‘Only in my deep meditation do I come to know who I truly am.’
– Sri Chinmoy
What is dehumanization and how do we combat the growing number of disenchanted employees?
You’re not alone.
We live in a time where there is a huge focus on figures, our budgets are being slashed and employees are constantly asked to work more, for less.
Although there are some companies who have recognized and adapted to this (LinkedIn, Google & Salesforce are some great examples), there are plenty of industries where stress, hours and restraints are increasing, and job satisfaction is decreasing.
When I go out with friends, I avoid talking about work at any cost.
‘Let’s not talk about work tonight’ is a phrase I find myself saying more and more. Sound familiar?
In an article by Rachel Druckenmiller, she identifies that 88% of Americans feel like they work for a company that doesn’t care about them as human beings.
For most, work is a necessary evil, rather than a pleasure. Workplaces are so caught up with numbers and figures, they forget that the people driving their companies are, in fact, human.
And salaries are no longer enough to keep employees motivated. In fact, the top two motivators for employees are recognition and a sense of achievement. Throwing money at employees will not fix the deep-rooted problems organisations can face – one of which is the dehumanization of the workplace.
Dehumanization is a social phenomenon, where in certain environments, people are perceived by others as not human, but rather an instrument, object or a number in a large organization.
In extreme cases, dehumanization can go as far as seeing people as not human at all – instead, indistinguishable from other animals. A perfect example of this social phenomenon is the persecution Jews and other minorities faced in the Holocaust. Another example would be extreme racism, or taking away someone’s basic human rights. This type of dehumanization is called ‘animalistic’ dehumanization.
However, in the workplace, people are more commonly victims of ‘mechanistic’ dehumanization – where they are likened to instruments used for another’s benefit. This is an incredibly diverse social issue, where workers are often denied basic things, such as empathy, emotion or the opportunity for expression of self.
Many workplaces and leaders within them prioritize efficiency over empathy, competition over connection and power over purpose.
Dehumanization takes many forms, but in the workplace, it can be anything from subtle to severe – manifesting itself in ways that may not always be obvious as ‘dehumanizing’:
Empathy is the ability to understand, relate and share feelings with someone. It is something vital to building strong relationships with others. Yet many workplaces lack empathy.
Employees aren’t expecting a kiss and a cuddle every time something goes wrong. But they are expecting to be treated as human beings.
Many employees have reported being asked to work in the midst of family tragedies, work longer hours to make up for missed deadliness and many also report feeling as though their emotions are not valid in the workplace.
Showing empathy can sometimes be seen as weakness or emotional vulnerability, which often creates a culture of ‘not my problem’. This is at odds with studies that prove that empathy actually promotes pro-social behaviour and builds trust and respect.
Condescension, or condescending behaviour, involves patronizing attitudes and creates an air of superiority. It’s generally associated with snobbishness or disdain.
We’ve all had a boss like that at some point, haven’t we?
In the workplace, condescension usually comes in the form of snide remarks, offhand comments or in extreme cases, gas-lighting.
This behaviour is incredibly harmful, and can be emotionally draining, distracting and demeaning for a worker to have to deal with.
Sometimes emotions are hard, and it’s easier to dismiss them. We put an emphasis on efficiency, and things like emotions, connection and compassion can hinder this. But we can’t sacrifice our basic human needs for work performance.
This is a particularly frustrating form of dehumanization within the workplace – and often the downfall of many organizations.
These types of workplaces can often seem more like high-school than a place where grown adults work. There is usually an obvious hierarchy, where ‘some’ people seem to progress far faster in the company than others.
This dehumanization manifests itself in behaviors such as forming clear ‘groups’ or ‘cliques’, rumor-mongering, giggling behind hands or a range of other obvious gestures, such as eye-brow raising.
These are all signs of poor company culture, where people are not seen as equal or valid. Although this is not the only indication of poor company culture, it is a direct contributor.
