Self love: possessing a regard for one’s own well-being and happiness. It is, thankfully, a topic more openly discussed and I believe more clearly understood.
When I was a young teenager, my idea of self love was warped. I thought self love was egotistical, selfish and indulgent. And as a self-aware 13 year old, I decided those certainly weren’t characteristics I wished to bear.
Over the next few years, I went to the other extreme. Throughout my teens, I developed an intense and irrational hatred of myself. I hated the way I looked, I hated my personality, the way I carried myself, my voice, my small teeth, my dull hair, my height, my smile. I loathed being trapped in my own skin.
As you can expect, I became exceptionally miserable. I denied myself so many good things- I wouldn’t see friends, I didn’t treat myself- if there was a risk I might enjoy something, I would hesitate to attend. I didn’t deserve to be happy. I didn’t deserve to live as fully as other people do.
I don’t know where this deep set hatred came from. Perhaps inevitably, I became very ill and all of a sudden, my core beliefs about myself were being challenged by nurses and doctors. I developed anorexia at 16 and I soon realised that you cannot recover from an eating disorder without changing how you think. Over the course of the last 5 years I have fought my eating disorder and I have fought to regain respect and love for myself.
So, how did I come to accept, appreciate and love myself?
- I began by changing the core beliefs I held about myself
We all have certain beliefs about ourselves. “I’m good at maths” or “I am intelligent” or “I am shy”. What we think about ourselves shapes how we behave; what I’m trying to say is that we believe what we tell ourselves. I had told myself I was stupid, pathetic, ugly over a number of years- and that is what I came to believe. No one is born with a deep seated hatred – for anything.
When I changed the way I spoke to myself, things changed.
Note: this is not easy. It can take years to alter the way you think and it is clear to see why. Habits die hard and negative thinking is a habit BUT it is not only possible but worth it.
- I challenge everything I think
I am now so aware of every negative thought that pops up. I have trained myself to watch for them and when they arise I tackle them head on. I ask “why?”, I rationalise, I approach and challenge my thoughts with logic rather than emotion.
- I look for the positives
In everything. If someone is looking at me do they have to be thinking “omg she is so ugly?” no, they could be thinking “nice hair, or nice jumper”. Don’t jump to conclusions and don’t seek out the bad things.
I eventually realised that I was unconsciously looking for negatives. In every interaction, in everything I saw. I trained myself to look in the mirror and pick out the “not so bad”, the things I “didn’t mind”. Eventually I learned to pick out things I liked.
- I have given up with “perfection”
I’ll probably do a bigger post on perfection because its important, but for now: I realised that I was looking for something I would never find- no wonder I despised myself! I wanted to be really clever and so when I got a grade back which was less than 100% I would berate myself heavily. I wanted to have perfect hair, a thinner body and a smaller nose. I wanted to be perfect. And I never will be, perfectionism is a state of mind in that it can never be satiated. You never get there, if I got all I wanted, I would still find problems because of the state my mind was in. It’s a self perpetuating cycle. You can never win.
- I practice gratitude
Instead of lamenting at my dry hair and putting my energies into sighing over what I am not, I look at what I do have. I have love in my life, I am healthy, I have family- and if you concentrate enough on this, your mindset begins to shift as you gain a bigger perspective on your being and your place in this life.
The flame of self hatred hasn’t gone out, I have merely reframed it, I have renamed it and changed its nature. It is love now, which I function on, not hate.
So this is me. I know how I would have looked at this photo a year ago, two years ago and beyond. I’d pick out the pasty complexion, the weird hair colour, my fat (or are they too thin here?) arms and my long nose.
Instead, I look at this photo now and I just see a woman. Perhaps she’s a bit too skinny (I’m working on that. See Operation Gain for more), but I am what I am. I took that photo a few days ago. I remember I was happy and I felt good.
In a way, it doesn’t matter what I look like. I look at the bigger picture these days. And having spent a lot of effort on making my life what it now is, I can smile and be proud.
Self love is a journey. And I know that isn’t what you want to hear but there are some things in life you have to fight through. You cannot take the short cut to this kind of destination. I wrongly thought that if I changed my exterior, my interior would follow suit. I was wrong. And no matter how hard I tried to change what I looked like – and believe me, I tried damn hard- I did not become happier. I did not.
It’s worth it. That’s all I can conclude. I no longer live in crippling despair and loathing. I no longer claw at my face, I no longer wish to be someone else.
Are you on the journey to self love?
What do you think is necessary to the journey?