The Words of the Sakuwa Family

Love Thyself

Chiofa Sakuwa
August 18, 2009

The match was on. Two featherweights engaged in head-to-head combat over a certain little green toy engine with a golden number 6 painted on its side, which would serve as the coveted trophy. The referee tried repeated and feeble attempts to call on the virtues of “sharing” and “loving one another” and “taking turns” in order to placate the brawl. But her attempts at peaceful resolution fell on deaf ears. All that could be heard was the ever-straining “Mine! Mine! MINE!” Patience wore thin, and justifiable forced intervention kicked in. The referee snagged the green and golden trophy and proclaimed that if the fight continued outside safe and lawful parameters, neither one would get the trophy!

Earsplitting screams followed. And the referee had no choice but to call a very bold “TIME OUT!” In the meantime the ring manager stepped in from out of nowhere and said to the referee that she needed to lead by example and be more patient in times of turmoil. As the referee had not yet imbibed her morning coffee and was still boiling over from the last match, she realized at that moment that perhaps they ALL needed a “time out.”

We pulled off our masks and resembled a perfectly normal cross-cultural family again. While my sons cooled off in their Pokemon-hued haven, I sipped my morning coffee, trying to regain some perspective. I came to realize that in my desperate pleas to teach my sons about solving conflicts by thinking of one another instead of what they could each score for themselves, though well-intentioned, were virtually ineffective because I did not feel good about myself at that time. In other words, if I had taken better care of myself (had my morning coffee) at that time, I could have been at least a bit more sincere and effective in teaching my children about selflessness and more receptive of my husband’s wisdom on the subject instead of interpreting it as criticism.

Ironically, in order to be truly selfless, one needs to consider his or her own happiness and well-being in order to properly communicate love and happiness to others. Only a full cup can fill those of others; an empty cup cannot. Conversely, the origin of selfishness and self-centeredness is NOT loving oneself but instead trying to fill certain voids (envy, low self-esteem, personal dissatisfaction) at the expense of others. Simply put, in order to truly and sincerely love and give to others, we must love ourselves as God does.

Although in many cultures, putting oneself first is often frowned upon and viewed as selfishness or individualism, it is necessary as long as the motive involves loving and improving oneself ultimately for the sake of others. For example, when individuals take time away from their families for school, work, or vacation, they (working mothers in particular) may be viewed by some as self-centered. However, if they ultimately set out to improve themselves so that they may acquire more skills and insight to offer society, including the people they love, they are investing in themselves for the sake of the greater good. In other words, their “selfishness” constitutes selflessness.

Conversely, if the same individuals just stay put and let opportunities to progress pass by in the name of self-sacrifice; they may be robbing themselves of their potential to positively contribute to society at their fullest. In essence, they ultimately bury their talent in the sand and may even become resentful later in life toward the people they supposedly sacrificed themselves for.

As a full-time mother, I do not negate the importance of making certain sacrifices for the sake of family, as many do. But I have also realized that individuals also have a duty to develop their God-given talents and abilities in order to positively contribute outside of the family sphere.

In order to develop ourselves to become happy and fulfilled contributors to society, we also need to recognize our own worthiness in attaining our individual goals. In other words, we should not let personal insecurities and past disappointments erode our self-confidence and make ourselves our own worst enemies. As struggles remain an inevitable factor of life, a healthy self-esteem is critical in building our potential to give of ourselves freely without the confines of fear and doubt.

Nathaniel Branden, the author of the book Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, asserts that high self-esteem not only helps us improve our quality of life but to also deal with hardship: “The more solid our self-esteem, the better equipped we are to cope with troubles that arise in our personal lives or in our careers; the quicker we are to pick ourselves up after a fall; the more energy we have to begin anew.” Branden also mentions that a high number of currently successful entrepreneurs have bounced back from two or more bankruptcies. In other words, they had the self-esteem they needed to ward off past failures and become more successful than ever before.

Self-esteem also affects how we treat people, as well as how people treat us. For instance, if we carry ourselves with dignity, smile, hold our head high, and are intolerant of rudeness and abuse from others, people will treat us accordingly. On the other hand, if we slouch, speak too softly, appear too timid, or doubt ourselves, people will also be less likely to treat us with the respect we might believe is due us. High self-esteem, or better put, loving ourselves and being loved by others accordingly, will also place a high premium on our ability to in turn treat others with love, respect, and compassion. Low self-esteem does virtually the opposite, reciprocating doubt, fear, and ultimately depression.

In other words, low self-esteem detracts from our ability to treat others with love, respect, and compassion, even if this is what we want to do. Low self-esteem may even breed self-centered tendencies, such as jealousy, greed, or addiction, among other problem behaviors that often drive people away and grease the slope toward self destruction. Basically put, high self-esteem -- or loving oneself -- can have a positive snowball effect on our personal, spiritual, and professional lives; while low self-esteem can yield a negative downward spiral effect.

At some points in our lives, such as periods of economic struggle, humiliating situations, or simply bad days, loving ourselves can be a challenge. But loving ourselves also requires that we allow ourselves to grieve and release negative energy in order to free space for positive thoughts and energy. This can be done through confiding in a trusted friend or family member, reading a book, having a good cry, meditating, or just being alone with our thoughts. Once the negative energy is released, we must then build up our self-esteem through putting self-love into practice. Here are some steps to building self-esteem that have worked for me personally:

Look in the mirror, smile, and keep in mind that you are not looking at yourself but at God’s son or daughter. List positive attributes, that is, talents, skills, interests, character traits, accomplishments, and so forth, and recite them several times each day. Reflect on how those you love might have to cope without you. Reflect and list what you can do, or have done, to make others happy in ways that are unique to you.

All things considered, we must make every effort to love and take care of ourselves in order to truly love and take care of others. Ironically, true selflessness involves not only sacrificing oneself for the sake of the whole but also building oneself up through investment (education, hobbies, healthy eating habits, etc.) in order to become a more large-scale contributor toward the greater good. And in order to accomplish this, a healthy self-esteem is vital, as Branden further states in the following axiom, “The level of our self-esteem influences how we act, and how we act influences the level of our self-esteem.” In other words, we determine through our own actions and how we love ourselves the level and health of our self-esteem; as well as the kind of give and take we experience with others based upon these actions.

Perhaps the best part is that each one of us has full control of how we love and treat ourselves, as well as the positive (or negative) ripple effect that our self-esteem may have on others. And although we may desire, or need, to put others first, we must also make time to pamper ourselves once in a while in order to better serve others. Simply put, loving oneself is a prerequisite for truly and sincerely being able to love and give to others. And I will drink to this with each morning coffee!

Written by Chiofa Sakuwa, a second generation Marine Corps Veteran who is currently serving as a full-time wife and mother of three sons. Chiofa earned a Masters of Criminal Justice at Boston University. 

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