Why do we let people treat us badly? Why do we make excuses for them? Why do we spend time with people who make us feel like crap? Why would we make plans with anyone who leaves us feeling depleted and deflated? It makes no sense. Yet, we do it all the time.

Why would we stay with a lover or friend—or even a doctor, therapist or dance teacher—whom we dread seeing? This comes from a bizarre need to please and a subconscious desire to reflect back to ourselves how little we’re worth. It comes from making the other person and his or her feelings (or, better yet, our perception of his or her feelings) more important to us than we are to ourselves.

I feel qualified to write about this because I’ve earned my battle scars and victory stripes in the war of self-destructive behavior and co-dependent relationships. As the daughter of an alcoholic, I experienced a very unbalanced paradigm of love. My mother loved me and then pushed me away; lifted me up and then slammed me down.

Each time I lowered my guard and allowed myself to believe she really loved and adored me, she’d come along while in a drunken rage or stumbling through a hangover, and slice me to bits with her words. Skewer me with daggers from her eyes. Block me out with an energetic wall.

The people we attract

Woman sitting in bed, partner's head is under covers - Put on your oxygen mask

As a young adult, I gravitated towards emotionally unavailable romantic partners, because love with them mimicked the intermittent reinforcement I mistakenly took as love when I was a child, and helped reinforce the deep-seated belief that I was, in fact, unlovable.

Don Miguel Ruiz says, in his book The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, that we’ll let people treat us as badly as we treat ourselves. If they step over the line and treat us worse than we treat ourselves, we won’t tolerate it and will leave them, but if they abuse us just as much or a little less than we abuse ourselves, we allow them to stay.

My therapist told me we attract people who say to us what we say to ourselves inside our own minds, in order to show ourselves from the outside what’s going on inside. For example, if we think we’re stupid, we attract partners who point out how stupid we are. If we think we should be ashamed of our past promiscuity, we attract partners who constantly point out how slutty we used to be. If we think we’re ugly, we attract people who make us feel ugly, and so on.

Then we make excuses for these people. We allow them to stick around. Why? Why would we do that? I think it comes from a deep desire to please and the fact that we are Love. Underneath all the layers of ego and fear, we are Pure Love. And we want to love. It really is what we do best.

But, as I’ve learned the hard way, we must love ourselves if we’re ever to truly love another, and if we’re ever to truly shine, self-love has to come first.

Trying to fit in

Group of women talking - Put on your oxygen mask

Don’t you notice that when you feel good about yourself, you’re more pleasant to be around? That when you feel attractive, you’re more outgoing, and when you’re confident, you’re easier to approach? Or that when you’re rested, you have more patience and are a better listener? You let people cut in front of you in traffic. You hold doors open for strangers with packages.

Don’t you notice that when you’re in love, you want the whole world to be in love, too?

We learn that in trying to assert boundaries, we aren’t “nice little girls (or boys),” so we stop enforcing those boundaries. We learn to ignore our own inner guidance.

We’re born to love and we want to love. But unfortunately, we learn from a very young age that we’re not OK the way we are, and that we need to change in order to fit in, to be liked, to be loved and to avoid abandonment.

Parents tell us “no” constantly. They tell us to stop, to change and to be different in so many ways. We learn that in trying to assert boundaries, we aren’t “nice little girls (or boys),” so we stop enforcing those boundaries. We learn to ignore our own inner guidance.

And then we do the worst thing possible: We start to hide what makes us different. We try to blend in. We learn that standing out gets us ridiculed and ostracized. So we pretend to be something we’re not, for so long that we eventually forget who we truly are.

With all that pretending and forgetting, we attract into our lives people who don’t fit us, circumstances that aren’t right for us and experiences that cause us pain. We become lonely, depressed and lost. We believe no one truly understands us and that we’re all alone. We feel lonely when surrounded by a room or even a city full of other people.

