There are four aspects of loving ourselves, or showing self-compassion, that I've found to be the most beneficial. The first has to do with a "forgotten" commandment: Thou shalt not compare. Every time we compare we make a judgment: either we're better than others or they're better than us. Typically men compare in order to come out on top, thinking of how they're better off than others.
On the other hand, when women make comparisons, they usually end up feeling like others are better. "She's a better mom, cook, homemaker, scriptorian," and so on. In my twenty years of professional experience, I've found that every woman has the capacity to lament her abilities; even "Sister Smith," who arrives at church fifteen minutes early with her eight behaved children, can be found lamenting the fact that her mother did it better with fourteen children.
Only one comparison avoids this unpleasant and self-defeating predicament: comparing ourselves to ourselves. How does this work? Look at your life now, and compare it to last year, five years ago, or even twenty years ago, in some vital areas: spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, financial, etc. Then the question to ask yourself is, how am I doing? If the answer is that, overall, you're doing better in one of these areas now than in the past, is that a prideful statement? Actually no, it's a factual statement, so give yourself some credit and acknowledge that improvement! Saying something positive to yourself from time to time is like putting gas in the tank.
What if you were actually better at something twenty years ago than you are now? The first follow-up question should be, is this still a priority? For example, I weigh more in my forties than I did as a teen; is that a result of a change in priorities? No, it's just how life goes. Yet I still make those comparisons and beat myself up. Then, let's say I was more diligent in my prayers and scripture study ten years ago than I am now, four kids later. In this case however, spiritual nourishment is a priority in my life. So the question becomes, what will I do about it? Rather than beat myself up for not being good enough, I need to figure out what I am willing to do to get back on track.
Avoiding comparisons and then clarifying our priorities and creating a specific plan of action is one of the most loving things we can do for ourselves. As we do it consistently, others around us will notice and we can become an inspiration for them as well.
The second aspect of becoming more loving toward ourselves has to do with the "sin of perfectionism." Most of us have become confused about what it means to become perfected. Elder Russell M. Nelson gave a wonderful talk in 1995 called "Perfection Pending" in which he discussed this topic. He said that the word telios, from the original Greek Bible, was misinterpreted as "perfect" in the English Bible. In fact, it means to become completed, not perfected. Now I'm not an expert in the scriptures, but I do know my Greek. Elder Nelson was right.
After all we can do, we still need the Savior to complete us. Understanding this relieves the pressure for perfection. We know that God gives us weaknesses to humble us, and after we humble ourselves, weaknesses can become strengths. So you see, He will continue to give us weaknesses, but only so we can become stronger.
We're not meant to be perfect, but if we don't follow the program, our weaknesses will remain weaknesses. We'll simply be imperfect and weak. Additionally we usually tend to hide or avoid dealing with our weaknesses. I did it for twenty years!
I was painfully shy growing up, and it got worse after we moved from Greece to the United States. I hated that I sounded different, so speaking in front of people was extremely painful. It went far beyond the anxiety most people feel, and I managed to get to graduate school without doing any presentations.
It was in graduate school when I was introduced to the gospel. The only obstacle to my baptism was that I knew Church members were regularly asked to speak. Eventually the missionaries promised me that I would never have to speak. But the Sunday after my baptism, Fast Sunday, the stake president asked me to share my testimony in front of 250 people. After the bishop finished his testimony and opened the floor, I literally ran down the center of the aisle and got to the podium.
I was in my mid-twenties and had never spoken to a group larger than four people. Miraculously I received so much positive feedback that it changed my whole outlook on public speaking. My biggest weakness has become one of my biggest strengths.
Embracing rather than avoiding our weaknesses will not only make us better people but will also give us the confidence we need to achieve our eternal potential.
Perspective: Basement or Penthouse?
How we view circumstances and life's events encompasses the third aspect of learning to be more loving. So what is the "basement perspective"? That's when we feel trapped, meaning there are no doors, windows, or exit signs - just darkness. We often go to the basement when we feel like there's no way out of our problems.
On the other hand, the "penthouse perspective" finds us at the top. We have a great view, with lots of options and lots of light. There's hope for solutions, and we have the type of resolve that says, no matter how difficult the circumstances, an open mind and a willing heart make anything possible.
Now we all go to the basement from time to time. The main point, however, is how long we stay there and how we get out. So here's the goal: If you are a person who sets up a permanent camp in the basement, you can try to occasionally get out and see the light. If you go and stay for weeks, maybe you can reduce it to a few days, and so on.
As for getting out of the basement, imagine you're in an elevator and the button says B, for basement. Mentally push P (as in penthouse). The P button represents the quickest way up the elevator. In reality, P stands for prayer. There's no better way to escape from the hopelessness of the basement mentality. We may not necessarily find a solution to our pressing problems, but our perspective will certainly change. It gives us an eternal view of our temporary circumstances.
Optimist or Pessimist
The fourth aspect of becoming more loving has to do with becoming more optimistic. So what is the real difference between seeing the glass half empty and the glass half full in life? The optimist wakes up every morning, looks out the window, and expresses gratitude. The pessimist wakes up the same morning, looks out the same window, and dreads the day ahead. Clearly nothing bad has transpired just yet, but there's lament for the new day.
The day begins and both are wearing their expectations on their sleeves. Everything that will take place during the day will be viewed through their unique lenses. For instance, both people get a flat tire on the way to work as they're exiting the freeway. The optimist is grateful because the flat happened as the car was slowing down and not while it was traveling on the freeway at seventy miles per hour. The pessimist pulls over at the same freeway exit, and thinks, "Why do these things always happen to me . . . now I'll be late for work, and my boss will probably fire me."
The quickest way to turn pessimism on its head is to change the questions we ask ourselves. Begin by monitoring what questions you're already asking. If it falls in the category of, "What's wrong with my life, my kids, my bishop, my spouse?" you'll get very long responses. Negativity rules.
Instead ask, "What am I grateful for?" or "What do I admire about my spouse?" The brain can't help but answer questions. Eventually, your brain will be swimming in endorphins, and feelings of optimism will abound. The beginning of change really could be that simple.
So there you have it: a future where you follow the second commandment to a T. Embracing your weaknesses, a broader perspective, and an optimistic view, all in the absence of comparisons, will literally transform your life! You'll like the result. I promise.