As my idol RuPaul says: "If you can't love yourself, how the hell can you love anyone else?" While I'm all about this, I think self-acceptance can be very difficult for many people.
In 2008, I realized how hard it was myself when a therapist told me to practice saying, "I love you" to myself or visualize hugging my inner child. I couldn't do these things, at least not at first. I invite you to try this exercise...the outcome might surprise you. You might struggle with it. You might even fail at it. And hey, if it comes easy, you're way ahead of the game. I am happy for you.
But for many people, the idea that they should love themselves, or care for themselves, goes against what they feel they SHOULD do. Even as that "should"--and I'm theorizing here, based on my interpretation of my own experiences--not only gives rise to chronic stress, but leads to eventual dis-ease in the body, particularly of the autoimmune variety.
"Should" for family. "Should" for job security. "Should" for world peace. Whatever your "should" happens to be. Should. Should. Should.
And the body begins to attack itself, strained to the breaking point by all these "shoulds."
It is just my theory, though.
Growing up, I moved a lot. I attended seven schools, six of them between when I was six and thirteen. Let me tell you, being nine years old, chubby, grubby (think Pig-Pen from Peanuts), into Star Wars and Greek mythology and Elvis Presley, and convinced that wearing my school clothes to bed the night before streamlined the whole morning process... being all of these things made making friends a challenge.
It got even worse when I moved back to Portland from the Oregon coast when I was thirteen. I ended up going to the wealthy school where The Simpsons creator Matt Groening went. Let me just say that having only three outfits in rotation did not make me popular. My part-year at Ainsworth Elementary School was brutal, and it took me many more years to dig myself out of... well... myself from that brief but awful experience.
I should have had more friends. I should have had more outfits. Should. Should. Should.
Fast forward through my awkward teens. Followed by a career in banking, going to massage school, getting married, and whoa...turning forty. At this point, I longed to perform. I didn't know how to go about it, though. I didn't feel too old to perform, but I assumed other people would think I was too old to go up on stage and they would laugh at me. Because I was childless and pushing middle age. Aaaaand I didn't have any skills...until I discovered I could perform for a crowd with an air guitar.
Did I say, "perform for a crowd with an air guitar?" Something that, according to endless comments on YouTube and Facebook, no one should ever do?
But I did just that, and found my gateway drug to getting in front of people and entertaining them (or trying to anyway) in whatever opportunity presented itself. Soon, I CRAVED going up on stage, and that craving led me to other creative outlets as well--art projects I might not have taken up before because of the dis-ease-inviting "shoulds."
When I joined a belly dance troupe a few years ago, an inner voice told me I was too old, too fat, too ugly, too desperate. I bring it up because I know I cannot be the only one out there who hears that inner bully, the opposite of self-love. I'll bet you sometimes hear such a voice, too. It tells you terrible things to keep you on the path of the "shoulds" that make the world a sicker place than it needs to be.
Fuck that voice, though. We are all worthy of love, fun, and excitement. The only SHOULD to consider following is the one that tells us to express ourselves in creative and positive ways.
I guess you can never completely get away from the "shoulds." But some are better than others.
So: Find your gateway drug to creative expression (whatever it turns out to be). See where things go. Don’t be afraid to look dumb or fail. Be silly. Play! And it's okay if you, like me, are a late bloomer. Kick your inner douchebag voice in the face. You will be okay...you might even be a bit more than okay...you might even be “Shante you stay“ okay.
Go on. Get addicted. The outcome might surprise you.