Let Me Tell You A Secret

Image Credit: Used with permission by Penny Redshaw. http://wwwmotivatinggiraffe.com http://www.facebook.com/motivatinggiraffe
Image Credit: Used with permission by Penny Redshaw.

Let me tell you a secret. Why? Because as my favourite giraffe (Motivating Giraffe) tells us, “If we knew each other’s secrets, what comforts we shall find”. It’s true, isn’t it? Generally if we share our secrets with another, more often than not, we find that we are not alone in that secret.

Sharing secrets (although maybe we word it differently) is one of the things that blogging can be about. Well, for me anyway. You might look at it another way, but for today I am going to share a secret with you.

My secret is that I don’t love myself.

I’d like to. Well in some ways, but I have no idea how to love myself and frankly, there is nothing I can see that is worth loving. After all the years of what I will loosely call recovery, I haven’t got this one sorted.

I don’t mean to get anyone down, or even myself, but it’s just the way it is. Books, websites, speakers, recovery programmes, even Facebook memes tell me to love myself but it’s just not that easy.

I have never loved myself. Actually I grew up in an environment that told me to love other people, not myself. As, say a three-year-old, I had little chance of understanding what that was really about but by the time I was 28, and leaving that environment, I was quite certain that if I had learnt one thing well, then it was this: I loved other people but I hated myself.

I was an expert at putting myself last. Actually I had loved other people and not myself so well that it eventually led to my depression and attempting to take my life.

Life has moved on since then.  Many hours of very good therapy, hospital and other therapeutic programmes have saved my life. But I still haven’t got it. I still read and hear that I must love myself, but actually…  I still don’t.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hate myself now, except for the days when BPD and depression really kick in. But I still don’t like myself, let alone love myself. No one has actually sat me down and told me how to let go of the stuff I don’t like and find the stuff I do like.  I assume that if I did that then I would have some chance of learning to love myself.

What I learnt as a three-year-old, or four, or five, or six, and so on is pretty well fixed in my mind. While they might have been teaching me about Christianity, what I was learning was how to live my life. Actually nothing to do with Christianity, and I’m not convinced that it was what I was supposed to learn. They might not have meant to teach me to hate myself, but that is exactly what I  learnt. It’s just amazing that I got so far (to 28) before I crashed.

So what do I do here? Is this about repeating positive affirmations? Maybe reading the right book (it would be good if I could concentrate)? I just don’t know how to do this because whenever I try ‘loving myself’ I just feel like I am fooling myself.

What I know is that if this was about learning to love someone else, it wouldn’t be so hard. Just being with them would be a good start. But what if I had to learn to love a person I didn’t like? Would that work? You know there are times when I simply can’t bear to be with me. Let alone like or love myself.

I’m not so much looking for advice because I suspect I have to work this out for myself. I’m simply sharing my secret because I suspect I’m not alone in this.

There are a lot of mostly rhetorical questions here, so while I love comments, please don’t feel like I’m wanting you to share anything you’re not comfortable with.



I Matter

One of the things I battle with on a daily basis is that I matter, and whether I actually matter to anyone else.  Do I love myself enough to say I matter to me?  And does anyone else love me enough to say that I matter to them?  And will they show it by their actions?

Some of the struggle with this comes from the Christian upbringing I had which constantly told me to put others before myself.  Songs I sang in Sunday School taught me that I came last.  And I guess that’s where I always put myself.  As the youngest child in the family, my name always came last.  I’m not saying that my parents put my needs last, but that my brother’s and my parents names always came before mine.

In the school roll my name came near the end because my surname was Reddell, near the end of the alphabet.  I can remember wishing my name started with a A, so that I could be at the beginning.  But then the Christian upbringing  would no doubt have listed that as a sin.

Another thing I was taught was “pride cometh before a fall“.  That meant I couldn’t be proud of myself, I couldn’t take pride in my achievements, and actually no one else was ever going to proud of me.  It might not be what I was meant to learn from the statement, but it is what my young mind concluded.

My Christian upbringing even served to protect those who stalked me.  I was specifically told in relation to them that I should ‘love my neighbour and do good to them that hate you“.  What that meant in reality was I was supposed to be nice to them, and my needs for protection didn’t seem matter to anyone.  Christian love and compassion was what was called for.  When I was a teenager I thought that was just how life was.  My needs didn’t matter.  Now I am an adult I worry that teenagers might be taught this stuff now days.  I hope not.

Since my mental health ever became an issue (it’s interesting that it simply doesn’t matter until diagnosed with a mental illness) people have been telling me that it is okay to put myself first.  It’s okay for my needs to matter.  At this stage, after many hours of therapy I can tell you that I do matter, but I still find it hard to put it into practise.

At what point do my needs matter more than loving and accepting another person?  I still haven’t worked that out.  I still am not sure how to put this into practise in everyday situations.

I struggle with it in a number of places in my life, and still there is this little voice in the back of my head that recites ‘Jesus first, Yourself last and Others in between’.  It’s so ingrained in my head that I don’t know how to say ‘well actually my needs come first’.  Even as I type that, I’m thinking “selfish“.  I’ve done the textbook learning but I still don’t have it totally in operation in my life.  I don’t yet know how to strike the balance between me and the rest of the world.

Last week in What Matters To Me This Christmas Eve I told you about my family starting a family meal before I had arrived.  As I sat there that day my thoughts were “I don’t matter to these people“.  It seemed to me that I didn’t matter enough for them to think/say “We can’t start yet because Cate’s not here yet“.  Now I can see a number of logical reasons for why it might have happened, but it still hurts.  Not that they started lunch without me, but that I didn’t matter to them enough for them to think of me.

What makes it more painful is that I look around for people who I matter to, and actually most people have their own lives, their partners and children, and I am just me.  I know that I mattered to my father when he was alive, and so it makes his absence is more painful when something like that happens with my family.

The thing that I wonder is ‘who’s going to put me first?’  Will anyone?  Or has everyone got greater priorities than me?  I promise I’m not having some pity party for which I need huge doses of sympathy.  I don’t.  But I know that learning to matter to myself is helped when I can know that other people say to me “you matter to me“.

Maybe the psychology of that is all wrong, and I need to be able to just matter to myself.  But don’t we all want to matter to other people?  And surely knowing that I matter to someone else teaches me about mattering (Is that a word?  It is now.)  to myself.

I know I matter to some people, and yesterday I spent time with some of those people, purposely because I desperately needed to feel I matter to someone.  I knew with them, I would feel that, and I did.  It was in complete contrast to the lunch I nearly missed last week, simply because I knew without at doubt that I mattered to them and that my needs were important.

PS.  I need to say this isn’t at all a criticism of Christianity.  It’s not.  All it is, is my experience.

“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the
person you are.” 

―    Marilyn Monroe

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” 

―    Harvey Fierstein