When I was young, New Year’s Eve was spent listening to the Top 40 music countdown with Casey Kasem and playing monopoly with my parents and siblings. I also wrote down my New Year’s resolutions and took them very seriously. Sadly, most of my self-improvement ideas revolved around body image and social popularity. Starting even when I was still too young to wear a bra, I was resolving to lose weight every new year. I resolved to dress more fashionably. I resolved to stop being so shy around boys. In short, my New Year’s Resolutions displayed a sad lack of self esteem, and my bitter attempt to gain a sense of self-worth through social acceptance. My New Year’s Resolutions were just one more way to beat myself up over not being pretty enough.
When I grew up, I realized that my flaws were really virtues. My wide hips, I learned, could easily birth a ten pound baby despite my small frame. My shyness, I learned, is a virtue considered attractive to the kind of man whom I would want to be with. I also learned that I perhaps too often put myself aside in order to accommodate others. I started looking at myself more clearly to try and pinpoint why I don’t have what I want in life.
One weird thing I noticed was that I habitually ate the broken cookies, leaving the good cookies for the others, while other people generally go straight for the biggest, best cookies. I wondered why I did that. Years later, I noticed that even though I was going to bed hungry in order to preserve food for my children to eat tomorrow, someone else was waiting until we went to sleep and eating all the food! At a certain point I realized that some people habitually make use of other people’s selfless sacrifices without giving it a thought. While I was reducing my ego to the size of a mustard seed, working hard to change myself in order to be what other people needed me to be, I was inviting others to take advantage of my generosity. My strong love for my children eventually forced me to note that Mommy needs to be centered in her own self in order to adequately protect them.
There are two personality extremes: the Narcissist and the Neurotic. The Narcissist believes that others exist to serve him, while the Neurotic exists to serve others. The Narcissist blames others for everything, while the Neurotic takes personal responsibility for all the problems in the world. Both types operate from a self-esteem deficit.
The results of excessive Narcissism are obviously dangerous, but an out of control Neurotic will also reach a point of destructive anger – because everything the Neurotic does for others – all that eagerness to please – is motivated at heart by a deep need for others to return the same level of concern. The Neurotic person is not actually engaging in selfless acts out of selflessness. He is trying to earn love.
The Narcissist covers up his lack of self-worth by imposing himself upon others. He takes whatever he can get away with, and he when he gives, he gives in order to make a public display of himself, to gain public recognition, so that other people will then feel obligated towards him. In the mind of the Narcissist everyone “owes” him.
Well, guess what I figured out. Actions cannot earn anyone’s love, not even righteous actions. If someone took a bullet for someone else, he might be owed some appreciation. But love is something more like God’s grace, it happens only when the heart opens without any obstruction. No one – not even God – can truly love you or work miracles through you, if you are not being yourself. If you are bending over backwards trying to please people or accommodate people, they might be thankful. But love can neither be earned nor owed.
True Love is something like oxygen that swooshes in to fill a vacuum, which is created when a person gives up worship of everything that is not God, and submits to Reality. Our lives are all sparks of light emitted from the Everliving. When we connect with other people in God’s love, we are creating something like an electrical circuit of energy flow. The light does not belong to you or me, but it becomes brightest when the energy is flowing freely without ego obstructions. The path of Love is the Middle Way between Narcissism and Neurosis. It requires developing a Conscience about how we treat ourselves. It’s meaningless to love your neighbor as yourself, if you don’t love yourself.
The New Year’s resolutions I will make this year will not be about how I can be less of a person to take up less space in the world. They will be more closely aligned with how I can stoke the fire of life energy at the core of my being. I believe that in so doing, all the other parts of my being will become better aligned with my true purpose.
I will spend more time identifying and working to fulfill my desires. I will not postpone my life too long for others. I will shop, cook, and eat as much as I want, to the extent of my ability. I will make time for play. I will make time to sleep. I will buy myself the winter coat and the summer sandals I’ve been doing without all these years. I will spend more time alone. I will spend more time socializing. When I get cranky, I will figure out what I need, just like I did with my babies. I will stop trying to cope with my situation by expecting less. Instead, I will visualize what I want and then take the steps to reach my goals. I will set fire to my anger instead of wallowing in it. When the devil is trying to destroy you, the best thing you can do is keep trusting that God created us all to fulfill our true potential in life, like a plant reaching for the sun. Living well is the best revenge.
The most radical thing we can do for change, to create a world of healthy, happy, peaceful people, is to start taking care of ourselves and stop giving away our personal power. Only when our light is shining brightly and steadily can we light the path for others.