselves. If we don’t make a habit of treating ourselves like we are important and worth it, soon we begin to believe it.
I recently heard the phrase:
“It is easier to give love than to receive it,”
This gave me pause for thought.
After thinking about it for a few minutes, I began to realize that, if you cannot love yourself, than how can you accept a gift without wondering what strings are attached!
Accepting unconditional love is accepting love knowing that no strings are attached.
It is knowing that you are worth it just because you are you. It doesn’t mean settling for the person you are just because, but giving yourself chance after chance because you are you.
This is something that I struggle with. I know that I am far from perfect, but I secretly think that I should be. If I had a bad day and did not get everything done on my to-do list, I find myself going over the instant replay to find out where I wasn’t efficient enough with my time.
And of course, I feel even worse when I notice that, in my quest to get it all done or be more, I usually neglected something more important instead—like my kids or my husband.
That’s when I really start to beat myself up and insist I do better tomorrow.
Sometimes I will look at what other moms are doing with their lives and I will resent what I have not done with mine. I will look at my agenda and wonder how I can pack more in. Even if there is no more space to pack it in.
I don’t really think I am practicing unconditional love, do you? I didn’t get to all of the things on my list today, so I am not worth it.
That doesn’t sound right, does it?!
Of course, I am trivializing these feelings a bit by focusing only on getting things done on a to-do list. There are many things that we all struggle with that make us feel inadequate.
And you know what, they are all valid. If it makes us feel bad inside, than it makes us feel bad. And no one can take that away. By telling ourselves that it is wrong to feel bad, we are continuing the cycle of shame.
Instead, perhaps we can look at the things that we can actually change as opposed to the things that are just plain old us.
Maybe that means letting go of having the perfect body, or having a perfect home, or a career that makes six figures, or not screaming at your children after asking them nicely for the sixth time.
It could be anything. But whatever it is, it doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to be accepted by someone else.
So, the next time you are offered love, and you feel like you don’t deserve it, I want you to ask yourself why?
Is it because you ate too many cookies today and you said you would only eat one?
Or because you stay at home with the kids instead of having a powerhouse career?
Maybe you spanked your three year old because he kicked you in the shin and you vowed you would never spank your kid.
It could be any variation of these things. But do, ask yourself why? And I will tell you what…it isn’t true.
None of it.
You deserve to be enfolded in someone else’s arms just because you are here. On this earth. Doing what you do best—being you.
And if you don’t believe it, look at one of your kids. Go ahead, choose the crankiest one. Would you ever deny them a hug or kiss goodnight just because they weren’t perfect today? No, you wouldn’t. You would cover them in kisses and hugs and tell them that you know how special they are and that tomorrow is another day, another dollar.
So go ahead. Accept it. It’s a fact. You are worth it. You deserve to be loved.
Unequivocally and unconditionally loved.
Jessica Clark is a wife, mom, writer, runner, knitter, and proud Canadian. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Anthropology, and has been a student of people and cultures ever since. Right now she is busy studying the behavior and cultures of the people of Texas.