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Finding it Hard to Love Yourself? Check Out Your Boundaries

Posted May 22 2009 11:55pm

Judging by much of the self-help literature available today, by the clients that walk through my door, and by typical current events in the news about people and their relationships and their pain, loving oneself appears to be one of the hardest things for most of us to do.

Not a High Priority

Loving oneself is generally just not very high on our list of priorities, nor is it always instilled in us as we grow up (see also How Important Is It To Be You? ). Only once we begin to realize that it just might be one of those things that is actually holding us back, and we begin to try to work on it, do we realize how potentially difficult it is to achieve. There are many reasons why we don’t love ourselves, most of which are absolute myths, but which we often firmly believe. What follows represents only a few of these reasons:

  • there's nothing lovable about me

  • I’m a bad person

  • It’s a sin to love oneself

  • It’s selfish to love oneself

  • The Bible says love thy neighbour

  • I’ve spent so much time not loving me, that I don’t know how to begin

  • I’m so ashamed of myself

  • How can I love myself if I don’t like myself?

  • I’m so afraid to love myself

  • It hurts so much to love myself

  • I’m not good enough to love myself

  • My mother/father/partner told me I’m useless/worthless/stupid/clumsy/fill in the blank

  • I’m not worth it

  • I’ll love myself when I get a promotion, lose 20 pounds, make a million dollars, get him/her to love me, etc.
How Did You Get Here?

Let’s backtrack a moment. How did you get to this place where you find yourself unlovable, or afraid to love yourself, and so on? Were you born like this? Look at a baby. It may scream when it wants food or is uncomfortable, but wouldn’t you say that when it does that, it is manifesting its supreme belief in its right to be fed or comforted? And who does that? Only someone who instinctively (we’re not even talking about being rational here, merely instinctual) believes he or she is lovable (for more information on our instincts and the broad neurological base they derive from, see also my May 2006 Newsletter: Introducing Our Second and Third Brains: We Do Think With Our Heart and Instinct ). When a toddler comes up to your knee, sticky fingers on your clothes, and looks trustingly into your eyes, he or she believes he has a right to be there and hence believes he or she is lovable.

Healthy Boundaries…What’s That?

But – what happens when the baby is not fed or comforted, and just ignored until it cries itself to sleep? Or the toddler gets yelled at, pushed away, and told in no uncertain terms that he is not wanted there because he is dirty, or disgusting, or bad. You get the picture. I won’t go into the hundreds of scenarios – more or less dysfunctional, because many of them happen in great homes - I could describe, because you’re probably aware of your own, or at least, you’ve heard lots of the scenarios that bring about a lack of self-esteem, a fear of being you, a lack of self-respect and self-confidence, and so on.

Fast forward a few years. You now have a child – youngster – teen – young adult – who finds it hard to say what he or she wants. Or prefers. Or what opinion she has about a particular subject. Or what she’s feeling. And because this person finds it hard to say things of this nature, he allows others to say or do things that are not right, that are unacceptable, maybe just not quite right, but nevertheless, something not right is being allowed. All of that describes behavior by a person with poor boundaries as opposed to healthy boundaries. And before you jump at me, I’m not necessarily talking about hard-core abuse here, it can be much less, it can even just be something the first person perceives. Partially this behavior stems from this person’s assumption that by saying what he wants or prefers, etc. (as opposed to what the other person is saying), he/she will not get what he most wants: love and appreciation…that commodity that somehow was missing part of the time when he was little, so it is better to say nothing, because then he just might get some love…some few crumbs of love… (see also my July 2007 Newsletter: Emotional Unavailability ).

So we now have a person with low self-esteem, or a lack of self-love, or respect, and hence we have a person with poor boundaries. And this of course perpetuates into adult life as long as it is not recognized and dealt with as an unresolved issue. And it can do untold damage to the unfolding of the life of the person involved. His or her lack of belief or love in the self is forever perpetuated by the people chosen to participate in the life, because these are precisely the sort of people who are able to enact the kind of behavior that persons with poor boundaries should object to, or speak up about, and yet they do not.