Then, one day, each of us stumbles upon a group or a person that’s able to see the real person inside, the one we’ve hidden for so long and covered up with facades, and we feel as if we’ve finally found a home. We feel seen. We feel heard. We feel understood. And we give all our power away, wanting so badly to stay in this place of homecoming, believing it’s the other person (or group of people) that’s finally making us feel complete—making us feel as if, for the first time, we belong.

It’s all crap!

Hip-hop dancer in middle of street - Put on your oxygen mask

And I say, “Crap! It’s all crap!”  What if we did it the other way around? What if we stayed true to ourselves from the start? What if we had our own backs? We’d be far less concerned with what others were doing or not doing. We wouldn’t need validation from the outside.

What if we celebrated what made us different from the moment we noticed it? The colour of our skin. The accent in our speech. The size and shape of our bodies. Our sexual preferences or eating preferences or clothing preferences or activity preferences. What if we followed what made our hearts sing and owned these differences proudly?

I’ll tell you what would happen. We’d attract into our lives other similar beings, beings who celebrated, cherished, adored and uplifted us. We’d attract experiences that fit us. We’d know who we were and wouldn’t need others to constantly reflect it back to us. We’d follow our hearts towards work we love and offer our gifts to the world with joy. We’d be confident and clear. We’d make decisions easily because we’d know exactly what we wanted.

We’d offend people who didn’t deserve to be in our inner circle. They’d move away from us and create more space for those who truly “got” us, our tribe, to move in. As we got used to being surrounded by people who truly supported us, our tolerance for anyone who didn’t would diminish to the point that we wouldn’t allow those relationships into our lives.

A new outlook for 2019

Silhouette of woman at sunset with arms outstretched, face to sky - Put on your oxygen mask

Isn’t it time to make this change, in this new year of 2019? Isn’t this a perfect time to start a practice of self-love? To stop making ourselves wrong? To start doing a little bit more, each day, of the things that make our hearts sing and our spirits soar? To start saying “no” to social invitations that make us feel drained or leave us feeling less-than?

We owe it to ourselves to do this. We owe it to the world to do this. In giving ourselves the love, joy and nurturing we expect from others, and in treating ourselves to things we love rather than waiting for others to do it, we can make our own hearts sing. By doing this, we’ll reinforce the fact that we’re worthy and that we do deserve to be happy.

By no longer waiting for others to give us what we can give ourselves, we can begin to have our own backs. Humans are so fickle. When they’re rested and fed they’re so nice to be around, but when they’re tired or hungry or have to go to the bathroom, they can be jerks. Why tie ourselves to this yo-yo, being yanked up and down by circumstances out of our control? Why not take the control back?

On airplanes, we’re told to put on our oxygen masks before we help others. This makes sense. We don’t argue with it. If we can’t breathe, how helpful can we be to others?

Self-love was the key to my healing. It saved my life and it brought me joy. In my joy, I’m able to be kinder, more patient, more giving and more loving towards others. In this way, every day, I make the world a better place. Isn’t that the perfect excuse to give yourself what it is you truly want? Alone time. A bubble bath. A box of chocolate. A new car.

On airplanes, we’re told to put on our oxygen masks before we help others. This makes sense. We don’t argue with it. If we can’t breathe, how helpful can we be to others? Yet, this same logic is lost when it comes to love.

When we do the things that bring us joy, that fill us up, we return to the world with happy hearts and clear minds. When we’re filled up, we go out into the world as givers rather than takers. We become kind, so we attract kindness. When we cut out of our lives those who cause us pain, we show ourselves and the world that we deserve more. We reinforce our worthiness.

It’s time we all learn to say “no”. No more self-destructive behavior. No more apologizing for being different. No more ignoring our own needs and depleting ourselves so completely that we’re of no value to anyone.

Instead, let’s have 2019 be the year of “yes”. Yes to self-love. Yes to rest. Yes to vacation. Yes to play. Yes to laughing. And yes to kindness. This, my friends, is how we change the planet.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see.” And it’s simple. We want to see love. More acts of love. We need more love. And it starts with us. With self-love.  Because only by putting our oxygen mask on first, will any of us be able to offer air to others.

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