Workplaces often dehumanize their workers in this type of way – socially ostracizing them, creating ‘minorities’ within the company, maintaining outdated ‘Boy’s Club’ cultures or otherwise finding ways to subtly discriminate based on sex, race, gender or even just by perceived ‘popularity’.
We’re all guilty of not paying attention every now and then. But dismissive attitudes go further than a simple slip of focus.
Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve come up with an idea, only to have it dismissed on the spot, ignored entirely or even worse, laughed at? This is the type of attitude many company leaders possess – dehumanizing and invalidating their workers in the process.
Body language also speaks volumes when it comes to being dismissive. Looking away, obvious disinterestedness, checking your watch or phone are all signs of a dismissive behaviour and attitude.
Although sometimes we are genuinely busy or our focus is elsewhere, the dismissive attitude that is often displayed by bosses or company leaders is invalidating and rude, and creates a feeling of not being respected or valued not only as an employee, but as a human.
The first thing workplaces need to do is to recognize the behaviors and attitudes that might be dehumanizing their workers. Often, these attitudes come from senior levels and work their way down to middle and lower-management.
Having the right people leading our workplaces is incredibly important – people who are willing to recognize issues and realign them with the needs of their employers.
Dehumanization in the workplace is an extremely complex issue, which can affect individuals, the organisation and even society as a whole.
The main goal of re-humanizing the workplace is to help all workers be open, honest and feel confident to be an individual, while also thriving in the organisational environment. Re-humanization is integral to positive social interaction.
So what can we do to work towards making our workplaces more human?
The first step to re-humanizing your workplace is to remind the people around you that you aren’t perfect, and that’s perfectly okay.
Accepting and admitting (out-loud) your shortcomings creates an environment where others can too. In an article for Forbes, Dina Gerdeman outlines the importance of being a humble leader. She takes note from Professor Alison Wood Brooks, who says:
‘People find you more humble and likable when you not only reveal your successes and accomplishments, but your struggles and shortcomings, too… If we want to see positive workplace outcomes, we shouldn’t underestimate how important it is to be seen as humble, grounded and well-liked.’
This is also the same approach Brene Brown shares in her book ‘Daring Greatly‘, where she speaks on shame, and the importance of understanding ourselves in order to grow. She quotes Peter Sheahan, CEO of ChangeLabs, who says:
‘If you want a culture of creativity and innovation, where sensible risks are embraced on both a market and individual level, start by developing the ability of managers to cultivate an openness to vulnerability in their teams. And this, paradoxically perhaps, requires first that they are vulnerable themselves.’
Owning our shortcomings provides a positive environment where personal and professional growth is encouraged and can flourish without fear or shame.
This might seem simple, but it’s something that so many people in leadership positions fail to do.
They’re the bosses that walk past the same people every day, with their coffee in one hand and their phone in the other, and miss multiple opportunities to connect with the people they work right next to.
Some managers couldn’t tell you who their receptionists’ name is, what their co-worker’s kids names are, or who the person in the waiting room is. They often put this in the ‘trivial information’ basket and move on.
But the thing is, this information is what makes people the way that they are – and without knowing anything about the people you work with day in and day out, you are setting yourself up for failure.
If you take the time to ask questions and build rapport, you instantly become more approachable. You are seen as someone who doesn’t just see their workers or colleagues as replaceable, disposable or ‘just another number’. Being interested and involved is all part of being ‘human’.
If you want to re-humanize your workplace, the culture change needs to come from the top.
If workers can see leader that shows compassion and interest in the community, the employees and other managers, they are more likely to do the same. Not only that, but part of making a change is being the change.
You can’t expect others to care if you aren’t giving them an example to work with.
‘Practice what you preach’ comes to mind here.
Creating a workplace culture that cares about its employees is hard. There are many considerations and obstacles to take on board, including ingrained company culture, the attitudes of board members, the business’ current financial position and much, much more.
Sometimes, re-humanization starts from a place of transparency and honesty.
