"I am not at all the sort of person you and I took me for."
- Jane Welsh Carlyle (1822).
I don’t suppose anyone has called you self-centered recently?
Why would they? Can you even remember the last time you considered your preferences before anyone else’s? Didn’t think so. Hey, Babe, you’re not alone.
Most women recoil from the thought of personal descriptions that begin with the word “Self”, which is too bad because this self-defeating modesty eliminates a lot of flattering ones: self-poise, self-assured, self-confident. So why do we self-consciously shrink from self-admiration? Enquiring minds want to know. Well, probably ever since your hand was slapped reaching for the last cookie on the plate all those years ago, you’ve viewed satisfying your healthy wants and lusty needs as selfish and shameful.
But now that you’re all grown up, how about rediscovering how glorious you really are? It’s time to realize that the cheeks that once burned with embarrassment can now radiate with the vibrant glow of a self-possessed woman.
I believe that there are three secret wounds to the feminine soul which I explored in my book Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self: self-avoidance, betrayal, and marital indifference. At first you might think that this is not a book for you. Guess what? So did I, and I was the one writing it.
We have none of these problems. We have a beautiful home, a family we adore and work that we enjoy and fulfills us. So why then, do we secretly sense that there's got to be Something More to why we're here, something other than discovering what money, love and sex have to do with the Meaning of Life. We grow our own organic vegetables, take our Omega 3, meditate, start book clubs. We work out five days a week, treat ourselves to low-fat soy sorbet the other two, and then wonder why we're perpetually cranky. So what is the rest of it? we want to know (and preferably by the end of the afternoon). This perpetual question distracts and disturbs us and keeps us worn to a raveling.
I thought we’d gently explore the first, self-dislike, or self-avoidance which might be why we never try to catch our reflection in the mirror or ever take photographs that we actually like. However, I love how the English novelist Virginia Woolf called this “her looking-glass shame,” the malady that breaks every woman’s heart because it is the bedrock that allows the other two to occur. I once made the observation that there is really no wound from which the soul rarely recovers except regret and you know what? I was right. It's taken me a heck of a long time to forgive myself and make self-nurturing amends, so if I can help at all, let me know. That's why I'm here.
So just between you and me how about a little chat? To begin with, there seems to be no vein of misery than runs deeper in all our lives than self-avoidance or personal dislike. But this is a fault line that guarantees our failure ever to be truly happy, no matter how much we accomplish or accumulate, or in whose arms we lie.
So why do we disapprove of ourselves? Let me count the ways. Some of the world’s most famous beauties can’t stand the physical sight of themselves. Self-dislike is an equal opportunity oppressor. In short, we may recoil from our human frailties, flaws and foibles in a world that approves only perfection; our personal oddities, eccentricities and bad habits give us ammunition every day, especially since we discount every positive virtue through insidious comparisons to other women.
We self-sabotage ourselves by constantly capitulating to the needs of others by disavowing our own; for ignoring the careless cruelties of loved ones in order to keep the peace; for struggling to live up to the expectations of those we don’t even care about; for denying the validity of our own unrequited desires.
We mercilessly rage against ourselves because we don’t look quite like the multi-orgasmic sex goddesses we once thought we’d become; or because we’re not quite the natural, full bonded mothers we assumed we’d be when we held that baby in our arms for the first time; or because we haven’t quite fulfilled the promise of our astonishing authentic gifts with a star on Hollywood Blvd or an Editor-in-Chief nameplate on our door by 40 and Heaven have mercy, we won't let ourselves ever forget what a disappointment we are. I didn't even start to write Simple Abundance until I was 44. It took me half a lifetime to even discover how much I didn't know.
When was the last time you started off a conversation with “I’m sorry” and you weren’t? I did yesterday. “Elvira always lied first to herself before she lied to anybody else, since this gave her a conviction of moral honesty,“ Phyllis Bottome wrote in 1934 about a woman we all know too well.
One way we learn how to hide our self-dislike is by putting on our public masks and making sure that everyone else on the planet is happy. That’s why you’ve learned how to please, cajole, comfort and delight your parents, partners, lovers, friends, boss or children but haven’t a clue how to give Guess Who a moment of pleasure, as in an hour or two to call your own and rediscover what it is that brings a smile to your face or that amazing sense of contentment.
Which is how we die from self-pity, and that isn’t pretty.
It’s time to declare a détente with our imperfections, to lay down the artillery of self-abuse we aim at ourselves, the potions, prayers and punitive diets, cosmetic artifice and extreme customized corrections. I’m not suggesting that there’s isn’t a place for hair color, makeup and cosmetic nipping and tucking if it’s going to help you awaken to our own inner beauty. But I am telling you that nothing will help you get over looking-glass shame if the transformation doesn’t begin from within. First you have to be willing to seek ways of renewal that honor your body and restore it to its rightful place, as the sacred garment of your soul.
More often than not, we discover who we are and what makes us genuinely happy through the revelations found in the small the simple, and the common. In your tiny choices, in what seem like infinitesimal changes. In the unconsidered. The overlooked. The discarded. The reclaimed. In moments I call “everyday epiphanies.” When those “ah, ha” transmissions allow the static of the world to clear suddenly and the soul’s Morse code—the dots and dashes of our daily round, so often dismissed as meaningless—not only connect, but resonate on the deepest level.
So how do you learn to develop a finely honed sense of self-worth? Give thanks for the Swell Dame within, even if the world calls it self-worship. Pay attention from now on to what excites you, or moves you to tears. What makes the blood rush to your head, your heart skip a beat, your knees shaky and your soul sigh? And just remember, when someone else calls what you’re doing self-indulgent, you’ll know it’s self-preservation.
Sending dearest love and always, blessings on your courage. XO