I have discovered a very interesting author, speaker, researcher. Her name is Brene Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. I’m reading one of her books, “The Gifts of Imperfection.” And I am greatly perplexed. One of the things that Brene has learned and teaches, a lesson she has learned after doing years of research on shame, wholeheartedness, vulnerability, connections and other deep and touchy topics, is that the one thing that sets those who are loved and valued apart from those who are not is this: those who are loved believe they are worth being loved and valued. They love and value themselves and believe others will do the same. In spite of their imperfections. Their deficiencies. Their brokenness. They think they deserve love. I am…reeling. Because, as you probably have gathered by now, I don’t believe I am loveable or worth anything. The one very deepest cry of my heart, the thing that hurts the most and breaks me into a million pieces, is that I have so long desired to be loved, but never have been. It wakes me up when the dark shadows of the night have come out of the corners to embrace reality, when the world is silent and even distractions are sleeping. This desperate heart cry claws at the inside of me with talons that are sharp and that pierce me deeply. It follows me everywhere I go, crippling me, though I try to move through the day as if I am not limping. The pain is echoed in my eyes, even though I try to laugh and brush it away. My heart aches continually because I am alone and unwanted. My spirit is crushed…I work constantly to pick up the broken, bleeding pieces in a useless attempt to paste the core of me back together. Because I have never been wanted. Never been loved. It hollows me out. Leaving a shell to face the world and wear the mask, but little else. I want to matter. I think I am a fairly decent person in many regards. I try to be respectful, kind, giving, pleasant, non-judgmental, honest and caring. I have varying levels of success, but overall, I’m what I think most people would label a “nice” person. I don’t ask for anything from others because I know I will be disappointed and I am totally aware that I don’t deserve anything. So the thought that I “deserve” to be loved…that I am “worthy” of loving…is utterly ridiculous and foreign. In fact, it’s preposterous! Dr. Brown states that we have to own our story. And we have to talk about our shame. She has found that, in doing so, the shame loses its hold because shame thrives in secrecy and darkness. Shame wants to keep us alone. When we don’t listen to shame’s admonishments, when we dare to be who we are in the depths of our soul, when we speak about our deepest fears of inadequacy, we break the choke hold and connect with others in significant ways. In this connection and the acceptance of us we receive from others…acceptance of the very imperfect person we are…we find those things we all so desperately need…like love and worthiness. Validation. Significance. She says that we tend to believe we will be acceptable at some unknown point down the road when we have fixed or accomplished…whatever. · When we have lost weight. · When we have found inner healing. · When we have gotten that degree. · When we get the promotion at work. · When we learn to control our anger. The “When Then list,” my name for the endless list of those things we beat ourselves up with, could be anything. Anything that we tell ourselves is the reason we are not worth loving as we are. My list is fairly lengthy and entrenched. I’ve felt so completely unlovable because of these things for such a long time, I’m utterly undone at the thought that I am looking at things incorrectly. Basically, a large portion of my list consists of major deficiencies that I see as being deal breakers. For example, I continue to struggle with an eating disorder because I firmly believe the only way I will ever be worth anything at all is if I don’t take up much space and don’t weigh much of anything at all. I have not always been successful at maintaining a low body weight, but for the last 6 years, I’ve done an outstanding job of it. It’s the only thing about myself that I like, frankly, and I’m loathe to give it up. So I eat and throw up every single morsel of food I can, purging it from my system with a diligence and force that is effective. It’s a crazy dance. One that I can’t imagine another person putting up with. So I can’t imagine them putting up with me because of it. My first whatever would be: No one can love me unless I’m really skinny. But they aren’t going to love me as long as I have an eating disorder. I have completely painted myself into a corner on this one. There is no escape. Checkmate. My next big item on the “When Then list” is related to my abusive past and resulting damage. I don’t believe that anyone can love me as long as I still have “resulting damage.” I can’t hide it from anyone who gets close to me, so I can’t get close to anyone. Because I AM damaged and it DOES have an impact, in spite of years of work to heal. And I believe that impact makes me defective. It has tentacles and roots that are deep and far-reaching, penetrating every level of my being, corrupting my thinking and destroying my soul. So another big item on my list is: No one can love me until I am healed and whole. And that, realistically, is never going to happen. Checkmate. Another big “When Then list” item concerns my mental health. I am depressed. Deeply, profoundly, significantly. I see life through that lens and it distorts everything. It’s like looking through the window when it’s raining really hard. You can’t see clearly. And you don’t want to go outside to enjoy the day because it’s miserable out there and there’s nothing to enjoy. Everything becomes hard. Everything is a struggle. It’s work. Then, there are the other mental health problems, like an anxiety disorder, PTSD, hopelessness, inability to connect; things that affect me in very significant ways and make me undesirable. As you can guess, the list states: No one can love me until I am free from all the mental health issues I have been living with my entire life. Because they make me totally unlovable. Checkmate. I could go on, but you get the idea. Each major item has a hundred line items beneath it; subcategories that also disqualify me from every being acceptable. And there is a long list of major headings. I know this because I’ve started making a real list. Because I need to review each one of them. Because of the question that has been raised in reading Dr. Brown’s book. Because, what if she is right? Scary thought. Oh, my God! So scary! Imagine with me for a moment…what if she is right? What if being loveable doesn’t depend on weight? What if it doesn’t depend on whether or not we are depressed, whole, educated, pretty, competent, successful, fun, exciting, hopeless, healthy, etc. What if it doesn’t have anything to do with our performance? What if we are worthy of love simply because…we are? And our imperfections are the things that will make us vulnerable, thus allowing us to connect in deep and unguarded ways, which causes us to be embraced and wanted and accepted? What if our imperfections are what make us unique and cause us to need each other? And that in loving and accepting ourselves, we gain the capacity to love and accept others, and to be loved and accepted by others? I’m going to review my list carefully as I continue to read Brene Brown’s book. I’m going to try to keep an open mind. I’m going to explore. Because there is something in what she says that touches me in such a deep and momentous way, I have to look. I have to consider. I have to dig. No matter how scared I am or how badly I want to turn away. I have to know if I am worth loving. In spite of all the things about me that are defective and make me utterly ashamed. In spite of the fact that I have never been loved. And never believed I was worth it. Maybe even especially because of this.