I always enjoyed the word picture of coming alongside and weeping with those who weep or rejoicing with those who rejoice. I still believe that’s important. But is it only for others that we weep? Is it only for them that we rejoice? Turning that around, did I weep for me? Did I rejoice for me? Have I learned to feel the depths of my sadness and the heights of my joy?
Feeling joyful was acceptable as I grew up in the 50s and 60s. Feeling sad, not so much. That acceptability led to a disconnect with some of my more negative emotions.
We had one negative emotion that was acceptable: anger. It was fine to yell, throw things, slam doors, peel outta the driveway…. But to express disappointment, loneliness, rejection, helplessness, abandonment, hurt, betrayal, insecurities, or to feel unloved, scared, helpless, humiliated, guilty, pressured, inadequate, defeated, trapped, hopeless, victimized, troubled…. Nope. Not a good idea to go there in my family of origin.
So, I did what most children do. I repressed those emotions — hid them from family, from friends and as much as possible, from myself.
I live in Southern Texas and leave the outside door open as long as possible in the mornings. Eventually, I close it against the humid oven-like temperatures and retreat to the inside air conditioning. I close it against the harmful effects of the glaring sun.
The pain of glaring criticism burned when I was a child. Closing against the disapproval, I tried denial of my negative emotions. I turned to escapism and numbing and even sanctimonious judging. I tried to keep it all shut down. Sadly, as a result, if I didn’t feel those negative emotions, then I couldn’t empathize with anyone else, either.
I think that’s an important consideration behind the exhortation to love others as we love ourselves. It is assumed that we first love ourselves, our real selves, not our bodies. Loving myself, caring for me must be more than spiffing up the external with trips to the hair and nail salon, massage therapist and the gym.
I cannot effectively love you if I try to brush aside your tears with a coupon for a massage, a diet book or a new pair of heels.
While any of those could be a loving gesture, they’re not love. While they are gifts, they are not the comfort of understanding and empathy. It’s not weeping with those who weep, is it? In fact, if I have the habit of spending money on my body because I don’t know how to actually love and accept my inner self, then I can’t love you, either. I cannot come alongside, but only make superficial gestures.
When we weep, we don’t need casseroles or a trip to the mall. We need love. We all do. I’m going to get this. I am. I’m starting with my self. I cannot give that which I don’t have. I also cannot manage my life sanely if I am clueless about the reality of my real self and my own emotions.
Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over ourselves – that our lives had become unmanageable.
Define Self as you saw it when you were younger and contrast that with what you believe now.
What are examples of taking care of Self that you’ve observed from home, friends or media?
What questions/beliefs do you have regarding ‘love one another as you love yourself’?
What do you do when you’re criticized or discouraged? Include what you would like to do, but don’t.
Which emotions were allowed or encouraged while you were growing up?
Which emotions were you dissuaded from expressing? (Sometimes we know by example, not rules)
What did you typically do when you felt negative emotions that were not acceptable? If possible contact someone who knew you back then and discuss what they observed about family dynamics.
Take a long look at how you love others. How do you express that love? Include any thoughts on how you might change that up a bit.
Now examine your experience with being loved:
- Which people in your life made you feel the most loved as a child, as a young adult and now? (With each name, list how they expressed that love)
- When you weep, who is there for you, if anyone?
- Whom would you say serves as a guide or mentor for you now? (list any support people in your life and give an example of how they provide it)
Journal any additional thoughts that surfaced as a result of this exercise. For instance, are you comfortable expressing a wide range of feelings? Are you aware of your emotions? When people do not come alongside for you, what does that say about them, about you, about the nature of your relationship?