But at the end of the day, re-humanization is a process of accepting that every person is unique, and that we all play a part – and every person is entitled to feel that they are valued.
Making sure employees feel validated and valued is not the same as making them feel useful. That difference comes from a place of genuine care for the people, not the company, profit or the numbers the computer spits out. CEO Barry Wehmiller said this about involving and honouring the people around us:
‘Everyone wants to do better. Trust them. Leaders are everywhere. Find them. People achieve good things, big and small, every day. Celebrate them. Some people wish things were different. Listen to them. Everybody matters. Show them.‘
‘The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.’
– Mark Twain
Mental Illness is a struggle that affects many people and can take many different forms.
Mental Illness can be lonely and debilitating, forcing us to withdraw socially and try to hide our condition from the world. One of the hardest things for those who are suffering from Mental Health Issues to do, is to accept their condition in the first place.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with being introverted, or enjoying time to ourselves, but it becomes a bigger issue when that becomes the norm. Balancing those qualities and still having (and maintaining) meaningful connections with those around us can sometimes be hard – especially when we choose not to accept our reality.
Many of us choose to suffer in the dark, rather than admit to anyone they are struggling, or are ‘different’ or ‘sick’. This shouldn’t have to happen.
There is far more beauty, strength and power in accepting and embracing our flaws.
‘The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.’Mark Twain
Here are a few ways to learn how to embrace our struggles and turn them into something we can use in order to grow in our journey:
Being diagnosed can often bring about shame or confusion in many people, as well as feelings of guilt or anger. ‘Why me?’ is something that people ask over and over again.
But as scary as being diagnosed is, it can be incredibly useful as well.
You can’t defeat something if you don’t know what it is you’re fighting. But knowing what you’re dealing with is the first step to finding a solution – a way to fight back.
If you’ve been diagnosed with Depression – call it by its name. Bi-Polar? Name it. Anxiety? Own it. If you name something, you own it. If you own it, you choose how much power it has over you.
If you choose to name your condition, you also help others put a name and face to the condition – making it far easier to relate to and empathize with – thus reducing the stigma attached to it.
If you want to educate others, you start by educating yourself. If you want to be empowered and influential, the best thing you can do is learn as much as you can about the topic you want people to understand.
Having stories, facts and figures at our fingertips can prove incredibly important when we are trying to get our point across to someone. And learning just how many other people out there are in similar circumstances to us can propel us forward and give us hope and confidence.
Sidney Hook put it like this:
‘Everyone who remembers his own education remembers teachers, not methods and techniques. The teacher is the heart of the educational system.’
If we can learn about ourselves, and truly know ourselves, it can create an energy within and a fire that can’t be extinguished. Being able to feel good about ourselves starts from within.
If you want to own your diagnosis, you need to learn how it works.
If you want to tame a beast, you need to know how to make it feel respected.
Some forces demand a certain amount of respect – they are powerful and damaging, but beautiful too – like fire.
The same thing goes for our Mental Health. If we want to own our diagnoses, we need to respect that there are going to be days that are better than others. And that’s okay.
Never minimize your condition. It simply is what it is, and that sometimes means adjusting ourselves accordingly.
For some, that means taking extra self-care steps. For others, it’s removing ourselves from a toxic situation.
Paying attention to ourselves and our conditions is critical when it comes to empowerment and feeling ‘in-control’.
Self-Care is meaningless if you aren’t focusing on yourself. Self-Care looks different for everyone – and that’s totally fine. What works for one, may not work for another.
The challenge is finding what does work best for us as individuals. There’s no point joining your friend for Yoga if you absolutely can’t stand getting sweaty and bending yourself into a knot. It may work for your friend, but not you.
For some of us, Self-Care is as simple as taking some time out for an afternoon nap. For others, it’s hitting the gym, or a nice hot bath.
Spend some time thinking about the last time you truly felt relaxed, and work from there. If you know how to manage the bad days, you will find yourself feeling much better and more in-control over our situation and condition.
