I’ve found that whenever I’m feeling miserable, there’s one thing that always helps me: I give myself more love. Now, bear with me here because what I’m talking about isn’t probably what you expect.
I give myself permission to take three steps back from whatever it is that seems to be making me so miserable so I can love myself through gentle and caring self-reflection. I look at how my actions (choices) and reactions (responses to what’s happening around me) are adding to my feeling so miserable. I don’t judge my actions and reactions, I merely observe them for clues on what I can do to transition from being miserable to a more serene or joyful state.
I’ve found that more often than not, my “choice” of how to process what’s going on in my life and then respond to it in healthy ways is usually pretty doggone flawed. Yup, I’m heaping misery on myself, and that’s not good. You want to avoid that kind of self-defeating behavior and so do I, so here’s the next step to understanding why you feel so miserable: look at your past.
Your Current “Misery” May Have Roots in Your Past
I understand some life circumstances can test you to the core. If you live long enough, you will go through some pretty rough days (and I’ll be the first to admit, some face more than their share of difficult times).
Grief is real. Traumatic physical pain is real. One would not expect to feel giddy through those times. Still, feeling miserable is not something that just happens when we’re going through a life-altering tragedy or crisis; it’s something that many of us bring to the table by clinging to beliefs about how the world should work. Our own thinking trips us up and we make terrible choices that lead to unnecessary misery.
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We all make a lot of choices in our lives. Some choices we make over and over and in time they help us develop the habits we assume in life. We take on a lot of habits that we think will protect us and make our lives easier. We use our past experiences to come up with our own list of “rules” of how life works and we play by those rules, even if we’re not always aware of the games we’re playing. Then one day, some of us look at our lives as say “What the heck have I done?” We feel miserable.
Many life-defining decisions are made when we’re very small children who didn’t have the full capacity to analyze situations and understand what was really going on. As children (and later as adults), our compass is set to seek love and comfort and get our needs met. So we look for patterns of when we’re rewarded and when we’re left lacking, and we modify our behaviors to receive the rewards and avoid states of lack or punishment.
“This brings me ‘love,’ so I’ll do this. This brings me ‘pain,’ so I won’t do it again.” On and on the decisions go. On and on the scorecards of what works are tallied and internalized. Our beliefs soon become set in stone. Our behaviors become automatic and the reasons why we do what we do are buried deep in our subconscious.
Some of the “Rules” You’ve Learned Aren’t Really True … and They Could Be Making You Miserable!
Sometimes we learn rules that serve us well throughout our lives. Sometimes we don’t. Then there’s the fact that we sometimes misinterpret a situation or another person’s actions. We figure out “this behavior gets me love and this behavior gets me admonished.” So we adapt our behaviors accordingly, and we carry those beliefs and behaviors into our adulthood. For example:
- The only positive attention you received as a child came from being good at school, so you grow up believing you have to earn love through achievement.
- As a child you are taught to keep quiet; you are instructed to not make waves ever. You then become an adult who is reluctant to stand up for your needs for fear of losing love.
- You grow up in a household where one parent is over-controlling and the other is ultra-subservient. You interpret this to be what love looks like, and you carry the same behavior into adulthood … playing the role you most identified with.
- You’re told or shown as a child that thinking well of yourself in any way is conceited and selfish. You enter into adulthood armed with the belief that loving yourself is wrong.
Looking back now, it’s easy to see how absurd many of those “rules of love” we learned as children were. They were never the real rules of love, only our best interpretation of it at the time.
My parents were loving people. In fact, I had much better parents in the love department than a lot of people on this planet. That doesn’t mean they weren’t flawed. They were only human. Mom and dad went through some pretty tough situations back when I was a child … monster money struggles, relentless mental illness issues, various physical health problems, career disasters galore, and the emotional strain and physical exhaustion that comes from raising a large family, just to name a few.
