I spent a large portion of my life in the company of people who gave me more criticism than encouragement.
The feedback I consistently received was about how I needed to improve, what I was doing wrong, or how I had failed expectations. Rarely, if ever, did someone encourage me, and if they did there was little to no substance to that encouragement. Often that ‘encouragement’ felt like a scolding. “I know you can do better. Do better! Just do better than this.” A high standard of expectations was set, by the people I was surrounded with and eventually also by me for myself.
A perfectionist was born.
Look, I’m not trying to blame anyone or my past for anything, but I want to illustrate how this type of thinking and feedback was the ‘norm’ for me. I came to expect criticism from others. I adopted this same attitude when speaking to myself. I was harsh, critical, and downright cruel to myself.
I repeated the voices I had heard for most of my life, to myself.
For years, decades even, when anyone did try to encourage me, or praise me, I reacted negatively. I was suspicious. Why on earth were these people encouraging me? Why were they praising me? What did they want from me? What were they gaining from this?
I could not take a compliment.
I could not accept encouragement. It went so far that I even felt embarrassed to receive gifts or give gifts to others. It was awkward and weird for me. I didn’t know how this was done, nor how to feel about it.
I did a lot of work throughout the years to improve myself. I will admit during a lot of that work I was extremely hard on myself. Why couldn’t I do it? Why was it not working? Why didn’t I understand? What was the problem? What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I smart enough to ‘get it’?
The questions and critique were endless.
I was often frustrated. I often drove myself to an emotional breaking point. Then, I would feel embarrassed and ashamed about being emotional and not being able to handle myself in the way I wanted to. Then, I would be angry at myself.
I could not figure out why everything I tried to do for myself seemed like such an enormous struggle.
One day, now some years back, I happened across a broadcast of Bryant and Jenni McGill. I don’t know exactly how I ended up there, but I stayed, watched, and paid attention. Curious, I started watching more broadcasts. Then, I joined their personal development group ‘The Royal Society’ in January of 2016.
At first, I didn’t know how to be.
I didn’t know how I would or could fit in with the group. I kept trying to define what the expectations might be. I drove myself crazy trying to figure it out. Eventually, it began to sink in, that there were no expectations of me. I could come as I am. I could come as me and be accepted.
I met people who were peaceful and accepting.
Who had no harsh words or critique for me. Who had only love and encouragement. They expected nothing of me. They accepted and celebrated me as I am.
It took some time before things started to sink in.
If other people, people I didn’t even know, could accept, love, and celebrate me as I am, then maybe I could do the same for myself.
Maybe I could accept, love, and celebrate me too without critique, without any judgment, without any expectation.
The adjustment to this new way of looking at things and myself, was not easy. I realized that I had ‘never truly loved myself before’. My love for myself was always hinged on some condition. Whenever I messed up or made a mistake I had revoked that love from myself and fell into critique and even self-loathing.
I had to work on truly accepting myself without any condition. I had to learn to love my whole self, and not just the parts I agreed with and liked.
So, I started investing time, energy, and effort into speaking to myself in kindness.
I started to not beat myself up for making mistakes. I started to take more time for myself. I started to take better care of my body. I ate better, exercised more, and I slept more. I started to go at my own pace instead of constantly rushing and pushing myself. I removed people and things from my life that brought negativity into my life. I started enacting stronger boundaries. I simplified my life. I managed my time better. I allowed myself to try new things.
What happened next was amazing.
The more I began to love myself, the more I was able to accept the love I received from others. I no longer struggle with receiving encouragement and praise. I feel empowered. I have more courage to venture into the unknown, to try things I was afraid to possibly fail at. It also became easier for me to love and accept others. As I began to look for the good in myself and encourage myself, it became easier for me to find the good in others and to encourage them.
I shifted my perspective of self-love and acceptance.
I put in the work. This in turn, changed the entire trajectory of my life. So much has changed in my life, and the life of my family. I am living a completely different life and lifestyle as a result of these changes.
My journey through self-development continues and will likely always continue. But, the journey is gentler. It is filled with hope, patience, self-love, self-encouragement, and self-acceptance. Out of all the work I have done on myself the most impacting investment I have made has been to unconditionally love and accept myself.
This is the most important work I can do for myself.
My hope is that by sharing a bit of my story and experience I might encourage you to also invest time and energy into learning to love and accept yourself. You really are your own best investment. Learning to love and accept yourself will enhance your experience of life and the quality of your life.