Redefining What It Means to be Lovable
Lately, I've been feeling quite unlovable as my struggles with personal growth and depression have worsened. I quite dramatically deemed myself unlovable and my therapist challenged me to redefine what it means to be lovable, directly confronting my subconscious beliefs about myself.
Like most people, I didn’t get what I needed emotionally as a child. I was left by both my parents, in the emotional and physical sense; and I tried to play the part of happy-go-lucky-kid in an attempt to get what I needed. Being left by the ones that I loved and so sorely needed, made me feel as if I was broken as if I didn’t deserve the love I craved, all because I couldn’t play an Oscar-worthy performance of the “unbroken girl”.
You see, that’s the key to this, the lies my trauma has told me. In order to be lovable, you have to be good, giving, positive, full of joy and not let your troubles burden other people. Basically, sunshine comes out of your ass. It’s only when you can achieve that status of perfection that they won’t leave you behind, because if you do all of those things, well then that means that you’re easy to love.
Intellectually, I know that’s a bunch of bull. The scars on my heart have been taking me along for a ride, taking my familial and relational experiences and throwing them in my face as “proof” that I am not worthy of love.
So, in my quest to create a new definition of lovability, and challenge these beliefs of old, I’ve pondered on things in myself and in others that are truly lovable. I hope that if you struggle in the same way I do, holding a warped misconception on what It means to be lovable, that you can resonate with some of the things I have to say and change your definition for the better.
To be lovable is to be vulnerable.
Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it's also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.
I would say, one of my superpowers lately, is the ability to be vulnerable. I mean, what choice do you have when you are working through some hard shit on the daily, living with a chronic illness and have to show up to your 9–5 with a backpack full emotional baggage due to trauma and depression?
The other day, my colleague/good friend shocked me by mentioning that she admired my ability to be vulnerable and transparent at the office, daring to speak up for myself and my needs on, especially challenging days.
I was surprised to hear this. I thought I was some sort of Debbie Downer because I’m not always able to put my mask on as I’m forced to tell the truth about how I really feel. Lord knows that my face is naturally expressive and that I wouldn’t make it far in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em because of it.
So, when people ask me how I’m doing, I have no choice but to answer honestly “Today is a struggle”. I don’t always share why let’s be honest, it’s usually a myriad of reasons, but I know I can’t hide behind the shame of being “broken”, thus enforcing my belief that I am broken and unlovable because of it.
You see, it’s through vulnerability that we make room for a deeper connection as we share our struggles. We all struggle with our own shit, why not be transparent about it and meet each other as the imperfect humans that we are? It’s so easy to want to present an Instagram worthy life but who in reality can keep up with that kind of standard?
Vulnerability allows us to show up for one another in a way that operating from a place of superficiality doesn't permit. It allows people to see the true us; battle wounds, bruises, and scars. It lets us stand witness to each other’s authentic selves while offering love and acceptance.
It humanizes and normalizes adverse experiences. What's more lovable than a person who has been to hell and back, and keeps showing up to fight on despite it? We are forged in the fires of our hardships, and if dealt with properly, we come out of it with more compassion towards our fellow man, ready to share experiences and support one another.
It's why I choose to be vulnerable on Medium, even though writing on the internet about my innermost shame is challenging as fuck. By sharing my experiences with others though, I am daring to stand in my truth and make sure no one feels alone in their own experiences and truths.
Being vulnerable is being lovable. Because you’re giving others the grace to show up as their authentic selves and honor their stories, all because you dare to show up as your authentic self honoring your own story, hardship and all.
To be lovable is to be kind.
Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.
I used to think that being kind meant to give all of yourself to others in grand gestures by lifting them up on your weary shoulders, inspiring them to be their best selves by taking on their burdens and sacrificing yourself in the process. I gave and I gave and I gave, all in the vain hope of getting back what I handed out so freely.
I once spent hours neglecting my schoolwork that had a pressing deadline by helping my former partner lookup therapists and sorting them into a list categorized by location, cost and the type of therapy they offered. Even though I was 7,000 miles plus away. When I could’ve just instead of taken a step back and let himself handle it while I worked on my assignment.
I thought that this is what it meant to be lovable and kind, being a martyr that put everyone else above herself, in spite of herself.
