Dedication: Catherine Lafferty D'Agostino, my beloved Mom, crossed over from this life to the afterlife on January 17, 2019. With deepest gratitude I dedicate this post to her and thank her for her many, many lessons about love and about empowerment.
I once thought that it was major life decisions that determined whether we are empowered or not – deciding to stand up for ourselves when our voice is not being heard, or to leave an abusive or otherwise unhealthy relationship, or to pursue our dreams despite the objections of others who believe they know what is best for us.
I realize now that my personal journey to empowerment has been an ongoing series of opportunities and decisions made over the course of my life – some big decisions, but also many choices that seemed minor and insignificant at the time I made them. Recent life events have caused me to reflect again on empowerment and on the role that love has played (and continues to play) in the decisions that shape my life. Love for others, and a willingness to please them, sometimes led me to make disempowering choices. It pains me to admit this, but it is true. For me, the road to empowerment has been a series of steps and missteps that have either advanced my sense of empowerment or temporarily stalled it. The most frequent missteps were decisions I made to make others happy instead of making the decision that I actually thought was best. I learned some difficult lessons from those decisions, and still do.
I have often heard that we cannot love and care for others if we do not love and care for ourselves first, and I dismissed this advice because it seemed directed to those who did not love or care for themselves at all. That did not describe me. I do love myself. I do care for myself. But the finer point of this advice is to explore the decisions I make when I am loving and caring for others much, much more than I am loving and caring for myself.
Self-love, self-care, self-compassion, and self-forgiveness have emerged as important themes in my recent thinking about empowerment. And as a true believer in the power of our stories in shaping our lives, I am now committed to re-examining the stories that I tell myself when I am not treating self-care as a priority.
This week, many of us will celebrate Valentine’s Day in some way. I suggest that as we pour out our love, affection, compassion, and kindness to others on Valentine’s Day, or any day, we remember to give these gifts to ourselves, too.
Illustration credit: Inga Nielsen