Wednesday, October 21, 2015


In June, I wrote this post about how loving yourself can lead to better loving others. Soon after that, I read ScreamFree Parenting by Hal Runkel. Late in the book, I was surprised to discover some very applicable thoughts from him. This month's post will be made up mostly by quotes from his book.

Over the course of the year, I think I've been pretty clear on my feelings of inadequacy about my body - or my inability to accept that my body is changing for the better. I know that this is a common feeling among many of us. What I did not know is the following:

"Other cultures do not seem to share our false dichotomy. The way the Hebrews and Jesus spoke, they already assumed a strong self-love. The Christian apostle Paul made the same assumption, at one point saying, 'After all, no one ever hated his own body.' This conclusion was logical at that time and in that culture."

Runkel continues:

"But who do you know who doesn’t hate his or her own body these days? Very few, I’m sure. Body image issues surround us so much that we cannot escape breathing in a culture of endless comparison and resulting self-hatred. Recently the Dalai Lama spoke about a conference he attended in the early 1990s of Western psychiatrists and psychologists discussing self-hatred. The Dalai Lama said that for the first hours of listening to these doctors, he thought his English was failing him. He asked himself and others, 'Are they really saying "self-hatred"?' He says he had never, in his vast experience of Eastern philosophy and politics, even considered the notion of self-hatred. But these doctors were speaking as if it were a very common, even epidemic, condition in the West. The Dalai Lama had no folder in his mind to categorize this human experience.

"But we do. We know it all too well. And in one of the most futile moves possible, we hate how we feel about ourselves, and yet we try to use that hatred to motivate ourselves to change. Let’s return to the weight issue. Fat Bastard, the obese Scotsman in the Austin Powers movies, summed it up this way: 'I eat because I’m unhappy, and I’m unhappy because I eat. It’s a vicious cycle.'"

Runkel had a very important point in bringing this self-hatred, this cycle, to light:

"As long as your motivation is your own self-loathing, there is no possible way to make a lasting positive change in your life. And the reason is simple. It’s because the bad pattern you’re trying to change, like overeating, is itself an attempt to make yourself feel better. So by trying to cut it out you are trying to cut out the only thing that makes you feel good. No wonder we sabotage our diets and exercise plans! As long as we’re motivated by our self-hatred, then we’ll never sustain any effort that feels like deprivation, hating ourselves more. Even if it’s ultimately good for us.

"This is because we don’t feel or believe we have a legitimate right to treat ourselves well in the first place. Loving ourselves, and all the effort that takes, feels far too selfish or narcissistic."

There! That was the point from my other post! Why does it have to feel selfish to take the time to love ourselves? I have managed to do it, but just barely. Over the course of several months, I slowly took more time for myself in the morning, even while feeling guilty for asking my husband to watch the children before work. First, it was just fifteen minutes every other day. Then, it was thirty. Soon, I had a solid hour booked for myself EVERY SINGLE MORNING.

Sometimes, I feel ridiculous. Seriously, my husband arrives at work anywhere from 10 A.M. to 11 A.M. just so I can have free time to run, do yoga, shower, and get dressed for the day. I feel absolutely ludicrous most of the time, especially as I'm centering myself with slow yoga breaths, grasping my "intention" (okay, so there are a lot of things that feel silly about yoga, but I still deeply enjoy it).

Am I just trying to escape my family? Hiding myself away with the iPad, and maybe sneaking a few extra moments to hang some clean laundry while I'm alone in the closet anyway?

No. I am taking my requisite time to myself before I start the day. I am having a retreat.


"Let’s look at the difference between an escape and a retreat. In the context of relationships, an escape is a purely selfish act. An escape is an unplanned action. It is often unintentional, and it is always done in haste. When you are attempting to escape from a situation, all you know is what you are running from—you honestly don’t care to know what you’re running to or why you’re doing so. An escape is based on the need for self-preservation, and it hardly ever involves a plan of return. At its heart, an escape is simply another form of screaming. It is an anxiety-driven reaction, and it carries all the seeds for creating the very types of relationships we’re hoping to avoid.

"A retreat, however, is quite a different animal altogether. Retreats are intentional breaks from the action with the specific intent of regrouping and returning. In taking a retreat, you know where you are going and you know why you are going. You are retreating in order to benefit others as well as yourself. Retreats are a way to focus on yourself in order to become the best you imaginable. If you think this sounds selfish, consider this: Every great religious leader in history spent a significant amount of time in retreat before and/or during his or her service to the world. Consider Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Paul, Muhammad, Gandhi, Mother Teresa. I’d venture a guess that not one of these figures was ever called selfish. Heretical, yes. But never selfish.

He continues:

"Here’s how escape and retreat are related: The fewer intentional retreats we take for ourselves, the more we will find ourselves unintentionally finding ways to escape. If we’re not diligent in carving out retreats for ourselves in the form of healthy activities, we are sure to find an escape somewhere. Escapes for you may include obvious bad habits, such as smoking, overeating, or drinking to excess. You may find yourself getting completely lost in pornography, or romance novels, or fantasy lit. Or you may mentally or even physically 'check out' of your family’s life, pursuing an affair or just running away.

"One way to lessen the likelihood of this desire to escape is to plan intentional retreats for yourself. Exercise, pamper yourself with a manicure, learn to play a musical instrument, meditate, seek personal growth. Pursue profoundly deep relationships with friends outside of your family. Take your spirituality to new heights, leaning on a higher power to provide you all the validation you need as a human being."

I felt so validated reading that! THAT was what I was doing! I finally had permission - and from a parenting book no less. My morning routine is my retreat (though I do love my young adult romance novels). That is my chance to love myself, so that I am more prepared to go out and love my family.

More Runkel:

"You may be asking yourself 'Who has the time?' You don’t. That’s just more evidence of the problem. You must create the time by choosing to put on your own oxygen mask first.

"It is in the fabric of our culture, and it has been handed down to us generation after generation, that it is far better to deny ourselves, even hate ourselves, than it is to openly love ourselves first. ... In an amazingly confessional interview near the end of his life, baseball great Mickey Mantle made a touching realization. In reflecting on his broken body and disintegrated relationships (especially as a father), the mighty Mick sighed, 'If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.'

"How we live today determines so much of how we will live tomorrow. And how we live today and tomorrow determines so much about our relationships with our children.

"I want you to think of it this way: What has to last is what has to come first. YOUR HEALTH. A broken body makes it extremely difficult to provide for and protect your children. Your health is not an 'extra” in your life, it is your first responsibility.'"
[All quotes from ScreamFree Parenting, Hal Runkel, 131-134]

There you have it. Love yourself so that you can truly be there for everyone else. In the last ten months (only two more to go!), I have carved out that time for myself that now feels hallowed. That time (and the use of endorphins) has allowed my to feel a deep sense of contentedness, well-being, and control. It gives me the ability to smile at my children like I mean it, to kiss and cuddle them, and to say yes to requests that are going to take more energy than I really want to spare. By putting myself first for that one hour, I gain the emotional strength to tackle the rest of the day.

Please learn how to love yourself. That love will pour out and uplift others around you.