“People spend a lifetime searching for happiness; looking for peace. They chase idle dreams, addictions, religions, even other people, hoping to fill the emptiness that plagues them. The irony is the only place they ever needed to search was within.” ~ Romana L. Anderson
I’ve been reading a lot lately about how the ways other people treat us is really a reflection of the ways we treat ourselves. The kinder we are to ourselves, the kinder other people treat us. The more critical we are of ourselves, the more critical others are of us. The less I am able to love myself, the less I am loved by others.
On the one hand, this is a very encouraging thought because it means that I have the ability to control my outer environment through controlling my inner one. Since I am the only person I really have any control over anyway, this allows me to focus my efforts on the one person I actually can control in order to have a greater impact in my larger world. That is great news!
On the other hand, I’ve always thought this really sucks because it ultimately means I’m on my own. When I am most in need of encouragement from others, I will be least likely to get it because those are the times I am most critical of myself and will therefore reap criticism instead of encouragement. When I am most in need of support from others, I am least likely to receive it because those are the very times I am least able to support myself. This seems fundamentally unfair somehow. Of what use is encouragement and support from others if it is only received when the recipient doesn’t really need it? It’s pleasurable and nice-to-have bonus at that point, I’m sure, but it has no real impact when it’s only a reflection of a person’s intrinsic well-being anyway.
Now, I do realize that I am overstating the situation a bit. I have been critical of myself this last year and have thereby received more criticism than I’ve ever gotten on a job as a result, but I do still have friends that have continued to support and encourage me anyway. Unfortunately, their voices have often been drowned out by the volume of the criticism—criticism which has exacerbated the negative spiral of external criticism increasing internal criticism which increases external criticism and so on. So while I can accept that I am to blame for the situation, I am at a loss to figure out how to change it or how I could have avoided it.
The important thing now, however, is to try to figure out how to find what I need within rather than hoping to receive it from others. The challenge for me is in figuring out how to start. How do I take those first few halting steps in the direction of believing that I have worth and value when all external evidence and voices tell me otherwise? How do I learn to truly love myself when external messages would say that I am unlovable? How do I learn to value any opinion that flies in the face of the evidence from the outer world? It sounds to me like a recipe for losing touch with reality, for living in a dream world of my own making. I have to admit that there are days that living in my own personal dream world sounds like the way to go, but ultimately I’d rather create a reality worth living.
So how do I do that? The short answer is that I have no idea! I keep trying to come up with objective measures to try to help me gauge my own worth without taking into account any outside input, but every attempt at this has met with defeat because there is ultimately some need for another person to find value in what I do in some way in order for it to be considered a success. For example, work done to help others in some way must actually meet their needs in order for it be successful, so their assessment of its benefit defines its value (or lack thereof). I can, of course, arbitrarily proclaim something (including myself) to be of value, but that leads me back to the creation of my own unsubstantiated reality that I have already expressed my discomfort with.
If I accept the premise of the quote at the start of this post, though, the only place it can come from is from within me. I clearly don’t have any answers, but maybe if I keep waiting and listening long enough the answers will eventually bubble up from within.