Since it is the Christmas season and gift giving is on most people’s minds, I’ve spent some time thinking about the best gift I can give to my children. One of the best gifts, I’ve learned, that you can give to yourself is loving yourself. This not only means loving your body. It means loving your entire self: your mind, your heart, your personality, your dreams. All of those things are a part of you. So often people, especially young girls, find fault with themselves, whether they’re worrying about how attractive or smart they are or worrying about other people liking them and accepting them.

Adolescence is a challenging time when teens are discovering who they are and what they want to become. Peer pressure can shape these feelings in either positive or negative ways, so it is crucial that youth have the tools to develop positive self-image.

One of the most critical times in adolescent development is the first boyfriend/girlfriend experience. “Does he think I’m attractive?” “Does she want to go out with me?” And then once the relationship is in full bloom, “Am I good enough to be with or keep him?” These are all thoughts that run through the minds of anyone in a relationship, even if we don’t want to admit it. But because teens are experiencing these relationships for the first time, the impact of the experience can have lasting ramifications.

So what does real love look like? Let’s start with what love is not:

Love is not being constantly worried that you’re not good enough.
Love is not being shamed by your partner.
Love is not threatening someone you claim to love.
Love is not feeling unsafe and unhappy when you’re with your partner.
Love is not calling your partner names or belittling them.
Love is not controlling.

Now let’s look at what love is:

Love is kindness and a desire to make your partner feel uplifted, happy, safe, and supported.
Love is patient and accepting of your partner’s qualities.
Love is gentle.
Love is wanting your partner to be happy and valuing them for who they are.
Love is wanting to be with your partner at the end of the day to share your thoughts, feelings, and life.
Love is a place you grow together, voluntarily.

Most importantly, love is gentle. That one bears repeating because love is supposed to feel good, not frightening or depressing.

So many people don’t know what love is supposed to look like or feel like. Abusers are at first charming and often very attractive, so we tend to let little things slide: a threat here, a show of temper there, a little name-calling. Over time these displays of power and control shape the inexperienced teen until they seem normal, acceptable. The gradual chipping away at self-esteem then blooms into a full-on lowered self-worth. “I’ll fix myself, I promise,” a teen might say, or, “Maybe if I change I will be good enough for him; then he’ll value me.” Or, the real kicker, “If he doesn’t want me, then no one will want me.”

The fundamental commonality here is that someone else’s approval or company is necessary for personal worth or happiness. Because teens are still forming who they are, they may think that they need others for fulfillment. However, true happiness in life comes from self-development and personal goals and accomplishments that are shared with those who are equally happy for you in your growth. While it is true that we need close relationships in our life for happiness, no one person can be the reason you are happy. “He makes me happy” is actually not what your inner thoughts should be like. “I am happy, I like my life, and you add to my happiness.”  How much better does that inner dialogue feel?

And if someone is not adding to your happiness, then that person is in fact robbing you of your happiness, and they need to go. You control who you let into your life. You have the power over your life. If you love yourself, then why would you keep happiness thieves in your one and only life? We’re here on this earth for relatively few spins. Choose who rides with you on the merry-go-round carefully. Make the ride truly merry. Give yourself the best gift of all: love.

Merry Christmas!

For resources on safe relationships and what an abusive one looks like, head here, and for additional information, see the chart below:
abusive relationship infographic2

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