self-love-exerciseClenching my fingers in a fist, the blood ceased to flow to my fingertips, and I stood stiff; muscles tense. I rolled my eyes in insolent teenage fashion. This was one showdown I was determined to win.

“No, mom!” I declared. “I don’t want Paula at my slumber party.”

Dropping her head in obvious disappointment, she turned away. “Ok, it’s your day. But will you be able to live with yourself when you see how hurt she’ll be?”

At first, the answer was easy. Of course, I’d be able to live with myself. I was fourteen and enjoying the budding springtime of that self-indulgent stage in a young girl’s life known as “me.”

“Mom, Paula and I don’t hang out together anymore,” I scowled. “Besides, the other girls think she’s a nerd.”

Turning around, my mother gave me that all-knowing, stern “mommy knows best” look when attempting to sway me to her side. “Just remember how you felt when you were left out.”

For the next few days, I was in angst over my decision. Was I too harsh? Paula wasn’t that big of a nerd, and once upon an early childhood, we were best friends. Plus, my mom did have a point. I knew all too well the pain of being excluded. So, I conceded and did the right thing. I wanted to be able to live with myself after making my decision.

For fifty years, living with myself was never a problem. I had my mother to thank for that. Just when I was about to travel a crooked path, she’d block my way with her infamous stink-eye and remind me that I might not like myself in the morning. The biggest deterrent, though, was the thought that she might not like me. As the only girl surrounded by three boisterous brothers, I glued myself to the sole vestige of female hormones in the house. We were inseparable.

When she passed away ten years ago, without my compass, I became utterly lost and quickly retreated into a world of solitude. Weeks turned into months and before I knew it, two years had passed where I’d spent countless hours alone with only my thoughts. One day, while hiking in the San Antonio Reserve, I reflected back on my life and all the times I did what was right just to be considered socially acceptable.

Like many girls of my generation, I grew up with a senseless disease known as the Good Girl Syndrome.  Constantly suffering over whether I was good enough, I looked for validation from others. If I made them happy, then maybe I’d be liked, loved, and even appreciated. All this did was smother my true spirit within.

The saying “In order to be loved, you must first love yourself,” came to mind and I began to see I’d always neglected my needs for the sake of others.

Self-love is not always an easy thing to master. Childhood conditioning trained me to think it was selfish, vain even, but when I learned to embrace my true essence, a magical thing happened. I began to develop healthy boundaries, which ultimately steered me on the path to my full potential. It allowed me the strength to know when to say “yes” and when to say “no.”

It’s important to care for one another, but we can’t share what we don’t hold true for ourselves. Just imagine how different this world would be if everyone held a healthy supply of self-love in their hearts. Selfishness would become an obsolete word. Giving and receiving would be the joyful norm and we’d never again need wonder if we could live with ourselves.

We’ve all done it – given too much to someone else and neglected our needs and happiness. And, let’s face it, it does make those around us happy so they can go on their merry way. But where do you draw the line? I’ve found by saying, “I’ll have to get back to you” when given a request by another needs a little more time to assess the impact it will have on my life. How do you balance being kind with self-love?