But, it turns out, that's just not sustainable in the long run. Nor should it be.
I know now that I cannot give from an empty cup, I cannot perform grand gestures of kindness with the expectation of receiving the same.
Instead, I offer up a smile and good morning to a stranger on the tram, just for the sake of it.
While ordering a latte for myself, I pick up a surprise latte for my colleague that could use a little pick-me-up on a gray Wednesday morning.
I send a friend a funny meme that made me think of them when I know they need a smile.
There's something about spreading kindness in simple gestures that just seems all that more genuine.
We all have the ability to be kind, it’s our choice to make. You never know when one seemingly small act of kindness could change someone’s life and have a ripple effect on everyone they meet. It’s the pay it forward type of mindset, you can’t always know what someone is going through and by showing others compassion, you have the power to change the world.
I’ve learned through therapy that kindness isn’t just a courtesy that should be extended to others, but also to ourselves. Something my therapist asks me often when I’m not being too nice towards myself is, “Would you talk to your 10-year-old niece that way?
Then why not treat yourself like you would your niece?”.
Why is it that I have to picture my niece telling herself all the same things I tell myself on a daily basis in order to stop the inward-turned aggressiveness? It’s so easy to be kind and forgiving towards others and forgetting ourselves in the process. Especially when we believe we don’t deserve that of ourselves.
I try to work daily on filling up myself with inner kindness and by practicing forgiveness for myself for things like grabbing an extra cookie and not making it to the gym as I planned. Or by doing things that bring me great personal joy, for example taking the time to read a good book by the fireplace, journaling through my feelings instead of chastising myself for having them in the first place, or going to bed early in order to get some extra zzz's.
Kindness is love in its simplest form. And it certainly doesn’t hurt your case when it comes to being lovable, just don’t do it in spite of yourself.
To be lovable is to be yourself.
If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.
– Fred Rogers
We can't really be anyone other than ourselves. If we try to copy-paste our personalities, values, aspirations, virtues, and interests; then we miss out on bringing our unique individuality to the table, we miss out on contributing our unique brand of love and sparkle to the world, we miss out on deeper connections.
Sometimes, it's easy to feel like a fish out of water when you live in a country that you aren't a native of. Throughout the years, I've heard that I'm too American in the way of how open and friendly I could be, by people that I realize in hindsight were afraid to be themselves in a culture that encourages Jante's law as a way of sociological expression.
I had an ex who would actually get embarrassed if I struck up a conversation with a stranger while we were out and about, or straight-up walked away from me with shame whenever I sang along to a song playing overhead in a store while out shopping. So, naturally, I thought I had to assimilate and abandon those sides of myself in order to be loved by him. If my own partner couldn't accept who I was then why should others?
It wasn't until I met the right people, my friends, and my most recent ex, that I learned that others actually appreciate my uniqueness, they see my individuality and actually love me for it.
I had dinner with my best friend once where we bopped along with our burritos in hand to the 90’s hits being played on the speakers. It's one of my favorite memories of us, just being free to be ourselves all while munching on yummy burritos with extra guac.
If I had stayed that watered-down-version of myself, who knows if I would have had the people in my life that I'm now surrounded by. They wouldn't have had any real personality to grasp onto, let alone laugh along with while we crack corny jokes.
I wouldn't have been able to show up for them in the more challenging moments in their lives, and vice versa. I wouldn't have been able to forge deep connections with the people that love me unconditionally, I wouldn't have been able to experience what authentic connection feels like.
These are people who know I'm a cry baby and still love me. They know I sometimes say words wrong because I've only ever read them in my head before, and they still love me. They know I'll fall asleep on their couch by 9 pm on Friday-night-movie-nights, and still love me. They see my forever devotion to the Harry Potter series and love me when I let my nerd flag fly.
What I've learned.
I don’t have to hide my scars in an attempt to avoid being left, I don’t have to perform grand gestures of kindness to be worthy, and I don’t have to be anyone else but me in order to be lovable.
Being lovable isn’t something you “earn” by being perfect, it isn’t something you get by hiding your struggles and masking your “brokenness”.
It’s by showing up as your authentic self and making room for others to do the same. It’s through this authenticity, whether that’s by way of vulnerability, kindness or being ourselves, that we can truly connect with the people and world around us. It’s what makes us truly lovable.