In my Zoom class the other day we were talking about how difficult it is to get rid of our negative thoughts.
We discussed how difficult it is to push away negative thoughts that other people push on us. One of the things I love the most about my students is when my tough, tattooed, formally incarcerated human beings share tender and beautiful insights.
There is so much truth in what they say, so much wisdom, I am floored again and again. More important is that I learn and grow more than you can ever imagine.
This happened when one of my guys spoke up and shared. This particular individual recently got out of jail, and is living with his ex who now is involved with a different man.
On a good day this is not the most ideal situation.
He shared how he stays in his room, because he doesn’t like going out into the house. “I get it,” I tell him. “It’s a loaded house, your ex and her new man.” We all laugh a little at his expense and his complicated living situation, but, thankfully, he takes it in stride.
We talk about negativity and what we need to do to combat it.
Actually, for the first time in a while, we act out a little scenario on Zoom.
We act out a phone call where one person was putting the other down.
The other got mad and they yelled at each other.
“Ms., so much negativity! What the fuck?!!” one student said and then added,
“I don’t need someone to say nothing bad about me. I say it to myself all day long!”
“Well, that’s not good,” I say. “You have to love yourself for you and for everyone else.”
“This is gonna sound really stupid,” my student living with his ex says, and then repeated it again about five times. “This is stupid, really stupid…”
I gently push him. “Nothing is stupid. Please stop saying that. Share with us without thinking it’s stupid.”
He says, “I’m a little bit embarrassed. Don’t laugh, but you know what I do when negativity is knocking at me? This is what I do. I say, ‘I LOVE YOU’ (and he says his name) and then …I answer myself and I say, ‘I love you, too.’”
It is quiet in the Zoom class.
“You see, Ms. It’s not enough to say, ‘I love you’. I add to it ‘I love you, too’ so there is back up, not by someone else but by me.”
This is profound to me.
I say, “That is beautiful,” as everyone is nodding their heads.
“You know,” someone adds. “We all grew up with so much violence and no love. We didn’t get love and we didn’t love ourselves and, therefore, we don’t think we deserve love.”
One woman shared, “In my NA (narcotics anonymous) they told us to look in the mirror and say, ‘I love you.’ I couldn’t do it. So help me God, I could not do it.”
“It’s the hardest thing to love yourself,” one person said.
“Us gang bangers don’t love ourselves well, Ms.,” they tell me.
I take a breath and say, “Lots of people don’t love themselves well.” I pause.
“People who don’t gang bang and/or do drugs have a difficult time loving themselves.
It is hard and can be uncomfortable to say, ‘I love you’ to yourself.”
I notice the one who shared the “I love you, too” story is literally leaning into his little Zoom box to hear me. “This is so, so far from being stupid. I think it is brilliant.” I smile.
He is blushing. It is sweet and so incredibly touching.
I add, “We waste so much time in life waiting for someone else to love us. We wait for people to say it to us when, in reality, we can barely say it to ourselves.”
Then someone added, “Ms., when you grow up in trauma, when you grow up and your love language is violence, you can’t say the words ‘I love you.’ It’s like a fucking different language when you have done bad shit and sat time. It’s hard to love yourself.”
She hit a nerve. People are nodding, agreeing and there is a shared feeling in the group.
“Well, that will stop right now,” I say.
“We are all going to un-mute the screen, and all together you are going to say, ‘I LOVE YOU’ (your name) and then say for back up ‘I LOVE YOU, TOO.’ Everyone has to do it.”
The guy, the one living with the ex, says “Ms., You gotta do this, too.”
I laugh. “I plan to. And by the way,” I add, “This is hard for me, too.”
“I will count to three and together we will do this,” I tell them.
I count to three. 15 people unmute their Zoom connection, and loud and proud say
“I love you (their name)” and add “I love you, too.”
It was gentle and powerful. Touching and sweet. Difficult, easy and moving all at the same time. We did it, everyone seemed a little lighter and a bit happier.
We all giggled and were a tiny bit uncomfortable.
It is a known fact that you can’t be loved, until you love yourself.
There is an old quote from the 1st century rabbinic commentator Rabbi Hillel that goes,
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”
It all starts with us acknowledging ourselves to ourselves. It really and truly starts with us. That is the only place it can begin.
Today at some point, look at yourself, see you for you, and please, love you.
Love it all. Then…say it.
Say, “I love you…(your name)” and as my students taught me, for the backup add, “I love you, too.”
Don’t be shy. Do it. That is where your love should start.
I will be here listening.