During my 25 years on planet earth I have experienced what feels like 1,000 different types of love. From falling in love with the places I have been and a few people who didn't love me back, to falling in love with the unique connections I have made with friends, family and strangers - I have experienced so many nuances of love and have come to learn some of their different characteristics. Of all of the forms of love that I have had the privilege of knowing - love of self has been the single, most important form of all. Learning how to love myself has facilitated my truest happiness, has given me the confidence to pursue my truest goals and has taught me the most important aspect of forgiveness, the self-reflexive dimension that allows us to come into the fullness of our potential.
You read right! SELF-LOVE. As simple as this concept might seem to some, I can completely understand anyone's uncertainty or unfamiliarity with this radical notion of total self-acceptance. Before I go on any further I want to let you all know that in this very moment, right now, the person who is reading this aka YOU are fully worthy of this and all love. As someone who is constantly changing, I sometimes feel as though my current version is inadequate or that my ever-shifting character isn't fully complete and therefore, cannot be fully loved. And just as frequently as that happens, I find myself correcting that harmful idea which truly isn't my own. Remember, those feelings of being unworthy or feeling like we aren't enough are ideas that someone else’s words and actions have planted in our minds. We should allow their critique to pass through us. So take what you will from someone else's commentary on your life and keep it pushing!
That ‘keep it pushing’ attitude is an aspect of self-love that I am still mastering. Loving myself enough to properly categorize the opinions of others has helped me focus on what really matters: my own happiness and my own opinion of myself. Categorizing opinions? GIRL, YES. See, what you do is dump the harsh opinions others give to you in the garbage can and only hold on to what you need. So when categorizing or assigning value to opinions, first consider who is sharing the message. ‘Your highlight is making you look sweaty’ will probably get a “Thanks girllll’ if my girlfriends or my mom said it, but if a stranger said that on my latest IG post? Man listen, let's just say that for the sake of theGirlMob and what we represent - I am no longer willing to match the energy of those who wish to ridicule or harm me. The internet is a funny place when it comes to how we gauge the value of a stranger's opinion. But I am learning how to distinguish the difference between what's necessary and what isn't. These days, I choose to keep it pushing.
What February has taught me is how to love myself in ways that were previously unknown to me. Sometimes, self love can be measured by how much of ourselves we choose to keep safe. I have learned that not everything deserves a reaction from me and that not everyone is worth my energy. I have a tendency to be quite outspoken and when my words are met by the ears of another outspoken and opposing opinion - shade ensues. February taught me about the power that lies in my refusal to react. As someone who is very impulsive and passionate about my opinions and moreover, about my feelings - it is easy for me to get into heated debates with people. And sometimes, these debates turn into arguments and that's not a very loving feeling to me.
So I challenge you all to consider what is worth your fight and what isn't. I am also learning the art of bowing out gracefully and will keep tapping into my reserve of self- love as often as needed to help me curb my desire to clap back. Sometimes, silence provides the most dignified means of a clap back, sometimes that silence says ‘I’m better than this but I don't have to say it for you to know that.” I practiced this silence on Twitter recently, when a few people decided that my opinion offended them SO much that they needed to tell me about it. I looked at the screen, thought of the perfect ‘MYOB and LEAVE’ response but then I realized that nope, these people cannot and will not have a minor role in the story that is my life and that I am in full control of my narrative.
Another dimension of self love that became a theme in my February and is now spilling over into my March is good old unrequited feelings and yes, my fav, unrequited love. Most of you are probably familiar with me because of ‘Washington Heights’ and so you already know that I was an ambassador for unrequited love - but, not any more. I think a lot of us, women especially, have been taught that love is duty. In many ways, love is duty but I don't think love should ever make us abandon our own needs or sacrifice our own happiness for a lover. Maybe its because I am currently single or not a parent yet, but the idea of having to put my own happiness on the back burner for someone else is a really disturbing thought to me. A lot of what we consider normal or abnormal is a result of our upbringing and how we were raised. As someone who grew up with a Dominican mother, I’m well aware that our Dominican culture has a tendency to cater to men and commodify women.
In some aspects of my culture, it is completely normal for women to come second to men, it is normal for women to ‘belong in a kitchen’ and we are encouraged to ‘find a man to depend on’. I’m proud to be a Dominican woman, but this outdated social hierarchy shows little love to women, the backbone of all of humanity. My own parents are not a traditional Dominican couple and thankfully, the way they raised my brother and I has been a blend of two cultures, Dominican and Black American, I was spared of the experience of growing up with a father who thinks he is the king of the castle while his wife and children are loyal subjects: that shit would never fly with my mom. But anyways, I think a lot of Latinas have grown up with either a direct influence or in my case, society's influence on the role we play. The entire world is all “You’re not a good woman if you don't cook and clean for your man or my fav ‘Let men be men” or the classic “Men have needs” - *GAGS*. I can understand a man's desire to be treated in a way that sustains his masculinity but the idea of me having to shrink myself in order to show someone that I love them makes my brain fry.