Embracing who you are is vital on all of our journeys – not just people with Mental Illnesses. Being able to accept who you are, flaws and all, is hard sometimes (even for the best of us). So don’t give up, and remember you are never alone.
If you’re feeling like you need to talk to someone, there are plenty of places you can reach out:
Headspace: 1800 650 890
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
QLife: 1800 184 527
My story and the lessons I learned along the way.
Before I go any further, let me just say – it isn’t anyone’s place to judge another’s relationship, and that is not the intent of this article. This is simply a personal experience, and the things I found to be true for me.
The topic of a abuse within a relationship is often hard for a lot of people, which is one of the reasons I haven’t written about it until now. A lot of the time, the person that puts you through this type of thing has such a profound emotional hold over you, it’s hard to talk about your experiences, no matter how much time has passed.
For that reason, in this particular article, I’ll refer to that person as ‘He’.
For me, ‘He’ was the one. We had known each other for a couple of years, He was a social butterfly, He made me laugh and every time we hung out, it turned into some kind of fun adventure. People talk about the ‘Honeymoon Period’ of relationships – a brief period of time where everything seems perfect, you agree on everything and arguments are non-existent. This was the Honeymoon Period to beat any other – and I should have realised then that it was too good to be true.
I had suffered from Anxiety and Depression for a number of years before meeting him, and he helped me see the fun in life. He was smart and logical, but He had a spontaneous streak that was so much fun.
I truly believed we would get married, have children and live happily ever after. We had stupid nicknames for each other, we played pranks on each other, we stayed up late giggling and we took photos of each other snoring. We spent our weekends happily exploring the city and beaches and never fought about anything. Everything was fun and easy.
At that time in my life, I was a University Student, and he was a tradie/ labourer. It didn’t take long for us to move in together. He worked long hours and was the main breadwinner, and He was proud of that. I would spend my days studying, going to Uni, cleaning the house and making sure there was food on the table for Him when He finally trudged through the door.
Soon enough though, I could see He was starting to resent the fact that I didn’t have a job, although I was trying to work my way through Law School and look after things at home. I spent every penny of my Student Allowance on rent and things for the house, but it wasn’t enough. Before I knew it, I had picked up a couple of casual jobs working retail to try and even things out. I wanted to help. I loved Him. He could do no wrong in my eyes.
It wasn’t long after this that He came home and said He had been let go. At the time, I didn’t see it as too much of an issue – He was a robust and confident person, and I was sure He would pick up something new quite quickly.
I was wrong.
Ever since He was an apprentice, He had never not had a job, and His confidence plummeted. Something ‘snapped’ so to speak and He was never the same. Him being fired sent Him into a rapid depression, followed by paranoia and anxiety.
I tried everything in my power to help Him, but I was struggling too. I began taking my anti-depressants again, was stressed and taking on extra shifts at work to get us through to the next week. I eventually realised that I would have to drop out of University if I was going to help us get by. So I did. I deferred University to focus on looking after us. I loved him. I wanted to help.
I had heard about people developing paranoia, but His paranoia was something I had never experienced before, and I had no idea what I was meant to say or do to help Him. I tried everything. I listened to his rants without judgment, I offered my support, I told Him I believed Him when He said He was worried about people following him. I helped Him write job applications, introduced Him to new people, suggested He get professional help.
Nothing would calm him down.
He truly believed someone was ‘out to get Him’. Every conversation we had would go down the same path; ‘there’s someone following me’, ‘someone’s been in the house’, ‘they know too much’, ‘don’t talk about personal stuff over the phone’… it was overwhelming.
I came home one day and He was scanning the walls with a device that checks for ‘bugs’. He wouldn’t apply for jobs because he was convinced ‘they’ would sabotage him. He would constantly sat he was being followed in his car, or at the shops.
He started to become suspicious of me. I didn’t understand it, because I couldn’t see it. There was never anyone following us, nothing out of the ordinary happening in our lives besides His behaviour. I couldn’t find a way to help Him. All I knew was that I loved Him dearly and believed that He would snap out of it as quickly as it all started, if He just got another job and got back on track.
