Q: Brad, I just wanted to say that I loved your post today, 'a boy and a girl.' I think it's really relevant for my own struggles and anxieties. But something I've always struggled with when it comes to valuing myself and being okay with myself, is how do I do that when there is still so much room for improvement? Where's the line between complacency and that freedom with loving yourself for who you are? I’m asked some variation of this question more than any other. The question goes something like this, "But if I love and accept myself just as I am, what would motivate me to change and continue to better myself?" The answer is within the question itself: nothing will motivate us to change more than the love we have for ourselves. If we love ourselves we want the best for ourselves. We will begin to make decisions that are healthy for us because we believe we deserve to live a higher quality of life. We care more about our long-term well being than instant gratification. We don't become arrogant because we know that leads to all kinds of problems and isn’t a loving attitude towards our selves or others. Also, our desire to help others increases because we know that there is some type of peace that only comes from giving of ourselves to others. When we have abundance from God within ourselves and we care for ourselves, we actually have more to offer others.
Conversely, if we don't love ourselves, we won't be able to love others all that well. Take Jesus' famous words in Matthew 25... "love your neighbor as yourself." If you don't love yourself well, then to love your neighbor as you love yourself will result in poor and unhealthy gestures. We see this all the time in unhealthy codependent relationships.
Or, this example: how many people do you know that are just kind of mean; they don't treat people well and they consistently are selfish? If you look closely you'll see that deep down, they despise themselves. If you look often enough at these types of people, it becomes obvious who does and doesn't care for themselves all that much.
The father that beats his wife and children, that guy totally hates himself but often feels powerless over his compulsion to take it out on others, or worse, isn't even aware that he despises himself.
Or, the people who really hate gay people, the ones who spew vitriol publicly against them. It’s funny how sometimes we find out that they were having closet homosexual encounters all along. They hated something about themselves and publicly took it out on others.
But if you love yourself, I mean truly accept yourself just where you are, you feel compelled to grow.
Finally, I believe we are called to become more like the Divine... to love like the Divine loves. The next logical conclusion then is that we should also love ourselves the way God loves us. That's a love that accepts us no matter how many times we return to ______________. (whatever self destructive behavior we feel powerless to rid ourselves of).
The Divine loves us right where we are... and that often moves us so deeply that we want to respond with love and healthy choices.
In short, love for our selves rarely leaves room for complacency. Love for your self has more motivational power than shame, guilt, or despising your self. That’s why white-knuckling addiction isn’t sustainable. You have to love yourself past the point of thinking you deserve a miserable life.