“The supreme happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved–loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.” Victor Hugo
We all need to feel we are loved, and that we are loved despite our imperfections, but often we set standards for ourselves and others that only create more stress and problems. At times we set goals or expectations that are impossible to meet, and when we or our friends don’t meet them, it damages our self-esteem and relationships.
Expecting Perfection Can Be Harmful
We all have ideas about the perfect relationship. We may even have a list of requirements that a potential partner or friend must have, but inevitably, if these standards are too high, we are setting up ourselves and our partner for failure. Ultimately what we really want is to be able to make mistakes and still be loved and respected.
Growing up, my parents had high expectations for me. I was intelligent, so they expected me to make A’s in school, which I often did. They also taught me to be kind and respectful to others and not to do or say things that would hurt others. As a Southern woman, my role was to take care of others, make them feel good, and put my needs last.
There was a lot of conflict between my parents so I developed the idea that I needed to do everything perfectly to prevent any further conflict. When I achieved what they wanted, I was rewarded with praise. This was before the days when parents bribed their children into doing what they wanted in order to receive toys or electronics.
Setting Standards Of Perfection May Cause Illness
I felt very nervous and fearful much of the time because my parents’ conflict was disturbing to me, and sometimes I was punished for what was a fairly small thing because they were so on edge. As a result I became a perfectionist well into adulthood. I experienced a great deal of anxiety around trying to meet high standards in school, relationships, and in work, and with time this stress contributed to my developing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
When we expect too much from ourselves or others, we will inevitably be disappointed at some point. Stress caused by any condition affects our health in a negative way, but I didn’t realize the harm I was creating for myself until I attended a clinic where every health practitioner with whom I spoke told me not to be so hard on myself. Fortunately, they convinced me my perfectionist thinking was not healthy.
We Need To Accept Ourselves As We Are
At first, I was angry that they wanted me to lower my high standards. I was proud of having high standards and trying to be a really good person, but I had so little energy, I had no choice but to change. Having to limit my activity forced me to go deeper and explore why I needed to be so perfect. The more I explored this idea, the more I realized I thought I wouldn’t be loved or liked if I didn’t meet these expectations.
As I moved from believing things had to be done in a certain way to being more open and flexible, I learned to say “no” to situations that were too stressful or not truly beneficial. As I stopped expecting perfection from myself, I realized how difficult life could be for others and grew more empathetic. I learned to expect less from others. I also learned to accept my imperfections while also trying to change some things for the better without judging every step I took.
Loving Ourselves Helps Us To Love Others
I learned to love who I was—even when I was able to do little of what I wanted to do. I learned to love myself as I was. I knew I was doing the best I could everyday despite it being less than I had previously done. As I recovered from the illness, I came to value well-being so much that it became my priority, not what I achieved in the eyes of the world.
Learning to love ourselves compassionately teaches us how to love others, and what we all want most is to be loved for who we really are. As I came to love myself more, I was able to love more generously and accept others’ irritating qualities with more compassion. I learned to love them for who they truly were.
The most wonderful love we can experience is with someone who really knows us and accepts our eccentricities and difficult aspects. We know that we do not have to be perfect—that we can be human and make mistakes and still be loved. It also gives us an opportunity to grow in our love, to say, “Well, I didn’t handle that well, but I can do better the next time,” and to take the time to contemplate a more effective or caring response to the problem that arose.
Love comes From Within Not From Without
I’ve met many people who do not love themselves, and in order to prove to themselves that they are loving, they exhaust themselves doing good deeds for others. However, when we act in this manner, we aren’t acting from love; we are acting from a wounded ego. When we do for others out of love, we do not feel we have to ignore our own needs, and we balance our time between taking care of ourselves and caring for others.
With the exception of abuse, we may grow by learning to accept aspects of our partners and friends that don’t always please us. Of course, there are always limits to what is healthy and appropriate in a relationship, but if there truly is enough there to make the relationship good, we need to exercise the effort to accept and hopefully understand those things about our partner that irritate us and have compassion for their struggle.
Wholeness Includes Loving All Of Who We Are
In talking with friends who have been married many years, I am always impressed with how they have grown together, adjusting and changing as needed to make the relationship more workable for both. But it is clear that the one thing that holds them together is this—they know they are each loved for who they truly are, for their best qualities and their most irritating ones.
Learning to give to others what we want in return tends to draw to us that same energy. One of the most profound thoughts I’ve read in Oneness by Rasha is this: “The key to the self-mastery that is so fervently sought by you who are so keenly aware of your process of evolution, is not to love yourself despite your perceived shortcomings—but rather, to love yourself because of them. In your embracing of all that you Are…is the unconditional gift of wholeness that awaits you.” (p. 238)
These challenges we face in relationships reveal to us aspects of ourselves we may rather not see; yet they offer us opportunities for growth and challenges in loving ourselves and others. Let us learn to love all of who we are and share that understanding and love with others. Only love will heal the world.
© 2013 Georganne Spruce ZQT4PQ5ZN7F5