June 12, 2009

Be Selfish In Love

Who comes first, you or your relationship? Although answering “the relationship” may sound honorable and based on a deep level of love and commitment, its an unhealthy and destructive way to live. It is only when you can honor and love yourself first, that the relationship can be a truly loving one and not one based on need, dependency, fear, or insecurities. When each partner comes to the relationship whole, the relationship becomes an enhancement of your life and not life itself.

Most of you have flown on an airplane. Have you ever wondered why they tell you to put your OWN mask on first, before you help your child? Seems kinda selfish, doesn’t it? I mean, we’ve been taught that the ultimate in love is self sacrifice, right? Why do these airlines tell us to save ourselves first?!? There’s a practical reason they instruct you to do this. Think about it. How can you help someone when you’re unconscious or struggling for breath?

Love is similar to that air mask. You can’t fully love another unless you love yourself FIRST. Strap that air mask on good and tight, and you can love an endless amount. If you don’t love yourself first, you have no love to give. If you truly put yourself first in love, nurture yourself, honor what you want, and make YOUR happiness the number one priority, you are better equipped to love others. Love deeper. We love others to the degree we love ourselves.

And as I've said, part of loving one’s self is accepting (being okay with) who we are. Consequently, we love to the degree we’re happy. While we are unhappy and attending to our fears, we are not loving. The self is always crying out for acceptance. When we deny ourselves that acceptance, life gets twisted. Our attention gets sucked into a void inside ourselves, leaving nothing left to give to another.

What Is Happiness?

Happiness and unhappiness are opposite sides of a judgement about your situation. If you judge your situation as bad for you, that's unhappiness. If you judge a situation as good for you, that's happiness.

The experience of happiness is one of those general terms we use to say, "I feel good emotionally." People use different terms to describe what feels good for them. For someone it might be excitement, passion, exhilaration, fulfillment, freedom, feeling fully alive with inspiration and joy. For another it might be more peaceful, content, capable, hopeful, satisfied, and comfortable feeling. Whatever you call it, it just feels darn good.

Our natural state of being is to be happy. When you remove all the uncomfortable emotions we humans can experience (and they are numerous), you're left with happiness. So it's easiest to define happiness by what it is not.

Happiness is what you feel when you're NOT feeling....

self doubt

Whew! That’s a long list!
Pleasure vs. Happiness

Happiness is not pleasure although they can appear similar. Pleasure is enjoyment of an outside stimuli. You might find pleasure in buying a new car, or in going on vacation, or having friends over for dinner, or having sex, or....the list is long on what you might enjoy experiencing. Pleasure requires an external stimuli for you to experience it. Happiness does not. Happiness is a belief about yourself and the outside world. You can be doing something you normally experience as pleasurable but not be happy! Pleasure is born from the external world, happiness is born from the internal workings of our own minds.

Does Guilt Work?

One day I was feeling particularly miserable and guilty about not working hard enough. I was so sick of feeling guilty I just wanted the feeling to go away.

It was in the summer of 1996 that I decided to put guilt to the test. I wanted to completely understand guilt. Why I felt it, why these feelings were encouraged by others, and what effect it was having on my life.

I do some of my best thinking when surrounded by nature so I put on my sneakers and went for a long walk. A 5 mile walk to be specific. I decided the best way to look at my guilt was to examine specific incidences where I felt guilty. As I made the turn down the street onto the gravel path, I went back to my earliest memory of guilt.

I chuckled as I remembered an early memory. I had gone outside in my bunny slippers when my mother had told me specifically not to. I remembered feeling "What kind of person was I to disobey? There must be something wrong with me. I must be a bad person." I didn't know it at the time, but I thought if I could feel bad enough, maybe it would make me act "right."

In college, I had an 8am Art History class across campus. I wasn't a morning person, the classes were in a dark room, and didn't feel like walking that far. After a month or so into the semester I started missing some classes. I felt guilty every time. I thought about how I was wasting my parent's money, how I was not disciplined enough, how if I was a "good" student, I would MAKE myself go. Consequently, I felt bad every time I skipped Art History.