But it didn’t work that way.
Things went downhill. Rapidly. Nothing I would say would convince Him that there was no-one out to ‘get’ Him. I was so caught up with trying to help the person I loved, I failed to see I was becoming tangled in an abusive and toxic situation.
It was subtle at first, but by the end of our tumultuous relationship, the house was a war zone. Even now, years after, I experience the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Small things like someone grabbing my wrist, coming too close to my face, raising their hands or even the slightest raise in someone’s voice sets me off.
I’ve wanted to write this for a long time. And I wanted to list the types of warning signs I missed, but wished I hadn’t. It’s hard to recognise these things when you’re blinded by your situation. Because you don’t want to believe that the person you love is also the person destroying you.
Even if this helps one person recognise their situation for what it is, that would be enough for me. Keeping in mind that every relationship is unique along with the people in it, these are the 5 signs I look back on and wished I’d noticed:
I realised too late that I had distanced myself from many of my friends, probably at a time when I needed them the most. Once He became paranoid, He needed to keep me ‘safe’. He was scared someone was out to ‘get’ me too. He didn’t want me on Social Media, He was suspicious of visitors, new friends and even old friends.
I ended up cutting ties with a lot of people, all based on who ‘He’ thought was ‘safe’. Every person He met was a threat. He believed people who visited the house planted devices or stole things, and eventually it became easier to placate him by simply cutting people off.
Whether it was intentional or not, He made me believe I was going crazy. He used my history of mental illness against me, telling me I was the crazy one. He would tell me that I was a psychopath, that I was the one with no heart and that I had no idea how much I put Him through.
When we fought, He’d tell me to ‘take another pill, crazy’, ‘go cut your wrists in the bath’ or ‘do the world a favour and kill yourself’. We had a small unit, so I would try and lock myself in the bathroom to get away from the taunts. When I did, He would yell that I was crazy and why would I lock the door on Him? Clearly I was the suicidal one, and would kill myself in the bathroom. He’d break down the door to get to me, ripping the handle completely off, or making a hole in it – just so He could tell me to stop being an attention seeker.
If I tried to leave the house to get away from Him, He would stop me. He would stand in the door frame and tell me I was being dramatic. He’d tell me I had started the fight and that He hadn’t done anything wrong. He’d tell me I wasn’t leaving because I might hurt myself. He’d steal my keys, break my phone and threaten me. All the ‘help’ me.
He truly convinced me that I was the crazy one. That hiding in the bathroom to get away from Him meant I was the one with the issues. .
When I’d eventually open the door (or He’d break it down), He’d say things like: ‘I’m trying to help you’ or ‘I don’t want to have to break down the door again or call the police on you because I think you’re going to kill yourself in there’. He and I both knew that it was never my intention to hurt myself, but I began to believe that maybe I might. Maybe I was crazy. Maybe I was suffering from my mental illness in such a way, I couldn’t see how crazy I really was.
This is the stereotypical sign of being in an abusive relationship, but it wasn’t until the physical abuse became very violent that I realised it had started long ago.
It started with things like grabbing my wrists or arm to stop me leaving a room, or holding me on the ground or on the bed so I couldn’t use my phone. But it got worse.
Any time we had an argument and I tried to leave, phone a friend or go into another room to get away from all the verbal abuse and tension, things would go flying (me included). He would put things like my laptop outside in the middle of the road. He would take my dinner outside and tell me to eat out there ‘like the dog I was’. He would laugh when I cried and begged to be allowed to leave.
Arguments in the car were common, because He know I couldn’t escape. He wouldn’t get out when I asked Him to, and He wouldn’t let me pull over and get out either. I had no choice but to keep driving, while He screamed in my ear, spat in my face and kicked the interior of the car.
One day He was so out of His mind with rage, He ripped the radio clean out of my car, wires dangling, and threw it out the window of my car into traffic while I was driving.
