Last week, I met with my book club to discuss the book “Bed” by David Whitehouse. The story is about Mal, who refuses to leave his bed on his 25th birthday and continues to stay there for the next twenty years. Not seeing a purpose for himself and fearing a mundane existence, he decides to “give up” and just stay in bed. His family adjusts, and eventually everything revolves around Mal, with his brother sharing a room with him and his mother feeding and taking care of him.
Our discussion led us to the question of how Mel’s Mom showed her love and whether it was truly love. She was so accepting of the situation, cooking for him, feeding him, taking care of him, which seems like a very loving act. At the same time, if you really love someone, would you let them just give up and stay in bed? Wouldn’t you stop enabling them and help them get back on their feet? In a strange way, Mal’s mother had her own motivations for keeping him in bed. Mel gave his mother a purpose: helping him made her feel needed, which is something she craved. So was she in reality doing this for selfish reasons, not out of love?
I believe that if we don’t love ourselves, we cannot properly love others. Mal’s mother did not love herself enough to take care of herself and her needs (like finding a life purpose to pursue). So as a result, she “used” Mal as her life purpose, and in the process, wasn’t able to take the really loving action of helping him get back on his feet and engage in life again.
Sometimes, we think we are loving someone by accepting them just the way they are, by not speaking up when something bothers us, by catering to what they want and suppressing our own needs. But the fact is, by not taking action and speaking our truth, we are not loving ourselves and are not living fully. And our internal resentment only grows until it blows up one day. We need to take care of our own needs and find activities and pursuits that make our hearts soar. We need to set healthy boundaries. If we really love ourselves and are taking care of ourselves, we have so much more capacity to love and help others we care about. So love yourself first, for everyone else’s sake! =)