Despite everything I’m about to say, I had to override my inner critic to write the title. Ridiculous, right? I hope saying it and sharing it will deepen the imprint. Maybe it will help you find your groove, too.
Growing up, I internalized a warped idea that self-esteem is crap because of course we all love ourselves and that actually we need to focus on loving other people. I can see now a tug-of-war spanning my lifetime: my deep yearning for praise and external validation battling with the guilt—embarrassment, even—for wanting it in the first place. Why? Because on some deep level, I equated unconditional self-love with narcissism.
Earlier this month I happened upon an old newspaper clipping. Three pieces of artwork from my elementary school were specially selected for an exhibit at the state capital, including mine. In the article, I’m quoted as saying I didn’t even know why mine was chosen because it wasn’t even that good and that they probably just wanted a variety. I was only 10 years old. Seeing my inability to praise myself in literal black and white cracked something open. I started crying when I told a friend because I could still feel that little girl inside.
A few days later, I had back-to-back positive exchanges where others recognized and appreciated my heartfelt work both as an attorney and through the creations on this site. It felt amazing. I was on a happy high. And I realized something important. I should feel that way and talk to myself that way all the time. This might seem obvious, and I hope it already is to you. But even though creating my Grandmothers Oracle helped me understand self-love is the gateway to loving other people, my core block never crystallized this clearly.
I’ve been waiting for other people to give me permission to be proud of myself, to transform what my cloudy internal filter would otherwise consider boastful or egotistic.
That night or the next, I dreamed a young eagle with a broken leg came into my care. I was more worried about the injury than the eagle and tried to find someone to help me fix it. Failing that, I situated the eagle on my pillow to rest. I put a diaper on the eagle to contain any mess. But I came back to find a blowout anyway. (ha!) This simple dream felt significant.
I’ve always felt connected to birds and often dreamed as a small child that I had the power to fly. When I see turkey vultures soaring above the interstate while driving, I long to be with them. And my beloved Raven was the first of my spirit animal guides to appear.
In the world of symbolism, birds carry messages from the other realms, while the air represents intellect and the mind. I’ve always loved this excerpt from the Medicine Cards guidebook by Jamie Sams and David Carson:
“Eagle medicine is the gift we give ourselves to remind us of the freedom of the skies. Eagle asks you to give yourself permission to legalize freedom and to follow the joy your heart desires.”
Upon reflection, I realized my dream eagle represents an aspect of me. Her safekeeping and healing is up to me alone through the power of self-love. My broken leg, i.e., human imperfection, does not clip my wings. I can still fly. Sometimes I’ll make a mess, no matter what control measures I’ve put in place. But who cares? I don’t need to rely on an external current to give me that sky-high feeling. Because I can generate wind beneath my wings by myself. (Too contrived? Oh, well.)
Thinking about all of this reminded me of a conversation with one of my sisters a few years ago. I told her I cringed at the thought of reliving certain parenting moments during an end-of-life review because I knew I hadn’t handled them well. You know what she said? “Or, maybe you’ll see yourself from the outside and think, 'Wow, that was a really hard time and I was doing the best I could.'” (So much better, isn’t it? Thanks, Em.)
I might have to consciously override my old way of thinking for a while, but I want self-praise to become the default voice in my head. Naming the old programming and rejecting it feels like a huge step. Also? I’m signing up for a beginning watercolor class.