By Dr. Tiffany Denny
With Valentine's Day right around the corner, some of us might say romance in the air, while others don’t feel especially different this time of year. Nevertheless, symbols of love—flowers, chocolate, lollipops, and a slew of items colored red, white, or pink—cover retailers as well as print and television ads. I haven’t been moved by those things this year, though, because I have been thinking a lot about love lately, and it is so much more than these symbols. Love is so much more than romance. The essence of love is rooted in the way we feel about ourselves.
One of my teachers, Manorama, said, “When someone says ‘I love you,’ they are really saying ‘I love who I get to be when I am with you.’” Wow. I think about this all the time, because it has so many connotations. For instance, when I’m angry at someone I love and tell them I love them, I don’t love who I get to be in that moment. I am not experiencing the emotion of love in that moment, yet I know I love that person. I know I love that person because of the accumulation of loving emotion from our previous interactions.
Essentially, the world and the people in it are viewed differently by each of us according to our perceptions based on our own experiences. In this way, our capacity to love others and see them in a positive light is dependent on how we view ourselves. If we believe ourselves to be less valuable or unworthy of love due to the appearance of our body, the stylishness of our clothing, the color of our hair, or any other physical feature, we don’t even love who we get to be by ourselves. How, then, can we love who we get to be with other people? If I feel badly about myself because my friend has a thigh gap (ugh, don’t get me started) and I do not, then I am too busy comparing myself to my friend to love her. If I am ashamed that I don’t make as much money as my husband, then I am too busy beating myself up and competing with him to truly love him.
When we are told overtly or through repetition of themes in media and in conversation with our peers that our value is based on our looks, place of origin, job title, or possessions, we are pitted against one another in a cage of comparison, and we are stripped of our ability to truly love. We can fight this. We can change lives, and infuse this world with real love, but we must start by removing the shackles of shame, comparison, self-deprecation, and needless criticism and judgment from our interactions. It begins with the cessation of hostilities against ourselves. If we wouldn’t tell a loved one that their nose was too big and boobs too small, that they look fat in their new pants and could use more makeup to cover their acne or age spots, then why would we do such a thing to ourselves? Why make such comments about strangers? What have we gained from those words?
What could we accomplish if our energy, sense of humor, clever language, and discerning assessments were used for something meaningful? Something that really matters? What would we do if we let go of our shame and our fear of inadequacy? What potential lies untapped within each of our souls? What capacity might we have for love, acceptance, and compassion? What would the world look like if these qualities were valued above all?
These are the questions I ask myself when I get a zit or forget to put on eyeliner and want to cower from the world until I’m good enough to be seen again. These questions remind me that life is so much richer when bathed in love and appreciation for each unique soul I encounter, including my own. Every day I struggle to change the conversation in my mind, and to change the conversations I have with others so that I remember how it feels to embody love. It is important. It is worth the effort. I am important. I am worth the effort. You are important. You are worth the effort.
For more information and support on similar topics, here are some resources:
NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) | Resources and events in North Texas
And many, many more books and organizations you can find HERE