By Caroline Numuhire

Loving ourselves.

Such an intimidating concept. Nobody has ever told us we should love the human beings we are. We can show love to others, offer them our kindness, support and time and God will bless us, right? And I can’t remember any priest reminding us about loving ourselves (and believe me, I’ve attended dozens and dozens of churches). The scriptures teach us to care for our neighbors and to be compassionate. I can’t even mention how many times, in the name of culture, I took care of everyone else, cooked dinners for family and friends and ceded the last piece of the meat I spent hours cooking to the last-minute visitor. How many times have we aimed to please? I have been successful on that end: pleasing everyone but myself. It doesn’t mean I would say “Yes” to everyone and everything. Not at all! However, some perceived me as a fresh, new product from the Strong African Women catalog. Pleasing others by being compliant and compromising.But since when did I belittle myself to the point that I became the wiping cloth that even my house maid used to blow her own nose?  I had no idea what pushed me to give up on myself. But somehow I knew. I suspected that chronic illness of likability. The request to abide by the cultural norms. I read and memorized signs of happiness on other people’s faces. I invested my thoughts, efforts and sometimes money to satisfy them. I have forgotten the hungry girl who was sleeping inside of me, who equally needed that kind of care and would wait for a good Samaritan to offer her a smile. But then again, I  am scared of seeing even a shadow of sadness cross my loved ones faces?  Oh! I have to confess I love blissful faces. I did not realize that I was addicted to other people’s happiness. It was such a rewarding feeling to know that I offered the best tint, that layer of joy that warms the heart.

Ladies, we offer our kindness, clothes, smiles, meals, love, support, school notes, time, heart, jewels, and salaries. We shamelessly and unconsciously empty our beings for other people who cross our way. We are right and wrong. No one needs us to make impossible sacrifices. Those beautiful girls with low self-esteem that we cared about, inspired and supported did not need us to do everything until the point that they took us for granted. What have we done to ourselves, emptying those reserves stored inside our hearts.  Even those guys, the charming gamers who we offered our hearts to and who thought that we were boring because we were  too nice. Did they know that we just wanted to learn how to care about them? We jeopardized our sense of self-worth by letting others take advantage of us.

So many questions. But it is shocking to realize that some have given up. Thinking back on how people began to expect my kindness makes me cry, pouring all of those tears I held for years while I sought the world’s approval. I can’t even remember when I started to give people so much power over me.  I guess since forever, there had only been a few times I considered that I was also a human being; that I had thought about myself as someone who deserved an exquisite dose of care, without an overdose of guilt.

“Oh, save that bus seat for old people.” (That I don’t regret, though!”)

“Oh, don’t protest if that family friend says that it’s a waste that too many girls are being educated.”

“Oh, don’t tell that girl that her attitude clearly shows that she disrespects you!”

“Oh, don’t you dare out your colleague in his place, he will feel bad and his ego will be bruised.”

How many times do we tell ourselves these things?  How many years have we believed we were created and raised to ease other people’s lives?

I’m not accusing anyone who became too comfortable in my life. I encouraged it and was sincere about my intentions. I cleaned the house till my fingers bleed so visitors thought of my home as a place of harmony. I listened to my friend’s issues because I wanted them to feel understood and supported. And I am not going to stop this. Remember, I am the girl addicted to happy faces. But that’s not enough, it’s not fulfilling.

The time has come for me to take my power back. I can already hear someone asking me “how?”, and I am not yet quite sure. In fact, I am terrified of the idea of looking into people’s eyes and telling them, with conviction:

“You should do that by yourself!”

“Come on, you’re a big girl.”

“You are a man now.”

“You are not that old.”

“I am not a machine to print your ideas.”

We can change together. I know that people will notice the change in your behavior, and will not hesitate to point out how they prefer the “old you”. But remember this saying, “When someone says ‘You’ve changed’… It simply means you’ve stopped living your life their way.”  At the beginning, you will waver because you’re still learning how to become your true self, full of love for you. People will threaten to leave you, let them disappear with their burdens! Follow Franklin Covey’s advice, “learn to say no and have the courage and willpower to say no pleasantly, smilingly, and unapologetically to the things that are less important to you”.

Some people deserve our love and kindness, but we deserve the same in return. That’s the Art of Selflessly Loving Ourselves!