A while back I found myself thinking very fondly of someone dear to me and missing him a lot. For a while I just enjoyed the feeling of loving someone but as thoughts of him returned to my mind over and over at all sorts of times and places, I started to ask myself what was going on. Why was I thinking of him so very much and wishing he could be there to see me do whatever I was doing? It didn’t take long for me to see what was going on.
People in our lives tend to take on a certain role or representation for us. One way of interpreting dreams, for example, is to understand each person and thing in our dream as actually representing an aspect of our self. Then you look at each person or object in the dream and ask yourself, “What does this person / object represent to me? If I was describing it’s characteristics to someone, what would I say?” That way you can see which aspect of yourself the person or object is reflecting in the dream and you might understand your dream better.
The same is true for waking life. We see things around us in representative ways and observing our reactions to people or objects can tell us a lot about what is happening inside ourselves. If we always react in anger or fear or joy to someone or something, we know that we have a story attached to whatever that person or thing represents to us.
So in my case, I wanted to know why I suddenly kept thinking about this person and quite intensely wishing he was present. I asked myself, “What does he represent to me?” I realised he represented a loving person who looks at me admiringly, thinks I’m wonderful, is open and generous to me with his time, emotions and resources. He would probably do everything in his power to give me what I wanted and make sure I was happy. Just writing this description now makes me smile and feel delicious. Who wouldn’t want to think about this a lot? But why was I suddenly thinking about him so much? As we like to ask in psychology – why this symptom, and why now? Why was I constantly applying thoughts of him like ointment to make myself feel better?
Well, bottom line is that I realised I was feeling a little bit insecure about myself. I was unsure about being special and wonderful. Also – probably because of this doubt – I was not gazing admiringly at myself or using my time, emotions and resources to do everything in my power to give me what I wanted and make me happy. I was feeling unloved and unsupported by myself hence my fantasies of having someone around who I felt would affirm my worth and do what I needed.
Once I realised this I turned inwards and said sorry to myself for being unloving like that. “If I loved myself what would I do now?” I asked. My answer? If I loved myself I would look at myself like I imagine he would look at me and I would make myself as important as I fantasise he would make me. Basically to see myself as precious and make my happiness a top priority.
If I think of my child or someone else I love, I can quite easily think of them in loving terms – especially if they’ve been behaving. Even if not, I can more easily forgive their imperfections and accept they are doing their best. I will try to be kind and understanding and support their happiness as best I can. (Please notice that I said ‘support‘ their happiness, not ‘make’ them happy. It is not my place to make anyone else happy. Each of us is responsible for our own happiness.)
My fantasies of this man were just fantasies. If he had come along and done all I needed it would have be great for a while but quite soon I would feel dissatisfied, and maybe find fault with him because of that. But neither my happiness nor my dissatisfaction would be his doing. The sense of dissatisfaction would actually come from my relying on someone outside of myself to meet my need to be loved and appreciated.
Other people can love and look after us all we want but if we don’t feel that for ourselves, it will always still leave a sense of emptiness in us. No-one can ever love us enough to make up for us not loving ourselves. Their love will never hit the spot for us in the same way as our own love can – it leaves us still hungry for that one nutrient no matter how many other nutrients they offer.
The task of making us feel loved and happy is ours – regardless of whether we live in a love-starved or love-rich environment. To love yourself well is to look at yourself with kind, caring eyes and take your needs into consideration as top priority. No-one else can do it for you as well as you can.
Think of how you love yourself currently. Now ask, “If I loved myself very well, what would I choose to do now?”