With the recent passing of Valentine’s Day, perhaps you are looking back on what are now cherished memories, or observing your single status that remained before and after the holiday. In any case, it’s important to note that you must love yourself before you can truly love someone else. Or wait, is that really true? I have wondered at times, is it possible that working on loving others will help you learn to love yourself better? Is the reverse possible? Let’s table that for a moment and explore more.
Have you heard of the nine Enneagram types? If you’re unfamiliar, you may enjoy an informative read about them here: Enneagram Type Descriptions. Consider #2, or “The Helper”. I’d never heard of this theory in psychology until I discovered Ryan O’Neal, the talented singer-songwriter whose works from the “Sleeping at Last” project you may have listened to and not realized. Many of his songs are featured on popular TV shows as well as movies. Just check out this list here; it’s quite impressive: Sleeping At Last As Heard On. If you’re a fan of Grey’s Anatomy, you may be familiar with some of the songs on the album Atlas: Year Two such as “Two”.
Take a listen.
By the way, I don’t believe Enneagram types should be viewed as whole, completely perfect descriptions of people’s character. I can relate to bits of all the types, although some more than others. You can take tests online to discover your most likely type, and no, based on the one I did, #2 was not mine or even near the top if you were wondering.
When I first heard this song my impression was of a beautiful individual who loved loyally and put others first. I found it heartwarming. But when I listened more carefully to the latter half of the song I noticed the turning point. Perhaps the idea of giving away your own breath seemed romantic at first, but the next stanza clearly outlines the problem here. This person is ignoring their own needs to focus on others. Of course, there should be balance. Being more giving and selfless is something I aspire to. But I know I can help others more when I first work on myself. For me, I know I’m my own worst enemy, and I’m likely more critical of myself than others are. Additionally, while I try not to misjudge others, I may judge myself unfairly at times. It’s always hardest for me to forgive myself, usually much harder than it is to forgive others.
All of this leads me to believe that it may be easier to love others than to love myself. Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., examines the commonly heard phrase of loving yourself before loving others and how self-acceptance, in his opinion, plays a larger role. Read his thoughts on this topic, based on over three decades of work as a psychologist: Must You Love Yourself First?
My first book, Beside Them in Nature’s Mirror, features poems I wrote as birthday gifts for friends. Here is one such poem I wrote later that didn’t make it into the book:
Adorable Sloth by Aubri Wilson Look at you up there Drawing strength from the trees I look up curiously as you hang upside down You turn your head almost all the way around If I could only see like you do In all directions Considering what others don’t observe If you feel graceless on ground Well, remember how fast you swim You leave a legacy with what you hold onto Elegant claws for your grip and protection Yet when you need you just drop Into the water again you go In the rain you’re camouflaged So I’ll just wait until it’s dry again to find you Deliberate is what you are, not slow Calm as you hold your breath long Maintaining your own personal ecosystem What a wonder you are up there Adorable sloth in the trees
Compare the positive tone and praise in my poem for my friend against the tone of this poem:
Terribilis by Aubri Wilson I am rare, strange, beautiful. My call loud, my color bright, my poison invisible, yet the strongest of all. I am small, bold, toxic. My purpose misunderstood, my words “stay away”, my intention “come here,” but no one truly listens. I send warning signals, hide on the ground, self-sabotage on repeat. My defenses terrible, my future uncertain, my soul endangered. Unfooled, you reach out and catch me. My poison drains away.
You may have guessed that I did not write this second poem for someone else. No, I wrote it for myself, almost exactly two years ago. And one of the first thoughts I have looking at it now is that lovely Dove commercial which shows how we often see the beautiful things in others yet fail to recognize them in ourselves. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the watch.
Now, please understand that the poem “Terribilis” (it is the shortened scientific name of the golden poison arrow frog) was not written out of a belief in myself that I am a terrible person. And hey, look, if it was a terrible beauty, I did admit I think I’m beautiful anyway (oh no, there goes my pride again). Okay, just kidding. Here’s the deal. When I wrote this poem I went through a different, yet similar process to my writing of favorite animal poems for friends.
First, the golden poison arrow frog is not my favorite animal. When I pondered this question I wasn’t sure about my own answer but one night I thought it’d be fun (yes, it was fun to write “Terribilis”) to just pick an interesting creature and see how I could compare its aspects to that of a human, in a way that I could very much relate to, but also that others could as well. This is the process I used for the poems in Beside Them in Nature’s Mirror.
Yes, it came out focusing on some negative aspects and challenges I can relate to. On the other hand, poems I’ve written for others focus on praising them for the most amazing, beautiful, and special things I see in them. My aim was to show them how I see them in a positive light that rang true and to perhaps even help them realize aspects of themselves that they have trouble recognizing. This became something I looked forward to and with each poem I gave a sigh of relief when the receiver declared their delight and that it did, in fact, resonate with them and ring true.
Over time I began to insert myself in some of the poems, as in “Adorable Sloth”, and examine my relationship with my friend, or to comment on how much I enjoyed and admired them in a poetic way. In “Terribilis” I insert an “other” as well. You see, one of the most fascinating facts about the golden poison arrow frog (in my eyes) is that when a wild one is held captive, it’s level of toxicity begins to weaken considerably. It’s not a perfect analogy but there it is. Sometimes, I believe, it takes someone else’s love to help us love ourselves better. The “poison” here might be referring to my feeling of being my own worst enemy. Yet I have wonderful people in my life who have helped and continue to help my poison drain away. I think that’s what we’re all here to do for each other.
If by loving others, I will learn to love myself better, then that’s a wonderful bonus. If not, I will do my best to still. And while you may not have perfect self-love or self-acceptance, the happiness you gain from what you do have, I’m sure, does help you bring more to the table in your relationships with others.
Coming Out on February 26th, 2019! Click to pre-order the ebook