I was constantly having to come up with stories to tell my family and friends about why my things were constantly damaged and broken. The radio had ‘malfunctioned’. My phones were always being ‘dropped’ or ‘run over’ or simply ‘stopped working and needed to be replaced’. Sets of glasses never lasted long, the holes in the doors were from ‘tripping’ and the bruises were brushed off as me being clumsy.
Make no mistake, all of these things are abusive and violent. But when you love someone, sometimes you don’t see them for what they truly are, and brush them off.
There’s a saying: ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’. But they do. Especially when you’re told everyday how awful you are. When you’re told you’re fat. Told you’re a psycho. Told you need to go to a psychiatric home. Told that no one will ever love you besides Him. Told that you deserved all the bad things that ever happened to you. That you deserve to be alone. Especially when you’re told all this by someone you love.
Eventually these things get to you. And once you start believing them, you gain a sense of hopelessness that doesn’t fade, even after you leave. You truly believe you are defected, damaged and no-good. It has taken years to be able to look in the mirror without hating my own reflection, and even now, I suffer the consequences of the verbal torment I was put through.
This mightn’t seem as important as the other signs. But this is the thing that affected me more than anything else.
Every fight we had, no matter how violent, ended with Him saying things like: ‘I’m sorry, I love you’, ‘Please don’t leave me, you’re all I’ve got’ or hours of tears and promises to do better.
It was emotional torture. The man I once wanted a future with and who I loved so dearly, was hurting me in ways I never knew I could hurt. Of course I wanted to believe Him. Of course I wanted to brush off His behaviour as nothing more than a momentary lapse in judgment.
I remember the fights, and the anxiety crushing my chest. The tears, the fists and the threats. Then one day, His beloved Nan died. I knew this would make everything so much worse. If He was depressed, anxious and paranoid now, then this would surely tip Him over the edge completely. I wanted desperately to be there for Him. I wanted to comfort Him, to bring Him back to what He used to be, but I couldn’t do it anymore.
I was exhausted. I knew every fight we wold have from thereon out, every time he would hurt me, it wouldn’t be ‘His’ fault anymore. It would be because His Nan had died. Everything He did would be blamed away.
So I left.
Maybe deep down He was messed up and maybe He was sorry and perhaps He truly did need me. And I knew He must have been feeling very isolated and hurt too. But I realised much too late, that you can’t help someone who isn’t willing to help themselves.
I left Him after His Nan’s funeral. I would have left sooner, but again, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. I loved Him. I felt like I needed to at least get Him through the funeral. I didn’t want to be ‘that’ person.
But who is ‘that’ person? I stayed so long. Put up with so much. For what?
Leaving Him was the most painful thing I have had to do in a long time. I’m not going to pretend that it was easy. I was so emotionally broken, I could feel my heart breaking with every breath I took.
Even after I left, I paid the rent in the unit we lived in for months until He moved out. I cleaned up all the mess He had left once he finally did leave. I never sent Him the bill.
I called Him every day after He moved out to make sure He was okay. He would cry on the phone and tell me He was so sorry. I would drive past His new house and bring Him food, because I knew He hadn’t eaten for days. I took Him to appointments, kept in touch, made sure He was okay and wasn’t going to hurt Himself.
Once I would get home, I would cry by myself on the kitchen floor for hours and hours, wondering how everything had gone so horribly wrong. I had given Him everything I had, and I had nothing left to give.
He begged me to give Him another chance.
But I couldn’t.
Because you can love someone so much, but at the end of the day, you have to love yourself more. And sometimes it takes a long time to realise that. When I look back on what I went through now, I wish I had seen the signs earlier. It took me so long to leave. Because I kept putting Him first, making excuses for Him, allowing His toxic behaviour to continue, because I was more worried about losing Him.
We do so much for the people we love.
But in the end, we are all human. I’ve come to terms with the fact that we are all on a journey. And you can’t save everyone on the journey to save yourself.
