Learn To Love Yourself

February 22nd, 2012

What’s your relationship with validation and praise? Do you seek it, sidestep or dismiss it?

And what’s the relationship between praise and ego?

Give the ego a fish, and you feed it for a day. Give the ego a fishing rod, and it will happily fish for compliments for a lifetime. It’s like feeding a teenage boy. The need for validation is insatiable. It’s like Hannah says to her serial womanizing friend Tom in the movie Maid of Honor,

I feel sorry for you that you have to validate yourself through insatiable-meaningless-ego-sport-sex.

We all have our ways of fishing for compliments.

A man walked in to a bar after a long day at work. As he began his drink, he heard a seductive voice say, “Hey handsome!” The man looked around but couldn’t see where the voice was coming from, so he went back to his drink.

A minute later, he heard the same voice say “You’ve got a great body!” The man looked around, but still couldn’t see where the voice was coming from.

When he went back to his drink, the voice said again “You’re a stud!” The man was so baffled by the seductive voice that he asked the bartender what was going on.

The bartender said “Oh, it’s the nuts–they’re complimentary.”

Its nuts the way we fish for compliments and desperately seek approval. It’s also nuts the way we shy from compliments and hide from who we are. These extreme responses are two sides of the one coin, both of them cunning plans to avoid accepting yourself.

Recently I played the card game “Imaginiff”. Each person draws a card with a scenario on it, and the rest of the group votes. So the card might say, “If so and so was a car what would she be? A Ferrari, Cruiser, Rolls Royce or Jalopy?” Then the rest of the group votes. Or if so and so was a dog, what would he be?

It’s an interesting test of your ego; to compare how other people see you to the way you see yourself and notice how you react to this realization. So when the question came up, “if Ian was a movie genre, what would he be? Action, comedy, teen romance or foreign?” I was a little miffed that no one saw me the way I see myself, in the action mold of Jason Bourne. Almost everyone picked “foreign.”

Maybe my accent left me no hope, but foreign films? With their slow moving, subtle plotlines, annoying subtitles and sultry sex scenes…..well I guess it’s not so bad. But I would prefer action.

I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s easy to forget that no one else is present in my Ludlumesque fantasies. They don’t hand out an Academy Award for best fantasy, although most of us are brilliant actors; playing the part of whoever we are pretending to be to avoid being ourselves. Its nuts to live this way, building up a false view of ourselves, expecting other people to read our minds and then feeling hurt when they don’t.

Imaginiff we could find peace with who we are and stop looking outside of ourselves for validation. Imagine the acceptance speech we would give at the dais of our true essence.

Imaginiff if you could be completely at ease with who you are and let others be who they are, knowing that it’s all changing all the time anyway. Personal offense wouldn’t feel so devastating if we took this compassionate and open view.

Imaginiff you could measure yourself, or as my 9 year old says “size yourself” with a Mary Poppins magic tape measure. The mark on the tape measure says, “Practically perfect in every way.”

If you saw yourself this way, you wouldn’t need to fish for compliments nor throw the compliments back and drive yourself nuts trying to prove that you’re either lovable or unlovable depending on your ego’s plan at the time.

Taking about nuts, there is a Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown is sitting on a bench about 50 yards away from 2 girls. The thought bubble says, “I wonder if they’re talking about me.” In the next caption he says, “I know they’re talking about me.” Then in the third caption he throws his hands in the air, “Why does someone always have to ruin my day.”

This is what we tend to do, mind reading and assuming and thinking the worst. To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can ruin your day without your permission.” But how do you counter this tendency to take things personally?

There is a phrase you often hear in relation to not taking things personally. It is “having thick skin.” I know what people mean by this, but I think it’s the exact opposite of what we need. Is it really possible to thicken your skin without shutting down your humanity? Thick skin is another way of saying that you’re putting up walls. I think it’s far healthier to let your open pores take in everything that you’re feeling and sensing WITHOUT letting it crush you. Take it all in, but don’t buy into all of it. Feel it but don’t let it mean absolute and unchanging things about who you are. It’s the meaning you ascribe to feelings and sense that drives you nuts.

Trying to develop a thick skin plays right into the hands of the smallest version of yourself. It sends a clear message to your mind that you need walls and protection because people can’t be trusted and you can’t be loved. It’s far more effective to kill the ego with kindness.

Accept ALL of it without judgment; all the thoughts, feelings and sensations, including the thought to take things personally. Love it, smile at it and give it nothing to latch on to.

The more grounded you are in self appreciation, the less time you will spend looking for validation from the outside. Once you completely accept yourself the way you are, you accept others as they are. Then you no longer seek approval from others for being yourself. Best of all, by being yourself, you subconsciously give others permission to do the same. It’s a beautiful cycle of acceptance. As Oscar Wilde said,

To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.

