Oscar Hammerstein, the brilliant lyricist who wrote unforgettable love songs with Richard Rogers, also wrote the words to You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught, as a deliberate protest against racial injustice. For those unfamiliar with the song, it is from Rogers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific. Hammerstein argued that parents often teach their children to hate others because of skin color or ethnicity.
I would also argue another related point that parents, with the best intentions, may reassure their child by saying: “You’re special” or “You’re the best,” while at the same time those parents display their own insecurities and lack of self-worth, a formula that often backfires. Down the road, if a child doesn’t develop self-love, that girl or boy will often hurt others to buy their self-worth. Teaching a child to love her or himself before he or she leaves home, takes courage. The parent has to be firm, to be kind, but also help their child see their self-worth through encouragement and mentoring. If the parents’ efforts aren’t working, seeking professional assistance would also help. Numerous examples exist where parents have done what they could to help their child discover inner strength and love; however, the child and then later the adult couldn’t believe they had value. Getting the child the help he or she needs as early as possible will only spare the entire family pain and tumult. Any mental health expert would agree that loving yourself can only come from inside the child’s heart and mind.
I will admit, without hesitation, that I’m not a parent. Don’t want to be. That said, I like children and have friends who are parents. As an objective observer, I can emphatically say that the children who suffer the most are those whose parents refuse to set boundaries or enable dependence. I’ve heard the same rationale against this behavior from parents around the world (literally, when I traveled overseas). That enablement, like other bad habits, can be passed down from generation to generation. There are always exceptions, of course. Some children find self-love without parental guidance or interference. Often a parent or both aren’t present in a child’s life, or are working to make ends meet. For this reason mentoring programs remain popular.
Moving on to individual adults, many are desperate for acclamation. They wear an invisible label reading: “Tell me I’m wonderful.” They don’t consciously recognize they lack self-worth, however, obvious examples of these persons include artists or actors, some of whom willingly admit they chose their profession because of their neuroses or insecurities. What about the rest of the adult populous? Based on continuing blockbuster sales of self-help books, skyrocketing, hits on an unlimited number of websites and viewers of Dr. Phil, there isn’t a shortage of people desperate for answers. Yet all the questions often have one answer: love yourself and your world will expand, will bring unforeseen rewards. That search takes work; it’s hard work.
It’s easy to be critical, to dissect, to react negatively, to insult, to chastise, to humiliate or be a bully. There isn’t a profession that I’ve observed, and I’ve either participated in or had exposure to multiple fields, where the proverbial saying, Pride cometh before the fall, (The Bible) didn’t apply. The worst offenders often strut around with a facade of confidence and dismiss anyone who doesn’t play their game. Then, these power wranglers would disappear, sometimes long after they should have gone, when the officiating bodies would realize they’d been fooled. Why the delay? Why would it take so long for the Toronto city officials, for example, to see their mayor is a fool? In my opinion, they were duped by a man who had seemed to be complete, but secretly wasn’t: he didn’t love himself. If he did, he would never have resorted to escaping by using drugs.
If you aren’t good at loving yourself, you will have a difficult time loving anyone, since you’ll resent the time and energy you give another person that you aren’t even giving to yourself.
From the workplace and politics, and on to romantic relationships. Is it possible to love another human being if you don’t love yourself? Of course! Looking for love often involves searching for a partner who will love you as much as you love them, if not more. The less we love ourselves, the more love we need from our partners. In contrast, the less we love ourselves the less we are able to give our partners. More so, making difficult decisions as to whether a person should stay with their partner often revolves around self-love.
The example I present involves a woman, I’ll call her Ms. Self-Deluded. She stayed with her partner, a man for those who care, for a decade hoping he would marry her. When she finally saw how much she had been hurting herself by staying with a man who wouldn’t commit, she walked away and didn’t regret her decision. Then there are those who learn quickly that their partners aren’t right for them. They have the confidence and bravery to live alone rather than subject themselves or compromise too much to be in a relationship where they see no future.
Years ago I had a colleague who gave me confusing advice: “Don’t ever settle.” I’d asked her to explain what she meant, but she wouldn’t and returned to her room. Yes, she had personal challenges, i.e. she loved teaching, and loathed socializing. I never got around to getting an answer, for she eluded me the rest of the year. “Don’t ever settle.” Did she mean my career? Love life? Both were intertwined at the time. In retrospect, I wouldn’t say that teacher hadn’t been a model of self-love. However, her advice finally rang true on both counts job and romance. I did discover a career that I love, decades later after holding on too long to conventional wisdom.
When I realized my passion, writing, life turned around 180°, and if my career continues to escalate, or when my chosen profession becomes financially sound—it’s already fulfilling—I will inch closer to my expectations.
I’m still weighing the pros and cons of my romantic future. You see, I’m not the ideal of self-love either and have some physical limitations, still I’m confident I have a lot to offer. More importantly, I know I can survive and savor life with or without a man, for I’ve done so for some time. I also know I have the capacity to give too much without expecting half that effort in return. Will continue working on closing that gap. As for reaching the apex, whole-hearted self-love, like nirvana, that goal may never be achievable. Personally, like many, I have issues to overcome, neuroses which show outwardly. Inwardly I have found self-worth, self-respect and am inching closer to true love, that is of myself.
Wendy Shreve, a native New Yorker, grew up in the wilds of the Lower Hudson Valley, climbing trees; connecting with nature. With New York City at her doorstep, she found a launching pad to new horizons. Whether teaching ESL in Singapore during the Persian Gulf War, taking a school group across ravines in the jungles of Belize, going solo in Bali, or drinking a toast to Picasso with a taxi driver in Provence, Wendy has never settled for the ordinary.
She received her BA at Smith College and MA at University of Montana. Along with teaching ESL at schools and universities in Europe, Asia, and the United States, her professional experience has included working as a freelance consultant, publicist, and copy writer for organizations such as the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, MA, and Payomet Performing Arts Center in Truro. Cape Cod has inspired her to write the short story, Lamentations, published by Hamilton Stone, Fall 2011 for their Quarterly Review, and her novel, SHADOWWATER www.shadowwater.net