“This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” ~William Shakespeare
A little while ago, a friend gave me a compliment that stopped me in my tracks. “I really admire how loyal you are to yourself.”
In time-honored self-questioning mode, I immediately thought, “Oh my gosh, what does that mean? Does she think I’m selfish?” But once I decided not to go down that road, I started pondering what it might mean to be loyal to one’s self, and how it truly is the basis for a happier and more peaceful life. Here’s why.
1. When you’re loyal to yourself, you take the time to know yourself.
Usually we’re great at knowing the people around us—what the kids watch on TV, how the boss likes her coffee, what our partners find sexy—and have very little idea of what actually brings us joy. And even if we do, how often do we give it priority?
You don’t have to be a raging egotist to value your own happiness as much as you do the neighbors’ kids’ friend’s pet rabbit, but you might think that was the case if you really examined how you allocate your time and energy. Usually it seems that everyone else—everyone—comes ahead of us. Being loyal to yourself means that you not only know what makes you happy, but you actually make sure you get enough of it to feel happy.
For instance, in my case it means I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m an introvert, and have stopped trying to make myself behave like an extrovert.
I’m being loyal to myself when I turn down social opportunities that I know will exhaust me, and then go a step further by refusing to put myself down for being “less than.” This is key! It kind of misses the point if we do something to take care of ourselves but then beat ourselves up for being lazy or selfish or even just different.
2. You like yourself!
That’s a stretch for a lot of us. We are often so much harder on ourselves than we would be on anyone else. Listen to how you talk to yourself routinely. Do you encourage and congratulate yourself, or only berate and exhort? Would you ever dream of talking to a child that way?
Being loyal to yourself means treating yourself gently, being kind and forgiving and generous. Seeing the good, and not just what we wish were different. Why is that so hard for us to do?
Maybe we think that we’ll never amount to anything if we don’t ride ourselves hard, but honestly, when did you ever find that kind of treatment motivating? We deserve better from ourselves.
3. You honor your own feelings.
Again, we are usually overly sensitive to others’ feelings and only too ready to deny or minimize our own. It’s possible to honor your feelings without either acting them out inappropriately or wallowing in them. It simply means that you are willing to pay attention to them, and to let them matter to you at least as much as everyone else’s feelings.
The biggest problem with prioritizing others’ feelings is that, unlike our own feelings, we have to guess about theirs. How do we really know? I spent many, many unprofitable hours in the past trying to figure out what other people thought about me. For some reason, I didn’t spend nearly as much time asking myself what I thought about them!
It’s incredibly liberating to get this one straight. When I’m loyal to myself, I care more about how I feel and a lot less about trying to figure out everyone else’s feelings. And strangely, the more I do this, the more other people seem to like me (hence the compliment from my friend).
There’s something very appealing about people who are simply honest and straightforward with their feelings. Others feel relaxed and at ease around them, because they can trust that there are no hidden agendas to figure out.
4. This honesty also allows you to be a more authentic version of yourself.
When you aren’t worrying so much about how others see you, you can show them who you really are. Not everyone will love you, it’s true—but those who do will be loving the real you, not the one you made up for public consumption. This you is actually much more interesting, anyway!
We lose so much when we trade in authenticity for social approval. We lose our spontaneity and zest for life. We lose confidence in our own judgment and taste. We lose ourselves, sometimes forever. And the world loses the contribution that only we can make.
When I started being loyal to my true, authentic self, I felt both scared and exhilarated. I wasn’t sure that other people would truly like and accept the strange, quirky person I knew myself to be at heart, but I liked myself ever so much better than when I was playing a phony part.
It takes a ton of energy to police your every word and action! When I stopped playing the role I thought was expected and started doing what I really wanted to do, I unleashed an incredible flow of creativity and joy.
5. And here’s the best part: You give other people permission to be loyal to themselves as well.
This makes the world a better place to be. The authentic self that you show the world calls out to the authentic selves in the people all around you. This is what we’re born for—relationships formed between two people who are being who they really, truly are. This kind of relationship will blow the socks off of any other relationship you’ve had.
We show others how to treat us by the way we treat ourselves. When you’re loyal to yourself—when you know and like yourself, honor your own feelings, and show up in an authentic way—it only makes you better able to love others as well. Self-love and self-honesty are the necessary foundations for love and honesty in any relationship. As Shakespeare wrote, you can’t be false to others when you remain true to yourself.
Ask yourself these questions frequently: Is this what I really want? How do I really feel in this situation?
You might still choose to prioritize a loved one’s needs at times, but it will be a freely made choice, not an obligation, blind habit or manipulative ploy. You will make better decisions, based on who you really are. You will feel happier and more at peace, with yourself and the world.
All because you have chosen to be loyal to yourself.