As a devout Christian girl who was also the firstborn daughter in an African household, “doing what was right” was of paramount importance to me:
Speaking politely. Getting good grades. Dressing a certain way. Not being found in certain spots/hangouts. Not dating “too many” guys, let alone sleeping with them. Not swearing or getting upset with people even if they did or said something hurtful – ie “turning the other cheek”. Always sharing the “good parts” of my life or myself when speaking to people in public. Not being disagreeable with people in authority or elders, or even my peers.
The list is endless, but I think you get the point I’m trying to put across.
I was so good at being the “good girl”. It was in my blood and my environment. Please hear me: I am grateful for some of the things Christianity gave me and for some of our traditions and cultures as Africans. The values taught by them have encouraged me to become a better person and a better citizen of this world.
I have just found that when I took them in isolation, I limited the fullness of life that I was made to live. It was always black or white with me. Either I had been a good Christian, or I had failed miserably. There was no in-between. And in my mind, God only loved me if I managed to fulfill the “rules and regulations” of the religion or culture I belonged to.
This meant that I spent half my life being proud of my achievements in being a good girl and the other half totally ashamed and hating myself for falling short. And I came to believe that this was how God/The Higher Power treated me too. It also meant hiding parts of myself from people based on who I was engaging when. I only wanted the good sides of me to be seen and experienced.
What this translated into, was the reinforcement of the idea that I was not worth loving and accepting – even to an all-powerful being like God/The Universe. What more to myself or others around me? It also meant that I carried the belief that there was something inherently wrong with me because I couldn’t seem to just stick to being “good” all the time. What a prison!
The shift began to take place when I could no longer hide from my darkness – my weaknesses, shortcomings, faults. I was tired of performing and working so hard to be liked. It’s as though I began to leak – you know like when you have a bottle you love that has holes but you’ve patched it up and wrapped it so you can keep using it but the patchwork starts failing? It felt like that. I couldn’t help but start “being” who I was – good, bad, and ugly.
As this began to happen, I went through experiences where the usual Bible verses, rituals (like prayer and fasting), or words of others could no longer “fix” my moments of falling apart. I was broken wide open and I had nowhere else to hide or run. There was a huge mirror in front of me regardless of what direction I faced, and what it was reflecting was not pretty.
I saw pride. Codependency. Fear. Anxiety. Self-doubt. And and and. The patchwork in my bottle could no longer be covered up by my beautiful wrapping – there were watermarks all over that wrapping and it needed to be completely removed. Don’t get me wrong – I also saw the beauty of who God made me: my kindness, courage, empathy, creativity, smartness, and so on. But the ugly monsters could no longer be ignored either.
I had a choice in this moment: I could either continue living like I was still Ms. Perfect while dying a very painful but slow death on the inside, or I could finally face myself with the hope of a renewed bottle being the end product. I chose the latter.
I began to do the difficult work of acknowledging and embracing the dark side of myself. After all, God said He loves me as I am. Surely that means inclusive of my weaknesses and vices. In fact, it is because of these dark parts of myself that He is so in love with me.
There is a saying by Teresa of Avila: “The sinner is actually one who does not love himself or herself enough. We do not see or admire the whole self; so we split and try to love the good self and reject the bad self. But Jesus told us to let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest, lest we destroy the wheat by trying to pull up the weeds (see Matthew 13:24-30).” – Richard Rohr (Center for Action and Contemplation).
Further to this, Julian of Norwich states, “First the fall, and then the recovery from the fall. And both are the mercy of God.” Sin and salvation correlate – something we do not want to even begin considering!
Christianity, and our society at large, has been constructed for safety and comfort and part of that includes the message that loving yourself is choosing only the good parts of yourself. That it means working hard to disprove and reject the dark parts so that only the “good” wins. What a disservice to ourselves and the life we were created to live! What a disservice to others and our world at large.
Loving yourself means embracing all of you. It means standing back and observing, without judgement, your temper, your addictive behaviour, your propensity to fib, your envy, your sexual desires and urges, your need to be needed or to be important, your craving for validation, etc, and accepting it for what it is, and accepting you for who you are.
The reality is that “our faults are the crack that lets grace in, exactly as the Gospel teaches. We must bring our root sin to consciousness rather than deny or repress it. We can only heal our wound with kindness and compassion, not judgment and condemnation. This is how Jesus treated sinners, such as the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:1-11).” – Richard Rohr (Center for Action and Contemplation).
This is difficult for us to accept especially when we’ve been raised with a consistent but dangerously subtle message of perfection. We will reject this truth initially and see it as a trick of some enemy – I know I did. But, it is actually the freedom we dream about.
I am a huge advocate of vulnerability and authenticity. I now understand that these are the essence of who God/The Divine is and wants us to be.
I hope this truth frees just one person today. I hope it helps you realise that you are worth loving as you are – with the good and not-so-good parts of yourself. Chasing authentic is about owning your ugly too. Darkness and light co-exist, and it’s time you started allowing that to happen within yourself.
I hope you choose to begin exploring all of you with the grace and mercy you deserve, and in so doing that you begin to truly love yourself. Because when you do that, you’re better able to love those around you and spread true love which is what we’re here for.
If you’re on your journey to self-love, drop me a line and tell me how it’s going. Nothing brings me more joy than knowing there are others working towards a healthier relationship with self.
If you’re ready to get started on an intentional journey of embracing your whole self, book a free initial session with me and let’s get you going. I understand the freedom you’re after, and I’d like to help you get there.
Until next time, remember to stay true to yourself and chase authentic always.
Sonia Dee (The Authenticity Chaser)
P.S. This blog post was originally featured on The black African woman (bAw) site.