Heck, they were running on fumes a lot of the time, so some of their strong tactics for keeping their children in line were born from pure survival instincts. Life wasn’t always soft and gentle, it was often loud and harsh … waffling back and for between iron-clad rules and the highly unpredictable directives of the moment.
I was a kid, and just as all kids do, I thought the world revolved around me. That means my interpretation of situations and circumstances wasn’t always spot-on. This left me with some pretty warped thinking about the rules of love … particularly the rules of self-love … beliefs that I buried into my subconscious and have been living with ever since.
Things Learned in Childhood Carry into Adulthood
Three things that I “learned” as a child … in other words, that I understood to be true that were never true … that have had the most far-reaching negative impacts in my life were:
1) I learned that my role was to keep my mouth closed and stay out of the way. Expressing myself has always been difficult for me. My instincts are it’s safer to hide rather than call attention to myself in any way.
2) My job was to be a high-achiever in school and I saw achievement was the only way to validate my worth. As an adult, I’ve wasted a lot of time and energy trying to earn love through achievement and accomplishment. It doesn’t work.
3) I learned that having a high opinion of myself was nothing but conceitedness. In short, I felt that self-love was flat-out wrong. You can probably imagine how horribly that’s been working out for me as an adult.
With those beliefs internalized, it is not at all surprising that I was ill-equipped to form the kind of loving relationships with others and the self-love that I needed to navigate my life. Without a change of perspective, I was doomed.
At some point, I realized things just weren’t working in my life. So I began questioning the “rules of love” that I’d come to know. It’s taken some time, but this is what I’ve finally figured out:
You can’t earn love; a love that must be “earned” is not love at all.
You can’t hide and expect to experience love. You must be brave enough to be seen.
And most important, if you don’t recognize how essential self-love really is … if you don’t learn to love yourself with all your heart … you’ll never be truly happy in life. Never.
Some people say you can’t really love other people unless you love yourself. I disagree. Even though I didn’t really love myself, I have loved deeply in life. I’m not just talking about romantic love here … love is available on so many other levels than just that.
Sometimes the love was returned, sometimes it wasn’t. That doesn’t matter because love isn’t a quid pro quo arrangement … that’s not love, that’s something else entirely. And to be quite clear, I’m not advocating “loving” someone who treats you badly … that’s not real love either.
If You Feel Miserable, You Probably Haven’t Put Enough Effort into Loving Yourself
I’ve spent very little time in my life loving myself. I’ve berated myself. Judged myself. Abused myself with substances and behaviors that at first made me feel better, but in time always made me feel worse. I’ve finally found that self-hate doesn’t work … but self-love does.
I now see the kinder I am to myself, the happier I am. The more compassion I extend towards myself, the more compassionate I am towards everyone else I encounter … and not just close loved ones or friends who are easy to love … I’m even more compassionate with people who would have made be bonkers in the past.
Maybe my life-long struggle trying to figure out the rules of love serves a higher purpose. Maybe the lesson I was brought to this earth to learn (and possibly teach) is the importance of knowing what real love looks and feels like. Maybe I’m on this planet to not only learn the value of self-love but to spread this message as far and wide as I can. If that’s the case, then all those painful experiences I had as I clung to my “old rules of love” were not in vain. My experiences contained lessons, lessons that are meant to be shared.
Maybe there’s a purpose to your struggle with figuring out what love is and isn’t for you, too. Maybe the most important step you need to take in your life is to love yourself more and more and more.
I believe that since you’ve come upon what I’ve written here, there is a message about self-love that you were intended to receive today. Divine love wanted you to hear these words: You’re here to rise to the next level and this is your moment in time to do so. Loving yourself more deeply is the way.
It didn’t happen for me before because I wasn’t ready. I’m ready now. It didn’t happen for you before because you weren’t ready. You’re ready now.
Wishing you peace, joy and love on your continuing journey.
J. Marie Novak, Founder of BelieveAndCreate.com