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  1. Shannon Eisert says:

    Ian~ I really appreciate your writing here. I have used the image of a semi permeable membrane vs. think skin. I use this, possibly coming from the feminine side of things, because  there truly is evil that can be very toxic. Discernment needs to be held in this piece as well. This to needs to be acknowledged in the spiritual aspects of life. Discernment for what is life giving or life depleting. In this case, sending prayers for transformation would be a loving way to respond to that which we refuse entry to. You do say this, and it is true. It is also true that others truly impact our lives in very life robbing ways. For that, we choose how we will respond, and yes, from a grounded position. Thank you for the wisdom of your words, and openness to comment. Great dialogue! Shannon

  2. ian says:

    Good comment Shannon- there is an important subtlety in your analogy of the membrane. The word permeable was on my mind when I wrote. Thank you for making this clearer for me.

  3. Beautiful Ian, just beautiful. Your article and prose is well-done on so many levels. Do you think self-acceptance is at the root of everything? It seems to me that loving ourselves authentically is the key to our ultimate life success. We can really handle anything when we learn not to judge and to not take things personally. I’ve been a perfectionist and took things personnally for most of my life. Getting to self-acceptance has been unfolding for me for several months now… it took a while to get clear that that was the real issue. So thank you for this wonderful article… it will help many, many people and so I will be passing it along!

  4. Kim says:

    Thank you so much for this article….it hit right to the core with me.  At 35 I am still learning to love myself for who I am, and not seek out praise and validation from everyone around me.  It has definitely been an ongoing struggle…but one that I keep working on, because it is worth it!

  5. Patty Tanji says:

    Wow! Is there no end to your wisdom? Last year I started a company for all the wrong reasons…..empire….er…ego building. This year’s project is more about me finding myself and sharing it with the world in hopes that the world will shine back at me. Its already happening.  In the Masters of Change class last week you asked us to imagine our intentions being for the greatest good for the greatest number of people……and perhaps that means shining more or stepping back. That really helped put my initiative in perspective. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.

  6. Nelleke says:

    Besides the humorous stories, my favorite line is this:   Accept ALL of it without judgment; all the thoughts, feelings and sensations, including the thought to take things personally. Love it, smile at it and give it nothing to latch on to. 
    I was a student of New Thought for many years and one of the things that bothered me was the “denial” of any thought that was not desirable, i.e. something I don’t want to create/manifest. I have found another principle very helpful in handling feelings and ideas that are unpleasant or undesirable:  after observing &/or feeling, without judgement of myself, I look for the need. So, to follow your theme, if I am feeling insecure or fishing for compliments, I can take a moment to realize that I’m feeling a little down about my weight, haircut, whatever; then, I might realize that the need behind it is my need for health, beauty, contribution and connection. Then, I can make some choices to address these needs more proactively. (My gratitude to the work of Marshall Rosenberg for this.)
    A final thought: so few of us get the chance to see ourselves as others see us – our beauty, our smile, the joy and comfort we bring to them. And this is a wonderful experience when we get this gift!

  7. naomi says:

    Great blog post. Yes we need to accept compliment more and think that when people speak of us that it is high regard than any other way. I have to teach many of the children I see about this. It does not seem natural to them to accept praise.

  8. Midge says:

    Exactly what I needed for today!  When everyone is crunching the  numbers to see if you fit into the right categories it is easy to focus on getting the praise.  Thank you for reminding me that being on my right path is more important than superficially pleasing the critics!

  9. “Once you completely accept yourself the way you are, you accept others as they are.” Indeed. Once I see I’m imperfect and that that is ok, I will see I’m no less or more than anyone else, because we are all imperfect. No one is happy all the time. Everyone is yearning at some point or another. Cheers.

  10. Michael says:

    Wonderful, uplifting, emboldening (not sure if this word exists but it’s mine and it’s fine) article. Thank you. I’m gonna save it and keep it.

  11. Beautiful Ian. Thank you.
    Exactly the message needed to start my day.
    I love you

  12. Natalie says:

    I love the way you brought out ideas on self love and finding validation within.  I especially loved what you wrote about the courage to not not let your humanity be diminished by “thickening up the skin.”  Thank you.

  13. M says:

    Hi Ian,
    thank you so much for this article!!! It is

  14. Markus says:

    Great Article! Thank you Ian!!

  15. Ian,
    Thank you for the post.  It speaks to me right now, especially as I step out and make myself more known to people.  When I think I have complete acceptance, I fumble and waver and rely on my daily practices to keep me grounded in myself.  I really liked your part about movie genres and how others saw you.  I’m entirely sure other people see me completely different than I see myself.
    I think the only way to heal and be complete is to accept ourselves and surround ourselves with people who accept us.  On my path to do this I designed a line of globally conscious jewelry that holds energy and ability to empower others.  Please check out my Kickstarter Campaign:  Dare to be Empowered, P.R.A.Y. Jewelry  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2119858221/dare-to-be-empowered-pray-jewelry 

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