Wounds, Pain, and the Pain Body

Most of us have childhood wounds. Even if we had terrific parents. Something almost always happened. And whatever the wounds were (I could do a whole series of articles just on wounds), they cause pain (see also posts about pain ). Often this is not conscious pain. We only feel it when it is triggered again by a person in our adult life. A person who has nothing to do on the surface with the original person who engendered the wound, but this person in our current life somehow triggers the pain, because this person is a good hook for whatever it is that our wound-causing person from childhood did. In other words, the person from the current life situation brings out reactions in us that are similar in nature to how we might have reacted earlier in life when faced with pain. So perhaps we put up with something just to be accepted or loved or approved of, even if putting up with the behavior in question makes us feel awful. It becomes a vicious circle.

And because there is that similarity in the feeling, we are familiar with it. We know it. It pulls us in the direction of the pain, and so we re-live it over and over and over again. Basically what is happening is that our psyche is trying to guide us towards a resolution of the wound, but unless we become aware of what is happening, our chances of resolving it are slim. And so we get pulled by the familiarity of pain we know. Eckhart Tolle calls this the pain body. Chris Griscom calls it the emotional body. (See also my article: Entering the Now Moment by Leaving Unawareness Behind ). Both say similar things about it: we wallow in the pain because it seduces us, it sticks to us, we go in its direction, rather than running away from it, because we know it, it’s familiar. Its pull on us is very strong, and so when someone behaves in a way that triggers a childhood reaction due to a wound received then, we tend to go in the direction of the pain, we maintain those unhealthy and dysfunctional boundaries, almost in the way a child cries itself to sleep at night, in pain, but finding some strange measure of comfort in the act of crying.

Note, however, that although I am pointing towards the past in order that you understand where the poor boundaries originated, I am not suggesting that you spend any time whatsoever on determining exactly what happened then. That is not nearly as important – if at all – as it is to change your present behavior in favor of yourself so that you may begin to love and respect yourself.

“Feeling” Your Way to Healthy Boundaries

Clearly, boundaries are an important issue and everyone who has poor ones needs to learn how to establish healthy ones. Some ways this can be done have been discussed in a previous article: Do Your Relationship Boundaries Contribute To Your Well-being?

But there is also another variation on the same theme. Start by gauging how you feel when certain things are said or done to you. You know when you are feeling good and when you are not. The times that you do not feel good pursuant to someone’s behavior or words, are the times that something needs to be done. Use your feelings as a barometer in order to correct as needed (see also The Energy Barometer: Make Your Mind Body Connection Work For You ). I’m not talking about correcting the other person’s behavior. Hopefully that will happen. But what I really mean, is for you to correct you own behavior. In other words, begin by speaking up. Begin by indicating that what has just been said or done is not acceptable. Begin by indicating in no uncertain terms (this can be done courteously and calmly), that when you are treated in such a way, or spoken to in that way, you feel hurt, or denigrated, or angry, or sad, or whatever. State clearly that you wish not to be treated that way again, nor spoken to that way again. And decide on a consequence if the behavior is repeated, i.e., if your expressed desire is ignored. It is very important that you choose a consequence that you are capable of carrying out (don’t say you will leave the relationship, if you feel you will not be able to do that), and that will bother you less, or cause less of an upset in your life, than it will bother the other person. This is not a punishment, it is a consequence of someone not respecting your boundaries.

What you are attempting to do by all of this is not only to get the other person to understand that you will no longer tolerate or accept this behavior, but more importantly, you are showing yourself – perhaps for the first time in your life – that you are worth speaking up about. That your respect for you is more important than being accepted, or loved, or approved of, by another – no matter who the other is. I don’t mean to pretend that this is easy. I also don’t mean to pretend that it can happen all at once, or that, even if you manage it once, you will manage it again each time thereafter. It’s a learning curve, like so much else in life. But I promise you this: if you begin to make a practice of this – using your feelings as a barometer – you will begin to feel better about yourself. You will begin to empower yourself. And you will begin to love yourself. And that is worth gold and this takes you another step down the road to inner freedom.

Note: there are many other manifestations of not loving oneself…having poor boundaries is simply one of them. A future article may deal with further ways in which this appears in an individual’s life.
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