Category Archives: Self-Esteem

If Pining had a Purpose…

One of the biggest topics in therapy is also one of the biggest topics in life: relationships. Love, to be more specific. The amount of time we spend analyzing, pondering, ruminating, obsessing, fantasizing, and reflecting on this topic is staggering. If our romantic pining could be measured in physical reality, I’m sure we could each circle the globe several times over.

Why do we do this to ourselves? While there is no simple answer to this question, I believe it has a lot to do with our need for connection. We are meant to be in relationship…not just romantic partnerships, but all kinds of relationship. And when a connection isn’t there, or love is unrequited? Well, that energy has to go somewhere. Thus, we pine, we yearn, we wait…for someone or something outside of ourselves to fill that void. In many ways, it seems the pursuit of connection takes the place of the real connection.

In this state of love-limbo, it is easy to feel as though your heart is no longer your own. It can seem as though the reins of Love have been given to the object of your affection…but it occurs to me that this is a dangerous thing to say. The human heart is an amazing source of personal power, energy, and connection. How interesting that the common vernacular around romance always includes ‘giving our hearts away’…when it seems that is really the last thing we should do.

For all of us, but for women in particular, there is an expectation that we will regularly give of ourselves without expecting much in return. We are conditioned to believe that the more we give out, the more we will receive…and in an energetic, “Law of Attraction” kind of way, that is true. But what if we keep giving, pursuing, and pining, with no return? When is enough, enough?

I can’t help but wonder how much this focus on the love object, the Other, is really a misplaced longing for connection to spirit. We want to bond, we long for intimacy and understanding…and we forget that our hearts are already pre-filled with love. Our heart is our connection to spirit…or at the very least, that is how we most directly experience it. Asked to describe what joy or love or happiness feels like in the body, most of us will point to our chests, saying “It feels like my heart is going to burst,” or “I feel light and tingly,” or “My chest feels warm and expansive.” Our heart center is our emotional compass…but too often, we forget that we already know the way.

A few months ago, I had a revelation in the middle of the night. I’d been feeling blocked, scared to move forward with some huge personal and professional changes. I’d also been spending a lot of time in the fantasy portion of my head, struggling to create a relationship from crickets and crumbs. Something shifted in me that night, causing me to close that metaphorical door and decide to move on. Within an hour, I noticed I was feeling restless. My chest felt hot to the touch, and my thoughts were jumbled and racing…which was distressing, until I realized I was experiencing a rush of creative energy. I was having ideas again, my heart felt full, and I was excited. Could it be that I had spent so much time imagining the possible-maybe-someday occasion when I would get to start to connect and love openly, that I didn’t realize I was already, inherently, able to do so? Yikes. Instantly, I knew it was so.

Like most people, my ideal life is one where I have it all…love, companionship, intimacy, creativity, friendship, community, purpose, deep spiritual meaning and connection…and great coffee! But in the interim, in the absence of ‘all of the above,’ it is important to remember that we are not empty. Something is not necessarily missing. Pining is a sign that we have forgotten who we are, believing we need romantic validation from someone else in order to feel whole. I can see now that my heart has always been mine…a lesson learned, paradoxically, by falsely believing I had given it away.

New Year’s Absolutions

The interwebs are positively buzzing at the beginning of a new year, both encouraging us to set ‘resolutions,’ and simultaneously telling us we’re doing it wrong. Beware the Ides of January, folks…as it only takes most people a couple weeks to give up on their new year’s resolutions. This is, of course, according to the internet…the truest source of truth (ahem).

I’ve written myself a set of resolutions many times over…some years, my list has been lofty, idealized, and almost silly (complete with hearts and smiley-faces). Other years, I’ve tried to be realistic and pragmatic. Most recently, I’ve foregone lists for a ‘Vision Board,’ which appeals more to my creative side, and focuses on positive intentions for the coming year.

In looking at the types of things I’ve resolved for myself in the past, it occurs to me that they all presuppose that something is missing or wrong in my life. Why else would I want to lose weight, get healthier, fall in love, travel, save more money, pay off debt? These are all positive things, in theory, but the fact that I’ve written them down year after year means I never feel as though I have achieved them. I’m forever “not there yet,” which can easily become “not good enough.”

That doesn’t seem like a great way to start anything, let alone the next twelve months of my life.

Don’t get me wrong: I love words. Words are powerful, not only in how we communicate with each other, but in how we narrate our own experience. But ‘resolve’ has an air of drudgery about it, no? And ‘resolution’ is no better…at the new year, it is used to describe our goals, and even more so, our determination to stick to them. But most commonly, we use the word ‘resolution’ to depict a solution to a problem. We use it to describe a legal process or decision. We use it in mathematics and measurement. Resolution is a way of describing the quality of our digital images and television screens.

Is that really the best framework for pausing and reflecting upon our lives at the beginning of a new year? If so, let’s just simplify our list to the following:

1. Solve all problems that I haven’t figured out how to solve yet.

2. Do everything I haven’t gotten around to yet.

3. Measure up to whatever/whomever I’m comparing myself to.

I have a suggestion. Let’s try out a new paradigm in 2014. How about we absolve instead of resolve? This year, how about we let ourselves off the hook? When we look at our lives through a lens of absolution, we free ourselves from guilt, blame, and punishment. We forgive ourselves for our mistakes, our unmet goals, our lapses in judgment, our messed-up priorities, and our own human fallacies.

I admit…to absolve instead of resolve seems a little harder, doesn’t it? To me, that is a reflection of its importance…to do what is right is seldom easy. The real work often lies below the surface; for example, I want to lose weight this year. But more importantly, I need to learn to love and accept myself as I am, and stop obsessing about my appearance. If I am able to absolve myself of the shame and self-punishment that surrounds my weight…I’m pretty certain that “lose weight” will no longer appear on my list, come January 1st of next year.

So let’s try it, shall we? I propose the following New Year’s Absolutions for all:

1. I forgive myself for (this mistake), (that character flaw) and/or (these imperfections).

2. I also forgive (so-and-so) for (grr-that-was-terrible) and/or (that hurt my feelings).

3. I will no longer make decisions or set goals out of guilt.

4. I will stop punishing myself for (unmet goal), (past loss/trauma), and/or (regrettable decision).

5. I will love myself as I am, and love others as they are.

Happy New Year!