Clenching my fingers around the opposite wrist, ceasing the flow of blood to my fingertips, I stood stiff, muscles tense, and 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, my mother turned away, saying, “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 14 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 mother-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 experienced angst over my decision. Was I being too harsh? Paula wasn’t that big of a nerd, and once upon an early childhood we were best friends. Plus, my mother did have a point. I knew all too well the pain of being excluded. So, doing the right thing, I conceded.
For 50 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. But an even bigger deterrent was the thought that she might not like me. Being the only girl surrounded by three boisterous brothers, I glued myself to the sole vestige of female hormones in the house. We were inseparable.
Unfortunately, when she passed away 10 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 Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, I reflected on my life and all the times I did what was considered right just to be socially acceptable.
Like many girls of my generation, I grew up with a senseless disease known as “Good Girl Syndrome.” Constantly suffering from wondering whether I was good enough, I sought validation from others. If I made them happy, then maybe I’d be liked, loved and even appreciated. But all this did was smother my true spirit within.
Thinking of the saying “In order to be loved, you must first love yourself,” I began to see that 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, but when I learned to embrace my true essence, a magical thing happened. I began to develop healthy boundaries that ultimately steered me on the path to my full potential, as 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.