If you wanted to paint the walls in your bedroom Cobalt Blue, what color paint would you buy?
If you wanted to be trendy and infuse your kitchen with Urbane Bronze (the 2021 color of the year), what paint would you buy?
And if you wanted to cover your bathroom in a popular Pistachio green, what color would you choose?
No, these are not trick questions.
Yes, you would buy Cobalt Blue, Urbane Bronze, and Pistachio.
But when it comes to love, how often do we try to paint the landscape with a color other than the one that is in our can?
In other words, what do we want most from love, from our loving relationships? Many times people say things like, “I want someone to think about me, respect me, be there with compassion when I am feeling sad, celebrate me when I succeed, forgive easily, find me interesting, be kind, supportive, and trustworthy… love me unconditionally.” You will likely have your own list – and I encourage you to have a list – but I suspect that at least some of this resonates with you.
Now let’s ask, how many of these things do you bestow upon yourself?
- How often do you pause to think about what you need or want?
- How compassionate are you with yourself when you are feeling sad?
- How wholeheartedly do you celebrate your own accomplishments and successes?
- How easily do you forgive yourself?
- How interesting do you find yourself? How much do you enjoy spending time with you?
- How kind, supportive and trustworthy are you toward yourself?
- How unconditionally do you love yourself?
There is a bit of a debate in the relationship world about whether you can love someone else well / fully (spouse, child, friend) if you do not fully love yourself. There are very few things that I am black and white about, but based upon my personal experiences, I come out strongly on the side that we can only love others and receive love from others to the degree that we love ourselves.
How can we possibly paint the landscape of love in a color that we don’t have in our paint can? If the color in the can is jealousy green, angry red, sad grey, tortured brown, insecure white, then how can we possibly paint with something else? How can we experience love in any other way? We experience love in the color that’s in our paint can.
When my daughter was about 12 or 13 years old, she would ask a lot of questions. “Why did you do that, mom?’ ‘Where are you going?’ ‘When are you coming home?’ ‘Who were you with?’ ‘What were you talking about?’
I know… she was the daughter and I was the mother and I constantly felt like I was the one being interrogated. Her questions made me uncomfortable. I experienced them as accusatory and judgmental. I constantly felt like she was questioning my decision-making.
As you are reading this, you might find my response curious. Why didn’t she tell her kid she was being rude, to stop asking questions, or see them as indicative of her interest and just answer them? I could have responded in any number of ways, but I didn’t because my paint can was full of self-doubt. I was carrying a lot of self-doubt stemming from childhood trauma that I had never dealt with and it was impacting how I could love my daughter and how I was experiencing her love of me.
I can remember the day I decided that I no longer wanted to feel this way. It was not only impacting the quality of my parenting, but it was impacting the quality of my love. Over the years I had tried to get my daughter to stop asking these questions, as though she was the problem. If I could only stop her asking, then I wouldn’t have to feel so badly. But the truth was that this really wasn’t about her; the self-doubt in my paint can was coloring many landscapes in my life.
Instead, I needed to change how I loved myself. I needed to swap out my doubt for some confidence, my conditional self-love for some unconditional love, and trade in my judgment for some curiosity. Once I did this, everything about my relationship with my daughter changed, and as I got curious, I began to understand why she asked these questions. My daughter is a data gatherer, she always has been. She takes in data from the world – the way things work, what people do and why – and she makes sense of it. It helps her to understand how to navigate in all kinds of environments…something she does extremely well. She is also the kind of person who always likes to be ‘in the know.’ She just likes to know.
Of course, I am not the first person to underscore the importance of self-love, but the real question is ‘HOW?’. How do you swap out those paint colors? I feel pretty certain that we all have paint in our can that is not really the one that will create the landscapes of love we want in our lives. If you want to know how I did it, check out my podcast episode on this topic.