10 Lessons on Self-Love and Not Settling for Less than You Deserve

by Nneka M. Okona

Last installment of OWN's Iyanla: Fix My Life found Karrueche Tran as the featured guest. I personally couldn’t watch the entirety of the hour-long special because I was near tears. It was hard for me to watch a wounded Karrueche struggle to come to grips with her relationship with Chris Brown.

The vast majority of women, and people in general, have been judgmental about Karrueche and her decisions to stay in a relationship that was abusive on many fronts. The only emotion I can muster from watching their disaster of a relationship play out over the past few years is compassion, especially for Karrueche.

How many of us have been in a similar situation? How many of us have made the same mistake when it comes to loving someone who ain't right for us? And how many of us have hard to learn the hard way about guarding our hearts and choosing healthy, loving, mutually beneficial relationships?

No matter what, many of us have experienced what it's list to lose sight of the relationships we deserve because we love the other person too much. But never fear, there are lessons we can take away from these experiences to empower us and ensure we know better next time.

1. Listening to your intuition isn’t optional.

Years ago, I gave my intuition—what I also refer to as one of my many spirit guides—a name: Maria. I listen to the still, small voice of Maria. I know if I do not, if I insist on being stubborn or grasping for a tangible, concrete answer instead of the gut feeling, I cause my own needless suffering. If something seems like a red flag, feels strange, or off-putting, even if you don’t have a clear explanation, heed the warning. Save yourself later trouble.

2. Set boundaries what is and is not acceptable behavior, and then firmly enforce those boundaries.

Conflict doesn’t make me shudder like it used to. Now, I regard it as a natural, unavoidable part of any relationship. And I don’t shy away from speaking up if something bothers me or doesn't work for me, mostly in hopes the other person can take my needs into consideration and work on not repeating said behavior. This is why boundaries are important: they enable us to concretely discuss our feelings (and needs) in a solutions-oriented manner by clearly stating what we will not tolerate. It also means if an action becomes habitual and is not being actively worked on, you’re more than prepared to re-examine if the relationship is in your best interest, should be continued, and to what extent.

3. Foster healthy, open, and honest communication.

As cliché as it is, communication is the bread and butter of every relationship. There are many ways to communicate, but some are not fruitful. Learning to communicate in a functional, open and honest way can easily be a whole ballgame if inefficient modes—such as raising of voices, name calling, shutting down, leaving the room and refusing to talk—are the default. It takes a certain level of maturity for two people to communicate their feelings, to not blame the other person, and to be honest with their partner and with themselves. It also takes two people willing to work on communication if it’s not good; two people committing to not solely centering their emotions but being able to see things from the viewpoint of their partner and wanting to learn and grow from the conflict which may have arisen.

4. Pay attention to how your partner responds to certain situations.

Over the natural course of a relationship, things will pop up. Some good, some painful, and some hard. How does your partner respond to stress? How do they respond to disappointment? Frustration? Defeat? Disrespect? These are tell-tale signs and should be paid attention to because they will provide the framework of your relationship, especially in terms of what to expect in the long run.

5. Check in with yourself periodically.

Ask yourself honestly if the relationship is still feeding and benefiting you in a positive way, or if it’s draining and depleting you. Has your relationship become a source of stress and exhaustion when it used to be a source of bliss and joy? Do you find yourself dreading even the smallest of interactions with your partner, whereas you used to be excited for them in the past? Have you all just hit a rough patch, but you’re still happy overall? Being honest with yourself may be sobering, but it’s necessary to check in with yourself to make sure you’re still invested in the relationship.

6. Pay attention to the little things.

The little things slowly add up to big things and become big issues. No, don’t make mountains out of molehills, but rather pay attention to see if the molehills are things you can’t ignore and end up being something you can’t deal with in the long run.

7. Accept things for what they are and what they may never be.

Karrueche stated in the interview there were things she had hoped for in the relationship with Chris long-term, like marriage and children, but he seemed to communicate from the beginning he didn’t want those things or wasn’t interested in them presently. Listen very carefully when people tell you about themselves, either about things they do or don’t want or their behavior. If you listen carefully, you’ll discover people often easily tell on themselves, if you’re discerning enough to decipher it all.

8. Do the work to heal from past wounds and trauma to enable you to make better relationship choices.

Louise Hays book, You Can Heal Your Life, is an amazing read and really touched me in a significant way, but I found I still needed to talk to a therapist to begin to process old trauma and wounds in order to heal. I wanted to save myself and make myself a whole, present, centered person for all the current relationships in my life and those to come. This was work I knew only I could do for myself. There’s no shame in stepping out and asking for help; essentially what you’re doing is seeking a safe space to empower you to change your life and to cope with what may come.

9. Have the courage to choose you and walk away.

The funny thing about knowing when you need to leave someone alone and go on about your business is we often know we need to far before we actually do. We procrastinate. We’re scared. We’re terrified of the space between. We make up stories on why staying is more honorable and end up making ourselves an unwarranted martyr to pain. Choose yourself. If something isn’t working, despite the poking and prodding, despite the many attempts to communicate, despite setting boundaries, accept you need to move on and not look back. And then actually do it.

10. Be wholly uncompromising with self-love.

Practice compassion, gentleness, and self-forgiveness for your mistakes and your role in your pain. The point of acknowledging your mistakes—where you exercised poor judgement, ignored red flags, quieted your intuition—is an exercise in the greatest level of compassion, nurturing, and gentleness. It is not to badger or berate yourself for being human. It is to evaluate where you forgot to put yourself first, forgot to protect yourself in exchange for a love you thought would make you whole, a love you thought would save you, a love you thought would absolve all the missteps you made and mistruths you accepted in the past, a love you thought would assuage the depths of loneliness and the longing to have a companion to journey with. But we all must remember the beauty of ourselves. We must not forget that we are each our own savior. We must not forget we have worth, whether someone chooses us or not. And it’s up to us—it was always up to us—to extend our unwavering value and importance to ourselves. Freely, lovingly, joyfully, exceedingly, unconditionally.

Photo: OWN

Nneka M. Okona is a writer based in Washington, DC. Visit her blog, www.afrosypaella.com, her website, about.me/nnekaokona or follow her tweets, @NisforNneka.

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