Like many people, I enjoy setting resolutions for the coming year–even though I never achieve them perfectly. Earlier in life I judged myself harshly for any slip-ups in keeping those resolutions—believing that breaking one was a clear sign of my lack of will power (or character defect, depending on how badly I felt about the mess up). You see, I had bought into a perfectionist view of the world—the one where only the flawless are considered worthy of attention or love. Any mistake, I believed, took me off the “lovable” list immediately and made the possibility of being loved for who I really was (human and imperfect) a very chancy prospect.
It’s not true about New Year’s resolutions and it’s not true about Life. We don’t have to perform this dance with life faultlessly to be worthy of love. We are likely going to screw up, even if we have the best strategies, painstakingly laid out, to achieve our goals. I’m not being pessimistic—actually, I’m an irrepressible optimist. After all these years of imperfection completion, I still set resolutions.
During this last year, as I was following a very wobbly path to unconditional self-love, I discovered an important truth that changed how I see life, and even more, how I approach New Year’s Resolutions. Here it is:
Self-love is not about learning to love yourself despite your imperfections. It’s about recognizing that you are lovable–including your flaws.
It’s a bit of a game changer if you sit with this idea for a few minutes. Those of us who have been using New Years resolutions to carefully cull out all of our “bad” habits and tendencies, hoping for that miracle of worthiness once those nasty aspects of ourselves are eradicated, have it all wrong. We always were worthy of love.
Somewhere, early in our childhood, someone important to us—perhaps a teacher, parent, relative, older friend, religious leader, or coach–told us that we weren’t worthy of their attention or love unless we changed some aspect of ourselves. We didn’t realize that the people telling us the story had also bought into the lie. And, they accepted this story so completely that they needed to make sure everyone else around them believed it too. So they punished, ignored, or withdrew from us if we didn’t change our behaviors to fit their needs.
We quickly got the idea that love, attention, or worthiness was externally driven and could be quickly lost. We learned that we had better hustle if we were going to be loved. Worse yet, we bought the story we weren’t lovable without changing and made it our truth.
We don’t have to change to be worthy of love. We already are—just as we are.
So, what does this mean for you? Well, if you’ve been learning to accept your flabby stomach, tendency towards self-pity, financial snafus or any other problem area of your life, that’s a great start. It’s just not the bottom line. As long as you see any trait or aspect of yourself as a reason that you are not fundamentally worthy of love, you’re treating yourself like that irritating relative that you barely tolerate for the sake of family harmony. You deserve better, really you do.
Something magical happens when you let yourself love all of you, including those dark, unpleasant or overweight aspects of yourself. It gets easier to treat yourself with love, even when you make a mistake. And, if you’re not in a spiral of self-loathing and recrimination, it’s much easier to get back on track with your resolution. In fact, my thirty years of helping people change their behaviors has shown me again and again that we are loved into a change significantly more often than we are belittled, harassed or shamed into one.