And that’s okay.
‘Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one’s own sunshine.’
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
‘Shayde – there’s a reason they tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first when you’re on an airplane. You can’t help the people around you if you haven’t first helped yourself.’
How nice it is, to have friends that point out the glaringly obvious, when you can’t see it for yourself.
Some days are incredibly hard. That’s just life. Sometimes we forget about ourselves, on our journey through life. We give and give and give, until we have nothing left for us to fall back on. But it’s inherently important to take time to slow down and look after yourself.
But loving yourself is not an easy task. It never has been and never will be.
‘You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.’
We are surrounded by things that say we shouldn’t love ourselves, day in and day out. Of course, you all know what I’m talking about: magazines, social-media, advertisements, unrealistic ‘reality’ shows on television, sales professionals, sometimes even our bosses or our loved ones… wherever we turn, we seem to constantly be being told we are not quite good enough.
We’re told we need to be thinner. We need to have clearer skin. We should be more tan. We need less cellulite on our thighs. We need higher sales figures. We should have a house and kids by now. We should be getting better grades. We shouldn’t talk about our mental illnesses. We need a newer car, a bigger house and a six figure salary. We need to have prettier clothes, taller shoes and more make-up.
Everywhere we look, there is something to compare ourselves to. But the problem is – we shouldn’t have to. We need to realise that society has an unrealistic expectation of what ‘perfect’ is.
And it is really none of their business!
Perfect for you may look completely different to my idea of perfect. You may hate your curly hair, but another may envy you for it. Your friend eats whatever she wants and stays as thin as a rake – and yet she wants the curves you have.
Someone you know may like dating younger people, another may prefer someone more mature. Perhaps your friend may find someone who is strong and muscly preferable over someone who is academically gifted.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
And I’m here to tell you that no matter what you look like, where you’re from, what your age or preference, who you are – you are worthy of love – just as much as the next person.
And so we come to our first obstacle on the road to self-love:
‘Your problem is you’re… too busy holding onto your unworthiness.’
– Ram Dass
Before we can even think about giving ourselves the love we so desperately need, we need to believe we are deserving of it. And that’s where a lot of our problems start. We sow seeds of doubt in our mind that we aren’t good enough, we don’t deserve anything, and we end up feeling guilty at the very thought of looking after ourselves.
There is so much hate and pain and suffering in this world to simply act like it doesn’t exist, that is the plain and simple truth of it. But that does not mean we need to neglect ourselves out of some desperate attempt to help the people around us.
We must press on, or else be swallowed up by our insecurities, our pain and our problems.
‘You cannot pour from an empty vessel.’
Self-love is harder than what you see at surface value. It’s easy to have a bath, get a massage or a manicure, or spend a day in bed. What’s not easy is convincing yourself you truly deserve such things. It’s not easy to see past the action itself and into the ‘why am I doing this for myself?’.
There is an art to self-love. An art of really appreciating and understanding the love you give to yourself is in fact just that: LOVE. Love is something that needs to have room for growth – or else it wilts like a pruned rose in a lonely vase.
One of the greatest wonders in life is love. We simply cannot live without it. It’s proven time and time again in various forms – living beings that receive love and nourishment thrive next to their neglected counterparts. So it only makes sense that in order to spread that love, to truly thrive in the world around us, we must first know what it feels like to be loved.
So the first thing we must do on our journey to self-love, is to accept our flaws and to understand we are deserving of love in spite of them.
Treat yourself with respect and dignity, and never feel as though you aren’t worthy. If you don’t feel you are worthy of being loved, you will wilt. You may receive love, but it will be clouded by guilt.
It takes time and patience and won’t always seem right, but once you realise you are worthy of love, you can start to find yourself – which brings us to the next step in learning to love yourself:
‘Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.’
– Carl Gustav Jung
Someone once said something to me that made me stop and think for a really long time:
‘Every single person you meet has a different version of you in their mind. No two people know and remember you in the same way.’
