Here is a story. The cake in this story is a metaphor.
Once upon a time there was a very nice person who worried a lot about being a nice person. Now they weren’t a perfect person but then who is? They were a perfectly nice person, a perfectly lovely regular old good person. And this person wanted cake.
They felt very guilty about this. They felt that wanting cake put them on morally shaky ground. Shouldn’t they want something good for them? Like brussel sprouts? Shouldn’t they want something else entirely? Like doing burpees? But no, they wanted cake and they felt very bad about this.
They tried not to think about it but then couldn’t stop. They really wanted cake, like some kind of greedy cake lover. They tried to distract themselves, they tried to read an edifying book instead. They tried eating some carrots and hummus but still they wanted cake.
Full of self loathing, they went to the store and headed to the bakery, where they bought not the luxury Death by Chocolate cake they adored but instead the cheap-o rainbow cupcakes that were on sale for three bucks a package. They got one package but they felt guilty about that, too, because maybe they should save money and buy two because they were on sale but then how greedy would that be? And so they bought the cupcakes they didn’t really like and they felt bad for paying too much for them and they brought the cupcakes home and they ate the whole pack.
They felt bad about it the whole time. They felt bad for wanting, they felt bad for getting, and they felt bad for eating. So they did not enjoy the cake and they thought that hating themselves kind of made up for the fact that they wanted it at all because then they were duly punished.
The problem was, they still kinda wanted cake.
We ruin things for ourselves all of the time because we do not believe that we deserve nice things. Heck, we don’t even believe that we deserve to WANT nice things.
This is the legacy of the emotionally neglected child. If your needs were too much for your caregivers, you learned that your very NEEDS were wrong. If you were not allowed to want — if you were told that you were greedy or ungrateful — then even wanting feels wrong. How can you want delicious cake when there is perfectly good stale bread right there??? How can you enjoy that delicious Death by Chocolate when other people would be grateful — grateful!!! they would fall on their knees and thank their lucky stars!!! — to have those lousy cheap cupcakes?
Listen, I am so sorry that you were treated that way. I am so sorry that you don’t know that you absolutely deserve to have the delicious cake. You are not selfish for wanting it. It is not greedy to want more. If I could reach through this computer screen I would hand you metaphorical cake and I would be so happy to see you eat it and enjoy it. We could have some together and maybe we would only eat a little and decide we want even nicer cake and we would go get some of that and feel not one bit guilty.
If you said, “Oh no, I can’t, I shouldn’t!” I would say, “But I insist! I want you to! You deserve it!”
It is ok to want things. It is ok to indulge yourself. So often when we have complicated childhoods we think our perfectly normal, reasonable wants and wishes are somehow suspect. We think it says something embarrassing about us to want things and to give into those wants. As if denial is somehow morally superior.
It’s not, loves. It’s not. It’s a whole delicious messy world with so much to offer and we are allowed to want things. If we let ourselves eat cake, I promise that we will not go on to eat the world. And if you don’t believe me, if that feels too scary, we can just have one tiny bite of metaphorical cake together. We can just do this one seemingly useless thing — ignore the to-do list, have a good cry, walk along the path instead of run, love ourselves instead of giving into loathing. At least for today or for this one hour or for just ten minutes if you can stand it.
If there’s one thing I have learned absolutely in my years of sitting with people and listening with my whole self is that you deserve love simply for existing. You do not have to prove it to me (or anyone else). I know it and hope that you can read this and — at least in the time that you’re reading it — know it, too.