How others treat us is often related to how we treat ourselves. I had heard this, and versions of it, all my life. But I never really got it. I think I do now.
A sad approach.
For years, I treated myself with subtle disrespect. In many more ways than I imagined. And oblivious that I was doing it.
I apologized unnecessarily. For instance, I started phone calls with, “I’m sorry to bother you, but . . . .” When a stranger ran their shopping cart into my foot, I said, “oh, I’m sorry!” When a person trying to get by me on the sidewalk said “excuse me,” I apologized. When ex. told me, “stop saying sorry. You haven’t done anything;” I responded with yet another “sorry.” And then, at least one more wide-eyed “SORRY!” For saying sorry again.
I discounted myself. I prefaced my ideas with, “this may not work, but . . .,” or “this may sound stupid, but . . . .” And put myself down. If I was given a compliment after I had made an effort to look nice, I made a face. Or said, “eh, I look fat,” or “my hair is a mess.” When things didn’t turn out perfectly after I had worked hard – at my job, or even after I had slaved over a meal – I beat myself up inside, and in front of others.
It was a sad way to approach a wonderful life.
Apologizing for my existence.
There is nothing wrong with saying sorry. A heartfelt apology, when our actions negatively impact others, is appropriate and necessary. Using “sorry” to show empathy is also appropriate. “Sorry you’re feeling sick today,” is a loving and kind thing to say. I knew that. And I used the word appropriately. But I also used it inappropriately.
I used it to apologize for my existence. When I apologized for calling someone, I was saying: this phone call must be a bother to you because your time and existence is more valuable than mine. By apologizing to the person running their shopping cart into my foot, I was saying: I’m sorry that my existence here got in the way of your cart. Same with the person trying to get by me on the street.
I also apologized for myself when I discounted my ideas, or put myself down. I was apologizing that my best ideas may “not work” or might be “stupid.” That my best efforts weren’t good enough. That the best of my existence wasn’t good enough.
Self-love and respect.
Eventually, a different approach made its way to me. And self-love and respect lay at its core. For the first time in my life, I found myself thinking about what it really meant to love myself (see, “How I Stopped Worrying About What Other People Thought of Me”). And I discovered that for me, it meant honoring who I was. No matter what that entailed. I also found myself thinking about what “respect” meant (see, “A Meaning of Respect”). And once again found that to me, it meant honoring my right to be exactly who I was. And doing the same for others.
I wanted to love and respect myself. So I practiced living in a way that honored me. And I found that I apologized for myself less. When I made a phone call, I asked, “is this a good time to talk?” Thereby honoring my existence and others’. If someone hit me with their shopping cart, I stepped away. And accepted any apology with a smile, because accidents happen. I silently let people on the street pass, acknowledging that we’re all in a hurry at times.
I tried not to discount myself, or put myself down. When I wanted to share an idea, I tried to just share it. Others could think what they wanted. And I honored their right to do so. When I put effort into something, I acknowledged that effort. Because I had done all could. No matter the outcome. And I honored that effort in my heart.
Self-love and respect seemed to be the antithesis of apologizing for my existence. They could not co-exist.
Setting the bar.
When I began treating myself with love and respect, I felt more loved and respected by others. And for that, I felt deeply grateful. It was almost as if I had set an example for how I wanted to be treated. And others followed.
Perhaps in the past, I hadn’t set a good example. By apologizing for my existence, perhaps I had given others reason to think there was something to apologize for. Perhaps I had given them reason to think my idea wouldn’t work, or was stupid. Or that I didn’t look right. Or my hard work wasn’t worth much. Perhaps it had been my fault when I was treated with anything other than love and respect.
When I changed the example I set, others seemed to change how they treated me. For the most part. If I was confronted with circumstances that didn’t support me, or asked me to be something I wasn’t, I removed myself from them. When someone didn’t accept who I was, I chose not to see them. And when someone overtly disrespected me, I responded from a place of love and respect for myself. In that way, I set the bar for how I wanted to be treated.
All I could ever be.
My choices weren’t defensive. Or based on a fear that I would be treated badly. They came from a feeling of quiet acceptance of who I was. And a need to honor my right to be that person. Because that was all I could ever be.