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My hobby I get most excited about is reading self-help books. The first book in this genre I ever picked up was The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. After that I was hooked. I find these types of books inspiring, they engage and challenge my thinking, and it’s a free time activity that feels useful. Writing these blogs actually started out as a way of engaging with the ideas I find in books.
One main theme in self-help books is self-love. It is also one of the themes that never really clicked for me. “Yeah, whatever. Love yourself. Don’t talk yourself down. I get it.” For a long time, I interpreted self-love as the absence of self-hate. It did not seem overly important to me. It always sounded kind of soft to me. Sure, I like myself. I’m a nice guy. Nothing to see here, please carry on to the next chapter.
However, in the last month this belief changed for me. I got a major ‘Aha’-moment while reading the book No More Mr. Nice Guy. (I highly recommend this book to any guys out there that even remotely identify with the term Nice Guy, like I did!) The book describes how being nice to people all the time can come from a very wrong place. Sure, there is nothing wrong with being nice. Your friends and family will appreciate you for it. But beware of the guy who is being nice because he craves the confirmation that he is good enough. The guy who is eager to please those around him. Not because he wants to give you something, but because he wants to receive something in return. He wants approval.
So what’s wrong with this exactly? When a guy acts nice in order to receive approval, this means that he believes that he won’t receive approval when he is not acting. This means that he, deep down, believes that he is not worthy of approval just the way he is. He needs to behave in a certain way in order to be accepted. Accepted by those around him. And he craves this acceptance from those around him, precisely because he never took the step of accepting himself. He believes that he is not ok the way he is. He does not love himself.
We are not just talking about the pain he carries in his heart, invisible to the outside world. In fact, the people around him will (unconsciously) sense that there is an act going on. The guy is not being himself, but instead portraying himself as somebody else. He is being dishonest and inauthentic to those around him and himself. His pain is spilling over. The people around him will feel hurt or betrayed by his dishonesty, or simply feel that something’s off. And thus they will be unable to give him the appreciation and approval he craves so much. And so, his strategy for approval will have the reverse effect. The nice guy will lend you money, help you move your furniture, cook for you and give you a back massage. But his self-perceived generocity will remain unanswered with the desired approval. He will stay behind, frustrated, with an even stronger craving for someone to tell him that he is ok the way he is. Remember: nice guys finish last!
Luckily, the way out of this downward spiral is straight forward. Self-love. The people at the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation define self-love as follows:
Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth. Self-love means having a high regard for your own well-being and happiness. Self-love means taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your well-being to please others. Self-love means not settling for less than you deserve.
From this definition we see that self-love is more than just a feeling. It’s a call to action! The Nice Guy has to learn that his own needs and desires are just as important as those of others. He has to learn that no-one is going to fulfill his needs for him, if he is unable to ask people for them. Are you in need of a hug, someone to run with you around the block, or would you really like your close friend to take care of you and cook a meal for you? They cannot smell this on you, dumbass. You need to ask them.
It’s really that simple. But don’t get me wrong, it can be pretty fucking scarry at first. Asking for what you want is an expression of self-love. When you ask for what you want, you are saying to yourself: “I am worthy of having my needs taken care of”. You are saying that you respect yourself enough that you deserve the care from those around you. And when you’re used to always putting yourself last, this is a damn big step.
Note that the reverse is also true. Any time you don’t recognise your own needs, you are saying to yourself: “I am not important. The people around me are more important. I am not worthy of their love and appreciation. Maybe if I shower them with the gift of my care, I will be worthy of receiving some care in return.” You are signalling to those around you that you don’t even love and respect yourself. And if you don’t even love yourself, why would they?…
When I look at my own life, I realise I was not recognising my own needs in many past situations by thinking that they “did not matter”. Some of the following are missed opportunities of self-love in my own life:
- Working 5 days a week, whilst I wanted to work 4 days and have more time to work on this blog
- Not making a regular appointment for dentist check ups
- Accepting when people cross my boundaries, because “I understand where they are coming from”
- Allowing myself to gain weight past what I am comfortable with
- Not going to the events I want to go to, because they are scary
- Valuing other people’s advice higher than my own feeling of what’s right
- Not going to therapy because it costs a lot of money
You will notice that some of these seem very small. But they build up. Skipping on therapy because of the price translates into “my mental health is not important enough to spend my money on”. Allowing myself to gain weight translates into “I am not worthy of having a fit and healthy body”. After realising that these are the messages I was implying to myself, I have started making some real changes in my life. I started giving myself this over-due care, one bullet point at a time.
And it’s great fun! Don’t trick yourself into thinking “this sounds like too much work”, or “I’m too lazy to go to the dentist”. You see, it’s not a list of chores. It’s a list of presents you can give yourself. All of these points are opportunities to give yourself the love and appreciation you have been craving from those around you. (Yes I am talking to you, Mr Nice Guy). Suddenly there is no need to engage in unspoken contracts, hoping you will receive some approval after dragging your friend’s 5 person couch upstairs in their new house. It’s much easier to do things for yourself and receive the love and appreciation you deserve with certainty.
And who knows. Maybe you suddenly realise that helping your friend move furniture is a great way to give yourself some much-needed physical exercise. With a mindset of self-love, your support of those dear to you will become a present to yourself.