Ever since Marj mentioned that she was giving this month’s edition of the Carnival Against Child Abuse a love theme, I’ve been struggling with what I wanted to say about love. Obviously, with tomorrow being Valentine’s Day, the idea of romantic love is in the air, but that is only really part of love. A small part at that. I’m lucky, I have a wonderful wife to share that kind of love with every day, so while the day is a nice chance to show my appreciation for her love, I don’t love her more on this particular day that I do every other day of the year. The day really isn’t that big a deal.
On the other hand, love is a big deal. Even if you’re not lucky enough to have a spouse or partner who you will be growing old with, it’s important to have love in your life, wherever it comes from. Not necessarily romantic love, again, that’s only a small part of the love that plays such an important part in our lives. The love of family and friends is equally, if not more, crucial to survivors.
Most crucial of all, of course, is love of yourself. For survivors this is a huge struggle. We don’t often see ourselves as lovable. We don’t look in the mirror and see movie star good looks, don’t judge our character to be upstanding, know there are always smarter and more talented people around, etc. But I’m here to tell you, that’s not love at all.
One of the best definitions I’ve ever heard of real love, I heard many, many years ago in a church teaching. The speaker was talking about the classic Biblical passage about love (Love is patient, Love is kind, Love believes all things, etc….) and was specifically talking about the idea that so many people tell him they don’t love themselves. He disagreed. He finds very few people in the world don’t love themselves if you get down to the core of what love is. His response when someone talks about not loving themselves was this “Did you shower today? Brush your teeth, have some breakfast?”. If you did, you love yourself.
At the very core of love, is meeting needs. You love yourself by taking care of yourself. The only people in this world who don’t love themselves, are the people who don’t meet their own needs. I was one of those people when I was in the midst of major depression, because I didn’t believe I was worth taking care of.
By the same token, the people who truly love you, are the people who are there to help you meet your needs. Again, be they a spouse, partner, family member or friend, they show love by being there to help. Friends, and family members, who only strive to take from you, don’t love you in any deeper sense.
If you take anything away from this rambling, let it be this. Loving yourself isn’t about heaping praise on yourself, or repeating phrases. It’s about understanding that you are as worthy of being taken care of as any one else in this world. Any tool that detracts from that core goal, is useless, in my book. Taking care of yourself is the most important thing you can do in life and should be the main focus of every day. If you get up, go to work, feed yourself, clothe yourself, etc. then you are loving yourself. It’s not warm and fuzzy, but love isn’t hardly just the warm and fuzzy stuff.
Secondly, to really love someone is to look out for their needs. To be ready and willing to help them however you can. Again, it’s not about the warm and fuzzy stuff. I love my wife. I do that by taking care of myself, taking care of my work so that I have a job to help pay our bills, listening when she needs to talk, laughing when she is silly, crying when she’s in pain, just generally trying to help her be the person she wants to be in any little way that I can. Very few of those things give me a warm and fuzzy feeling. I don’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling every time I pay our rent, help one of her friends with a computer problem, straighten up around the house, or help her run errands on a weekend. I assume she doesn’t either when she comes home and starts dinner, or spends an evening ironing. Those aren’t highlight-reel moments in our relationship, but they involve just as much love as Valentine’s Day, a wedding day, anniversaries, etc. In fact, I would argue they involve even more love, because in those moments, we are doing the things we need to do to take care of us. That’s the core foundation of love. Not the gifts, cards, poems, candlelight, or other romantic tricks of the trade. The every day work and thought that goes in to meeting needs.
This month, as survivors, let’s strive to do three things, in this order. See ourselves as worthy of our having needs met, learning how to take care of ourselves, and striving to love other people, by giving them what they need from us.