So I thought of those experiences and every specific example I could remember from age seven on. The examples were numerous. After each example, I asked the following questions.

1) Why did I feel guilty in that situation?
2) What did I hope to accomplish by feeling guilty?
3) Did feeling guilty help me accomplish what I wanted?

As I went down the list, the answers surprised me. The reason I felt guilt in ALL the situations could be narrowed down into three categories.

To get myself
to behave
I thought that's
what I good people were suppose
to feel.
To show others
that I was a
caring person.

The most popular reason was to try and get myself to do something I thought I "should" be doing, or stop myself from doing something I didn't think I "should" be doing.. Now here's the clincher.

Did Guilt Change Me?
The answer was a resounding, NO. In all the cases I could remember, guilt hadn't motivated me to ever make any lasting changes in how I thought or behaved. In some cases I had changed in the short-term, but in all the examples I could think of, I inevitably went back to the behavior I was trying to stop. This made me ask, then why use guilt if it doesn't work? The only times I stopped behaviors was when I simply didn't want to do them anymore or changed my thoughts/beliefs about the situation..

Did I Have To Feel Guilt?
Was there some requirement that necessitated me feeling guilty? I couldn't think of one valid reason to feel guilt if it didn't work! If it wasn't functioning as a tool for change, then why use it? Why feel miserable if it serves no purpose?

Did Guilt Show My Caring To Others?
Unfortunately, sometimes yes. We belong to a culture that believes guilty feelings are a sign of a caring and thoughtful person. But most of the time it was difficult knowing what others were thinking. Most times they could care less what I was feeling. The ones who wanted to try and manipulate me to do what they wanted, liked the fact that I felt guilt. The ones who loved me, and wanted me to be happy tried to reassure me that there was no reason to feel bad. I decided I didn't want to spend time with people that supported me feeling guilty.

Take Your Own Walk
Don't trust my answers for your life. Take your own walk and examine your experiences. Put your guilt through the wringer. See what answers you find using the same questions I did. Look at the long-term results. The answers you reveal will have a profound effect on how you view guilt. And I suspect, like me, you'll discover just how useless the emotion of guilt really is.

Is Love Painful?

Who hasn't experienced the pain of love? Or is it the pain of rejection? The pain of self doubt? The pain of fear? It's important to distinguish between love and totally separate feelings.

When it comes to pain surrounding love, we're more likely referring to the “add-ons” of love. The love baggage, we might call it. For some reason, many people assume negative emotions are a part or element of love. But experientially we know this isn't true.

Love is not painful, it feels incredible. The pain and hurt we feel doesn’t come from love, it comes from our doubts, fears, anxiety, perceived rejections, broken trusts, anger, jealousy, envy, etc. So why do we as a culture lump all those other feelings in with love?

Perhaps its because we feel these uncomfortable emotions most often in association with our love relationships. Our primary relationships are important to us, so we assume these doubts and fears are all part of the loving experience. But is this really true?

When we are fearful, angry, anxious, unhappy, or jealous, are we truly experiencing a state of love? They sure feel different, don't they? Love feels warm, open, joyous and filled with a deep sense of appreciation. Pain steps into a love relationship when you switch it from a "wanted relationship," into a "needed relationship." You don't NEED any one relationship. Want? Yes. Need? No.

If you go into a relationship not feeling terribly good about yourself, you're more likely to become dependent on your partner to help you feel good about yourself. If we felt empty before they appeared in our lives, we fear the emptiness returning if they leave, so their staying with us becomes paramount. That dependency can create all kinds of fear and unhappiness when there's a perceived threat to you staying together.

If we aren’t giving ourselves the acceptance we crave, we look to those around us to provide it for us. Again, none of this has a thing to do with the love you feel, but everything to do with the fear you feel.

If you really want to remove the love baggage of fear and unhappiness, the first step is to improve your self awareness and self acceptance.