There's a big difference between narcissism and self love. Many of you, like myself, may have at first been afraid to love the self for fear it was narcissistic or self-absorbed. Here's my story and my path towards self-love and acceptance and perhaps it will resonate with and help heal you.
Let me first be clear that I grew up conditioned by my culture, the collective culture of the disempowered feminine, and by my mother to be self-sacrificing to the point of self depletion. I didn't consider my own needs because I was discouraged to have a healthy relationship with myself. Self-love wasn't really a thing in my family nor was any love at all. I didn't witness "true love" between my parents (nor a healthy model of intimacy at all) and didn't know that my mother loved me until she was on her death bed. In fact, when she was close to death at one point, she still dissuaded my father from telling me how much she cared about me and missed me as a small child when I grew up in China without them. I wasn't supposed to know she ever loved me.
Narcissism to me represented the reality- I do believe that both of my parents grew up abused in some way, my father more overtly than my mother. They both had parents who were narcissists because their own needs were denied and their own souls shattered at some point. The insecurity led to narcissism later in life when they had a family, finally they were "entitled" to be right, to get the attention that they never got. I do believe that my parents adopted this behavior- it's not their fault, most people default to the "bully becomes the bully" pattern to find some sort of "empowerment" in their disempowerment UNLESS they rise in consciousness and do the deep, hard work of stopping the cycle in its tracks and re-learning. The pattern exhibited through my mother was a dependency on veneer: a veneer of perfection. As long as everything on the outside seemed okay and she was the "perfect mother, perfect wife, perfect friend" to everyone else, her fragile sense of self-worth would be "validated". This is narcissism: she cared more about a grandiose sense of self more than her real self and therefore could not develop a real relationship with me. Especially with a girl, she transferred a lot of her own self negating behaviors onto me and expected me to achieve her unrealistic standards. I beat myself up for years not understanding why I wasn't worthy of her love, but in reality she could not have a relationship with me because she did not have one with herself. It was always her needs before mine, she lived through my achievements and pushed me into things that she wanted to do herself. She did a very cruel thing to me- every time I challenged her or asserted my budding sense of needs, she called me selfish. I learned never to consider myself or learn what my needs were because if I did, I was selfish and even less worthy of love. I chronically took care of everyone around me, allowed them to drain me of every resource because of this (in fact, in therapy I rarely talked about myself even, I was burdened instead by the issues of everyone around me). I "lived my life for her" and that's why I lived in resentment and wanted to flee home as soon as I could.
All I knew was self-neglect and abuse which I modeled after the treatment my parents gave towards me and towards themselves. My mother was cheap so she never wanted to buy me warm coats or clothes because they were too expensive, so I learned to be comfortable freezing. I remember my grandparents came one year and they were aghast at how my mother allowed me to go to school every day. I was always fairly emaciated because I wasn't eating well, never ate breakfast (no one prepared it for me as a child), and I was always cold as is. My father also forbade us to turn on the heat at home which, compounded by the marble floors and high ceilings, was always so cold. I learned that the norm was to freeze, was to go hungry, was to be sick (I was always always sick- go figure). The only place I was sort of warm was my bed and that led to depressive behaviors of always staying in bed. So for the rest of my life until recently I continued to live by these standards of being uncomfortable, cold, sick, and often stuck in bed because it was the only comfort I knew. We only give ourselves the love and care that we have received until we realize that we deserve more.
I believed all the messages used to manipulate and control me; that I wasn't worthy, that I wasn't enough, that I was undeserving. I didn't give myself the things I really wanted, but for some reason it was easier to waste my money on things that didn't give me joy which just spurred my mother on because she had such a toxic relationship with money, one of control (she'd tell me that I wasn't good with money all my life instead of teaching me how to handle it and wouldn't give me any, so of course any bit that she did end up giving me I'd spend because I didn't think I deserved it and also tied it to anxiety so I didn't want to have it unconsciously). We all do this- we put off buying the things that we really want that would make our lives more pleasurable, that class, that book, even a small thing that makes you happy, and instead opt for what we "should" buy like expensive cars, shoes, whatever it is that we think pads our self worth but don't make us happy beyond the shield it can provide to the outside world. Expensive gear makes other people see us as "worthy" when we don't feel it inside. There's a difference between hiding behind it vs. appreciating quality and caring for oneself in presentation, however. ALWAYS check in with your intentions and motives- are they pure? Intentions dictate EVERYTHING.
For a long long time I searched for the elusive "self-love" and "self-worth". Where was it? How come I couldn't find it? I tried to find it in other people. If they could reflect it back at me, then maybe I'd have it? But this led me to unavailable partners, people I had to work hard to convince, which just reaffirmed the false belief that I wasn't enough. When I did get the love that I had worked hard for, I no longer wanted it because I didn't think I deserved it. So many of us are like this- that's why dating is fueled by games-- it's just a hook for the insecure.