So, I say that to say this - sometimes, loving yourself means putting a hold on the needs and wants of others in order to make sure that everything is good with you first. Love is a verb, not a noun - love has gradients of duty but should never infringe on our ability to honor the self-love that we have. Sometimes, self-love means saying no to someone we deeply care for or staying in to get that sleep we need instead of going out with our friends. But just like the many shades of Dominican culture, not all self-love is built the same. Just like some Dominicans celebrate and honor their matriarchs and the divine feminine, some self-love is expressed by all nighters and lots of dancing. That’s something my friends teach me everyday, that love is as unique as the people who experience it and this counts for self-love as well. I am a homebody, I am replenished and nourished by my quiet alone time and in the presence of intimate groups and small gatherings. My friends are a completely different story! Two of them in particular are avid party goers, they are fulfilled by large social gatherings, parties, dancing, drinking and the typical NYC Friday night shenanigans. It took me a while to realize that while this would deplete my energy and drain me, it pours life into them and is actually quite the cathartic experience.
That’s something that I am coming so close to mastering - letting people be free and allowing them to love and beam their light in whatever manner they see fit. It has taken me about 3 years to fully understand this concept and I am coming so close to this level of acceptance and it makes me feel so sparkly and shiny. I am learning that different things empower different people. The same way that some women are empowered by dressing in a modest way and others by nudity: self love is something that is unique to the individual.
So MOB, if loving yourself means having a kick ass night with your girls at your favorite bar? Do it. If loving yourself means spending time at home curled up with a book? Do it. If loving yourself means cutting off someone who is draining your energy? Do it. And if loving yourself means having to own up to things you may have done or failed to do? Do it.
And that brings me back to the beginning, how sometimes self love opens your eyes up to the feelings of others. I have been known to tell my friends and my followers that someone who does not love themselves is incapable of loving someone else. The same can be said about forgiveness - in order to forgive and more importantly, in order to get over the crap that people put us through we MUST learn to forgive ourselves. True forgiveness has no conditions, it expects nothing in return and is so much more important to the person who is doing the forgiving. In forgiving someone we take back the power that they have over our feelings. I can hold a grudge until the day I die, I can probably hold a grudge even longer than that and haunt people from the grave if I was feeling that salty. But that's the thing, we don't have time to feel salty when there are so many things to be happy about. This facet of self love has taught me that as much as I’d like to believe it, I am not the center of the world.
For a really long time I had been carrying around the guilt of something I had done and it was spilling out into every corner of my life. I found myself accepting less than I deserved and half of what I wanted. I had betrayed the trust of a friend and had never really forgiven myself for it. This was a symptom of me not knowing the full measure of self love. I was unable to forgive myself and this self view was manifesting in my life. I was holding onto grudges and bitter and unable to take my mind off of the things that angered me. I would get so caught up in my anger that I was spending far too much time fantasizing about my revenge. And then I started to move with that vengeful energy and found that I was lost. I was aimlessly moving about this world filled with anger and shame. It wasn't until I owned up to what I had done that I started to feel the weight of that guilt leave me. I forgave myself and started to understand that sometimes people do fucked up things and it's not their apology that will make us feel better - it's our willingness to forgive.
So I forgave myself. And then something crazy happened, I wasn't so angry all the time and could look upon the people who have caused me harm with compassion. I started to put myself in their shoes and thought about how they must be feeling. I realized that I alone had the power to make myself feel better about situations where I had been wronged. It took true love of self for me to learn how to properly love others and then all the relationships and friendships that manifested in my life were filled with that compassionate, loving energy. I had been carrying around all of that dark energy for so long and it kept creeping into my life and attracting like beings. I accepted that because I make mistakes and I deserve forgiveness instead of judgement, so does everyone else.
So my good people, if you ever feel like the people in your life aren't giving you the love you deserve - set the tone. Move inwards and do the things that you love and be with those who respect your methods of self-love or be alone if that's what you need. We are all moving about this earth in patterns and in cycles, I think it's time that we start moving to the tone of love in unison. I think it's time that we open ourselves up to one another and talk about what really matters - how we impact one another. We are so incredibly powerful, as I've said before - the most powerful conductor of energy. Let's share that feeling, that ideology, that lifestyle with anyone and everyone.. and most importantly, let's take the love we have and turn it on ourselves.
image credit: paradoxical.hopes