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The New Year

A few days ago, I asked a patient about her New Year's resolution. She said, "I'm going to work on my Self-love. That's what I'm going to do next year." I asked her what that meant. She said, "You know, I'm going to love myself more so that people can't hurt me so much." She answered my question, but I found her reply unsatisfactory. I felt she probably didn't know what self-love was; but she knew it was something she needed to possess, so she could be healthier. Bravo! But what is Self-love?

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard the construct "Self-love". Psychologists have a tendency to say, "All you need to do is love yourself more." Some people will declare, with authority, the adage, “You can't love someone else until you love yourself." We often hear this when we have determined that we made a mistake in a personal relationship, especially after our mate reveals that they are a scoundrel of some sort and are not worthy of our commitment to them. But what is Self-love? Take a minute and look deep into your mind for symbols of Self-love.

The English word Love can refer to a large number of different feelings, states of mind, and attitudes with an immense range of shades and intensities. The diversity of uses of the word Love, and its various meanings attached to emotion, makes Love difficult to define consistently. No one disputes the denotation of the words anger or frustration as particularly unsettled states of mind; but the idea of Love conjures up all kinds of unusual ego constructions.

If I am to try to explain Self-love, I must first attempt to explain what the Self is. My worldview has been greatly influenced by Carl G. Jung and Joseph Campbell on this matter. The Self is a person in his or her totality. The center of the Self is located deep within the abyss of the unconscious mind. The Self pushes us in one direction or another, it defines our capacities, and it demonstrates our instincts. These aspects are all unconscious. Moreover, each individual's body machine has its particular set of endocrine, central nervous system, and digestive functions. We are all born with a unique thought process; each one of us deciphers environmental and relationship data differently and at different speeds. We also possess different physical attributes. The totality of our being is in one sense limited by our innate capacity to be human. On the other hand, we consider ourselves limitless. Each person's Self is absolutely distinct.

In infancy, all actions are predominantly instinctual. When a baby is born, placed on the mother’s body, he or she starts to suckle. The baby doesn't need to be told what to do, it just does it. The Self, at this moment, is the entire context of possibilities. It is a seed in the earth, waiting to grow and unfold. The harshness or gentleness of the mother determines the phenotype or manifestation of the baby's DNA. As babies mature, they learn to walk and talk, and eventually learn to read and write; throughout this stage, their parents and caregivers are their greatest influence. Once they are able to drive, or independently travel via public transportation, their entire world opens up. They are free to roam and experience life.

Maturation is the process of reconciling the differences between what the environment should be and what it actually is. The center of our conscious mind is referred to as the Ego. It is initially constructed by our feelings associated with our engagement with our closed family. In America, a village does not raise a child. As we age, our personal habitat expands to include school, extracurricular activities, coaches, teachers, celebrities, and friends. We experience happiness and sadness, joy and sorrow, praise and criticism, loyalty and betrayal. Our repressed traumas, and our community's rules, create our initial path of unfoldment. Everyone's Ego is in constant play with their subliminal aspect of themselves. Our Ego primarily stays above the boundaries of our unconsciousness; it slowly emerges in the course of childhood and adolescent development. It should be the goal of every parent to assure that their child has a relatively firm notion of themselves upon leaving high school.

Everyone's family and social circles demand behaviors that are in accord with their communal worldviews. Depending on the youth's innate attractions, the parental and social communities may be vastly different, maybe even opposites. Eventually, our human environments tighten us down and force us into certain roles within the structure of our community, these roles are also known as personae. Many of us take on the roles to which we were assigned, but these roles may not be in accord with our authentic Self. In our Western culture, we demand that we separate our roles from our sense of Self -- our Ego from the Self you show the rest of the world - your persona. Sometimes people experience intense extremes between the authentic Self and the persona. The Ego intuitively feels the conflict between the individual Self and the roles that other people recognize. Most of us are misunderstood because who we are in our roles is not who we are behind the safety of closed doors. In America, most if not all people insist that our Egos must distinguish our selves from our roles. As a participant in life, I recognized at an early age that people develop their own personal value systems that are separate and often incongruous with the standards set by their community. People judge others according to their individual persona context, and they are also judged in terms of it. Unless people look beyond what their local community dictates as right and wrong, or good and bad, they will fail to mature into a complete human being. They will essentially be reduced to a member of a particular social order. They become the walking dead.

The Self is mysterious. One thing is certain, in order to live a healthy and productive life, individuals must identify their imperfections. Our imperfection beacons us to Love ourselves. As an artist-physician, I have no choice but to examine myself and others with ruthless objectivity. It is the human imperfections that lure us to the projections of perfection. At the heart of Self-love is the principle of compassion. Compassion converts disillusionment into a participatory companionship. It softens the trauma of our personal and communal reality, that life is difficult and merciless. We are all called by the sounding of Gabriel's horn to participate in each other’s lives with an urge to help in one way or another. Before we can enjoy helping others, we must help our own imperfections first. We must recognize that basic Self-love is essentially self-charity; we must turn our critical view of ourselves into a living being who has something to give to - as well as demand of - the world. The disillusionment associated with our perfect projections will evoke a sense of disappointment, but if we stay authentic, stay honest with ourselves, we will expand our reality to a new depth, one that includes our imperfections as well as another's. This discovery can help save our lives in all of its elements. We must have a selfish, loyal, and munificent concern for ourselves in order to expand who we are. At the same time, we will develop an unselfish loyal and generous concern for the good of another.

There are many self-professed experts who pontificate on the subject of Self-love. The bookstores are filled with self help books focused on just this issue. Thousands and thousands of pages filled with advice on how to love yourself. I have read many of them; none of them have helped me. There is a truth about life, it is sorrowful. No matter how much one tries to reconstruct their Ego, the truth of the matter is that life is not a zero sum game, it is tilted towards the sorrowful, change usually occurs because of some sort of physical or emotional trauma or both. To deny this truth is tantamount to denying that water is the nourishing force from which all living things come into being. All plants and animals need to drink water to live a healthy life. Many of the self-help book experts cannot find their own path to Self-love, so they spend hours trying to reconstruct the fantasy of mind over matter. You cannot think yourself into Self-love. You have to recognize its existence through knowing your imperfect authentic self and accept it as a fact. There is no such thing as moving forward in our lives, we just unfold with each experience we encounter. A flower doesn't move forward, it blooms. Humans are feeling machines that think, not thinking machines that feel. You feel therefore you are. Some therapists suggest that each of us should be mindful of our lives. You cannot be "mindful" of life, it just happens. To suggest that being mindful will somehow convert sorrow into joy is plain old poppycock. When random events occur and they feel bad to you, they are bad for you. When they occur and you fill fulfilled, they are good for you. Don't let others tell you what you should feel, it is much healthier to acknowledge what feels uncomfortable and avoid those encounters as much as possible.

Find a source of intimacy in your life. Set boundaries so that people will not deplete you of your authenticity. Conserve energy as much as possible. Find your passion and when it lets you down, transform it into compassion. Start by being compassionate with yourself, and then it will be much easier to be compassionate with others. Grow from your disillusionments. Make another choice when the opportunity arrives. You don't always need someplace to go; sometimes you just need to get distance from something or someone. Our lives are a series of random events and chance encounters. Indentify the ones that feel in accord with who you are and follow that trail until it ends. It will lead you to the den of your heart. You will have expanded beyond your greatest imagination, and will be ready for the next journey.

I wish you good luck in the upcoming year of unfoldment. Don't forget to love yourself. Then take another step.

Doc
Posted by Katie Reed at 10:30 AM
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