Everyone tells us that we need to love ourselves, to have a healthy relationship with ourselves before we can with others. But what the fuck does that really mean? How do we love ourselves when we haven't ever learned how? When other people haven't shown us? Are we just expected to know?
And one day, a few days ago, it clicked. It's about commitment. Commitment frees you because it focuses your energy. It's a hard thing to come by in our world of overstimulation and many options and many of us develop an aversion to it, but in reality we need this. Once we commit to ourselves and decide, consciously, to start "parenting" ourselves, to listen to ourselves, to learn what we really crave and desire and start incrementally giving it to ourselves, we develop a healthier more fortified relationship to self.
For instance, I started not feeling guilty buying myself healthy foods and vitamins. I always used to try, but I acted out of rebellion. My mother refused to let me eat healthy foods and criticized my need for vitamins because she thought it was too expensive and unnecessary. I kept doing it anyway out of rebellion but deep down the belief that I was not worth it was still there which ended up in me not taking my vitamins or letting the food go to waste, which was really just confirming her being right. We all do this unconsciously to seek validation. But I started noticing when I'd feel guilty and challenge it. I started finding classes and trips that I'd enjoy and instead of listening to the excuses out of practiced fear (my parents refused to even let me sleep with a window open because they feared that someone would come in through it and kill me- no joke, I was fed a steady diet of fear and paranoia that kept me trapped my whole life) I just did it. I did "silly" things for my inner child, like, making slime or little arts and crafts projects like I used to do when I was a little kid. Things that make my conditioned adult self cringe.
I started realizing the things I used to spend money on were escapes from my self-defeating behaviors. They were indulgences that were not feeding a sense of health, of vitality and energy. And I realized by directing money, which is just energy, towards things that brought me actual joy, I'd be creating more energy which then generates more positivity and more abundance. When we spend money on ourselves for the right reasons-- for healing, we attract more of it.
I started seeking healers and courses that I once rationalized as too expensive and too much of a time commitment. I started putting them first, which is really putting myself first. I realized, finally, that I deserved to take care of myself. I deserved to love myself and that it wasn't selfish or narcissistic or self-absorbed to love oneself and put oneself first.
There's a difference- when someone is all about me me me and it's an empty sense of me with no elevated perspective, that is self-absorbed and and ego-centric. It is an immature sense of value, one that is a lower consciousness.
When we realize that the SELF represents UNITY, because we are EVERYONE. WE ARE ALL CONNECTED. And we realize that healing the self means we can heal others too, we shift out of this immature type of thinking and go for a higher consciousness. Because in the end, taking care of you is taking care of everyone. It becomes a self-less act, not self-sacrificial because the self is included, not excluded.
I came to realize although I spend a lot of time alone since I'm healing and introverted and so energetically sensitive, I never spend quality time alone. I don't take the time for myself- I'll take it for other people, I'll do nice things for other people, I skimp on myself. If I put in a little effort and give myself the experience I'd give someone I love, it would make all the difference. And that's what made spending time alone an incredibly rejuvenating experience, not just something of necessity to recharge. And that's what shifted me into the present moment because I'd found what I was looking for: me.
I imagined myself as a little girl, and the me now going back to show myself how to take good care of myself, to be gentle with myself, to have self compassion. What I would say to this little girl who knew nothing but neglect, abandonment and a sense of being trapped. The one who cried looking in the mirror because she hated herself so much, because that's all that was reflected towards her by people who hated themselves. I imagined holding this little girl and telling her it would all be alright, to be patient with herself. Because she's deserving of love, and just because people told her she wasn't worthy didn't reflect her-- it was about them, she was just the light that reflected their truth back at them and they didn't want to see it.
I used to feel so bad about myself because I'd get into a lot of trouble as a kid during the years when I was given no supervision or care. I encoded this as worthlessness and shame, but now I realize that every child who acts out is shining a powerful light on the failure of social and familial systems. Instead of blaming the kid, we should acknowledge what is contributing to this behavior. Of course a kid who is abused would act out- it's only natural. Instead of my parents saying, what's going on with us that's causing this? How do we help her? They just blamed me and labeled me a bad kid, expecting me to know how to behave when I was never taught.
Once you really learn how to love yourself from a true, grounded, embodied, divine place, the world around you shifts. You notice that other people go out of their way to care for you too, because your relationship with yourself can be sensed and people reflect that to you. Even the way they look at you changes. And then you feel less of a need to over give or give back for everything given to you because you are secure in your worth that you know your presence and energy is enough. Sometimes just acknowledging someone, holding the space for them is enough. I used to be the girl who everyone walked all over, and now even strangers wait in crowded venues where people normally rush in and push you out of the way, to allow me to board first. For the first time in my life I feel whole.
Self love shows itself through presence.
Self absorption alienates. Narcissism erodes.