For most people, it’s a whole lot easier to get physically naked in a relationship than it is to get emotionally naked. Usually, when we take off our clothes for someone, it’s because we are giving something to another other person—namely, SEX. It’s a whole different story when we get emotionally naked and bare what’s below our skin.
Our fear of rejection makes it hard to let down our guard and reveal ourselves to another person, especially when we want that person to find us attractive. No one can be more critical of us than we are of ourselves. But if we don’t even love and accept ourselves, how can we believe that another person could love us?
Fifteen years ago, I was walking down the beach contemplating this very question. Since my first marriage ended eight years earlier, I had been on what you might call a spiritual journey, actively searching for answers to life’s big questions. During that time I tried everything from traditional therapy to working with a world-renowned Mexican shaman. I had just started dating again and I couldn’t believe that, after all the hard work I’d done, my old feelings of self-doubt were resurfacing again.
I knew this place all too well, and I didn’t want to go back down that road. So, I started searching through my mental knapsack of self-empowerment tools. After all the work I’d done, there had to be something in that brain of mine to pull me out of my funk. As I was feeling good and sorry for myself, a voice inside me piped up. “Life is a gift,” it said, quite matter-of-factly.
I stopped in my tracks. Why was it telling me this now? I had heard this phrase countless times before, but what did it really mean? People say that a gift is something you give without any strings attached. I didn’t know how or why I was alive, but by some force of nature I was here. Someone or something had given me the “gift of life,” and as with any gift, I could choose to do whatever I wanted with it—no strings attached. If I wanted to sit on a street corner and do nothing, I could. I didn’t have to justify or explain my choice to anyone. I would probably starve to death, but I had been given the gift of life and I could choose to do whatever I wanted with it.
So, what had I been doing with my life? I realized that, mostly, I had been trying to prove my worth and impress other people. My choice of jobs, the way I dressed, and the people I surrounded myself with were mostly based on what I assumed others would think of me. And who were these people I was seeking approval from, anyway? My parents? My friends? My enemies? It occurred to me that I was trying to live up to their standards instead of my own and that the one person I needed to please was myself.
It was then, for the first time in my life, that I stopped pretending and got real. I admitted to myself that I was angry because I didn’t think I was “the best” at anything. I didn’t think I was special. I wasn’t the prettiest, thinnest, youngest, smartest, richest, most interesting person I knew. When I compared myself to others, someone always seemed to outclass me in just about every area I could think of… and they always would. Every time I compared myself to other people, I felt inadequate. So I asked myself, “Lisa, can you accept that you are not better or worse than anyone else? You are simply a special combination of qualities that makes you unique?” In that moment, I saw that I didn’t need to be better than anyone else. I was able to accept myself for who I am and acknowledge that my life mattered—that I mattered. I stood on the beach that day feeling genuinely at peace and thought about what I enjoyed most about being me. I was surprised when I realized how many things I actually liked about myself!
I had done a lot of work on my character to become the woman I was in that moment. I had let go of a great deal of drama, suffering, and blame to become kinder and more compassionate towards others and myself. I knew how to take responsibility for myself and the life I had created, I knew how to have fun, and I was generous with the people I cared about. I appreciated beautiful things, but I wasn’t materialistic. While I was far from perfect, I wasn’t all that bad, either. I could see that I actually had a lot to offer someone in a relationship.
It was only a matter of months after this insight that I met my future husband. He is so much more than I ever expected in a partner. Had I not accepted myself that day, I don’t know if I would ever have believed that someone could love me as much as he does. Now I know that I deserve to be loved not because I am better than anyone else. I deserve to be loved because I love who I am.