Love Yourself: Take Responsibility for Your Needs
Loving oneself first is counter-intuitive for many anxious people, because life often teaches us that the way to ensure we get what we need is to take care of everyone else so that they can take care of us. The problem with that, practically speaking, is that when your motivation for taking care of someone else is to get anything, you’ll end up disappointed and resentful because they will fail you more often than not. After all, they can’t read your motivations and it’s not their job to take care of your needs anyway.
So the good news is that taking responsibility for meeting your own needs, rather than trying to manipulate someone else into meeting them for you, actually results in your needs getting met. In turn, you end up with enough energy, fulfillment and joy to spill your love over into other people, without expecting anything in return.
In Family Therapy (Philip Guerin, “Systems Concepts and the Dimensions of Self”), connectedness is identified as the only real human need, and it is defined as, “the ability to stay in the presence of those people who are closest to you, and keep your level of expectation of them at or near zero” (152). Wow! When I first read that, the concept rang true, but I was both relieved and disappointed. This meant two things: 1) I couldn’t expect anyone else to take care of me (what a disappointment!); and 2) If I were going to get taken care of, I had the resources within myself to do that, and wouldn’t have to depend on anyone else to do so (what a relief!).
Now that doesn’t mean that you and your partner won’t take care of each other most of the time, just that you have to be able to step up to your own plate when your partner can’t be there for you, and to deal appropriately with the disappointment of being on your own at times. And, of course, your partner needs to do this, as well. (This in no way implies that abuse is okay and you can expect to simply take care of yourself when your partner is too wrapped up in himself or herself to pay you any mind. In fact, this blog assumes that abuse is not a dynamic of your relationship at all. If it is, take care of yourself, and run the other way as fast as you can.)
Who Am I, Anyway?
So if you’re going to take care of yourself, you need to know who you are and what you need. Then you have to be willing to meet your own needs. If that thought leaves you anxious, it’ll take time to get to know yourself and your needs, and some more time and practice to get used to advocating for yourself.
At least that’s been my experience. I’ve been torn all my life between being myself and conforming to the mores of a system that shunned the things that were most important to me. Things like:
- Outside-the-box thinking
- Accepting reality as it is, rather than how I wish it were
- Compassion w/o coddling
- Individuality, independence, differentiation
I grew up in an abusive environment, and in order get my needs met, I had to meet the needs of others first, sacrificing the things that most resonated with my heart-and-soul. Is it any wonder why anxiety became a constant traveling companion for me? Is it any wonder why trying to conform to the system resulted in a failed marriage?
So by the time I embarked on my mid-life romantic interests, I knew I couldn’t compromise those core values, or I would be setting up the relationship for eventual failure. Furthermore, I recognized that it would be best if my partner’s and my core values were similar.
Anxiety and Abandonment
I wish I could say that I was able to present myself and my values freely and peacefully, but I’d be lying. The truth is, anxiety kicked in whenever I presented my most vulnerable self, because it immediately ignited my fear of abandonment. In the end, though, I knew the relationship wouldn’t last if I didn’t honor the core values of my soul, and I knew that if I wanted my partner to love me, I’d have to let him see who I really am.
So I erred on the side of vulnerability whenever the opportunity arose, and as relationship developed, I found that being accepted and appreciated for who I am helped me determine whether the other embodied similar values. What a relief it was to be able to relax into just being authentically me.
This is how loving yourself allows you to love the other best. If you figure out that the person you’re with doesn’t share your most cherished values, it would be an act of love for yourself (and for the other) to not develop the relationship beyond friendship. I had to do that several times over the course of about 9 years before I found a man whose way of being was a good fit with mine. What a relief for everyone!