It’s true. The way I think or feel about some of my friends will be completely different to how the person next to me perceives them. So the real question then, is this:
Who do you think you are?
How would you describe yourself? What are your favourite things to do? Who do you think about before you fall asleep? What are your aspirations? Your values?
To truly be able to take care of yourself, you need to know yourself. You need to know what you stand for, what you believe in, what you would fight for.
What use is it, trying to care and stand up for yourself, if you do not truly know what you actually stand for in the first place? Self-care loses meaning without knowing who you are. You may as well buy yourself a present from the Kris Kringle variety isle and be done with it.
So again: who do you think you are? It’s a question worth asking again and again until you’re sure. The stronger your foundations, the stronger the structure on top – fundamentally speaking.
This isn’t always easy. Especially when you start thinking about societal norms, expectations, religion, sexual preference, gender, war, history etc., etc., etc.. But not to worry – there are plenty of ways for you to begin to pick yourself apart – so to speak. Here are some interesting ideas for helping to find your true self and values:
There are so many ways to explore who you are as a person – it is all about keeping an open mind and finding what makes you ‘tick’ as a person. No two people are going to be exactly alike. Just like no two people are going to see you in the same way. So who do you think you are?
Once you have an idea of who you are, you can start exploring the next step on your self-love journey, which is:
‘When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits – anything that kept me small. My judgment called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving.’
– Kim McMillen
Everyone’s idea of self-care is going to be different, based on their loves, values and personal ideas.
For one person, that might mean going and getting a pedicure. For another, a pedicure is an absolutely horrid ordeal.
Another person may want to buy tickets to a much-loved band, whereas someone else may cringe at the idea of a crowded venue being anyone’s idea of ‘self-care’.
It is all about you.
That’s why it’s called self-care and not other’s-care. And why it’s so important to know who you are, and what you love. And sometimes, certain situations call for different types of self-care.
For example, when I’m feeling at my worst, emotionally speaking, I’ll hide under my blanket for a few hours and block out the world, or I message my friend and ask him how he is and whether he wants to get coffee. And I feel better for it.
Other times, I might wake up and decide the definition of ‘self-care’ for that particular day is to not worry about the dishes on the sink, and watch a good Ted Talk or a documentary.
On the contrary, my partner’s idea of ‘self-care’ may be time with his friends, or going for a motorbike ride, or heading to the gym. Everyone is different, and every day is different.
It’s about recognizing how you’re feeling, and adjusting accordingly.
There is nothing wrong with learning to love yourself, understand yourself, and deciding to look after yourself. And there is certainly no shame in admitting you may not look after yourself as well as you perhaps should. It’s easy to lose sight of ourselves when the world is so loud, busy and consumer focused.
And so it makes sense then, in such a busy world, that the last (and probably the most important) step in our self-love journey is:
‘Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.’
– M. Scott Peck
It’s all well and good to think about self-care, and what it looks like and how deserving you are of it. But how many of you are thinking:
‘I don’t have time.’
Well I’m going to break it to you hard and fast. I won’t apologize for it, either. You do have time. We all have time. You just need to prioritize yourself.
What do you do that takes up so much time that you aren’t looking after yourself? Are you working too much? Taking on too much? Saying ‘yes’ too much, and ‘no’ too little?
Are you giving too much, and receiving little in return?
The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.
Take the time to look at your life, your schedule, your priorities, and truly evaluate. What is taking up so much time and energy that you have decided you aren’t important enough to look after?
And then make some adjustments. Perhaps you decide to take the train to work, so you can read for an hour rather than be stuck in traffic. Maybe you wake up an hour earlier so you can do some yoga, or make a healthy breakfast. You could start a self-care tradition to go get a massage on a Thursday night after work.
Whatever self-care looks like for you, you need to make it a priority. Because at the end of the day, you are all you have – and that can be scary or comforting, depending solely on how you treat yourself.
‘Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one’s own sunshine.’
– Ralph Waldo Emerson