I remember as a kid the first song I heard from Whitney Houston was “The Greatest Love of All.” Every kid who thought they had a voice or any kind of dream of singing was singing that song in a talent show in the early 90s. I recall one time I was maybe 8 years old, in my bedroom, just singing my heart out to a tape of the song. My mom came into my room just as I was belting out my best version of the lyrics, “… learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all…” At that exact moment my mother stopped the tape and said, “Don’t you sing that! The greatest love of all is learning to love God and don’t you forget it!”
At that moment, I was taken aback. In my mind, I questioned, why would loving myself be such a bad thing? Also, the song is amazing, so I was upset my mom was making this moment about God, but in our house, EVERYTHING was about God—and church! Of course, now I am certain my mom was attempting to raise a thoughtful, humble child and to quell any possibility of me being self-absorbed and selfish. However, what she actually communicated, without proper context to me, was that it’s not about me and it never should be. This idea blossomed in my brain and became a hurdle for me for a very long time, personally and professionally.
I literally learned to never center myself even in my own life, so much so, that it was difficult to receive blessings, celebrate achievements, or confront issues without dealing with the guilt of possibly making any situation too much about me and being perceived as selfish. I also didn’t unwrap that I even had this complex in my brain until well into adulthood. It was wrapped in veils of excessive humility, extreme discomfort in hearing positive feedback or compliments, and often just not speaking up for myself in hopes of not coming off too self-centered about anything. I was confident in my capabilities but never comfortable putting myself in the center or first in any circumstance.
As I got older, I was markedly anxious about being propped up in any way. I also caught myself being too critical and unintentionally dimming the light of my own daughter by downplaying her accomplishments and not wanting to “blow her head up too much.” I wasn’t harsh, but in this one particular incident my daughter was elated to have won a contest for writing at school. I congratulated her, but in the same breath I critiqued some choices in the piece. She called me out immediately for not letting her have a moment before criticizing. The light bulb was instant, like having ice water dumped on my head. My daughter was maybe 9 years old, and I was throwing darts at her wins in an attempt to keep her humble. If I didn’t fix it, she was going to meet the same struggles that I was still battling.
I did some intense self-work to dive into my issues, and after quite some time I was able to point back to the moments in childhood and, of course, the Whitney moment. I found it very easy to tackle the issue with my daughter. I see her and want her to be the most powerful woman she can be, so the adjustment to celebrate her and allow her room to be a little full of herself came much more immediately than the work on myself. As Nikki Giovanni says, “Show me someone not full of herself, and I’ll show you a hungry person.” As long as I have breath, my daughter will never be hungry—and have to feed that hunger with something that could destroy her.
But retraining my brain for myself to be receptive to compliments and embrace my own power to speak up for myself was no easy feat. It became a daily practice of speaking more kindly to myself about small achievements and resisting the urge to downplay the moment or say something to diminish myself when I was acknowledged by someone outside of myself for anything… I never knew it would be so hard to just say THANK YOU for a compliment.
So, in returning to Whitney, my mom wanted me to love God and put God first, but I needed to learn that God is in us and loving ourselves is an act of loving God. Loving God is standing tall in yourself and all the gifts and blessings you have been given to share with the world because others will see that and find the light that is God within themselves. I have learned that loving myself is a daily practice, and I can sing Whitney completely guilt free nowadays!Leave a Comment