Sometimes, we think that it is selfish to love ourselves. But even our Lord Jesus Christ said that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. This means that the quality of our self-love is an excellent gauge of the quality of our love for others. For, how can we love others when we can’t even love ourselves?
For many years, Atty. Danielito “DJ” Jimenez, popularly known in social media as “the Pinoy Street Lawyer,” deprived himself of many things he could have enjoyed, bore with patience the discomforts and tensions of work and marital relationship, and poured his resources on his loved ones, seldom leaving anything for himself. Here is how he described to me his self-imposed martyrdom:
“First I would like to clarify that loving oneself is not saying: “I will love JUST ME.” Rather, it means, ‘I will love MYSELF TOO. ‘It took me a long time to realize this.
“After getting married, my world revolved around my family, especially my children. PTA’s and children’s parties were at the top of my priorities. I would literally drop work and even other personal concerns when it came to my children.
“When my marriage fell apart, I spent a lot of time and energy brooding over the future, obsessively planning how to get over the pain of separation and annulment, and always worrying about what might happen next to my children. I tormented myself with regret and guilt which prevented me from moving on.
“Over time until the pandemic, I did not know about self-care and self-love. I just drifted in time, working like there was no tomorrow. I grew older, fatter and balder. I ballooned to 198 pounds because of lack of exercise and the habit of going on a binge when I am depressed.
“Shortly a month after the start of the government-imposed community quarantine,on April 12, 2020 to be exact, I decided to go biking. I initially did about five-to-10-kilometer bike rides in the morning and another set in the late afternoon, then gradually increased it to about 15 kilometers or more.
“I also started eating fruits in the morning (mostly Indian mangoes), and I also began a healthier diet for lunch and dinner, avoiding sugary drinks and fatty food.I opted to take a brunch instead of regular breakfast and lunch. I had dinner before 6 pm (though sometimes I went beyond that.)
“Slowly after about a month, I realized that I was actually enjoying biking and at the same time losing weight. But my celebration was short-lived. I got sick of the dreaded COVID-19 disease. Mercifully, God spared me the serious effects of the disease, except for an excruciating headache. I recovered my health quickly, perhaps because my immunity was boosted by the healthy lifestyle that I adopted before I got sick.
“It is while recovering from COVID-19 that I developed the strong conviction that I shall never go back to that self-imposed martyrdom that had taken its toll on me.I realized that my exaggerated concern for my family was often anchored on the fear of hurting or displeasing them, becoming too preoccupied with their demands, and feeling guilty whenever I fell short of their expectations. Such guilt and sense of disappointment led to toxic shame and low self-esteem.
“It took a while before I finally decided that I should not depend on the validation of others to be happy. Also, if I had committed mistakes in the past, these should not define me. Mistakes are only a part of who I am and who I might become. I told myself that I must learn from the past, but not live in it. My self-imposed martyrdom was a consequence of my false belief that I did not deserve to be loved. I tell myself now, like a mantra, that I deserve to be loved, and the first person to do that is myself.
“Doing what’s adequate for my health allowed me to see that self-care and self-love (with or without a significant other) are essential to achieve my mission and purposes in life, give meaning and value to my career, love my children in the right way, and give glory to God who created me to be happy. Even if my life was like a broken mirror, God would help me gather the broken pieces and make a beautiful mosaic out of these.”
It takes a lot of courage and honesty to see one’s life the way DJ did. We, who find it difficult to love ourselves, can learn precious lessons from him. Yes,we have to love others, but let us always remember that it is necessary to save some for ourselves.