A reader posed this question on yesterday’s blog and it’s such an important one. How do you learn to love yourself? It’s such a personal journey and I doubt it’s truly easy for anyone, but it’s something we don’t usually talk about and share with others. It’s sometimes too difficult to put into words, even as you’re going through it. We only manage to come out at the end and say, “Love yourself!”
Sometimes it’s far, far easier to love others than it is to love ourselves.*
As someone once said, “we are the sum of our experiences”, (I can’t find the source – everyone seems to quote this person without attribute.) so the only thing I can tell you is my journey. And I can say it took me about 14 years of solid effort before I got to a phase where I could truly say I had arrived.
And it first started with a moment in which I stood up for myself. In high school, I had a group of friends who weren’t really that great at being friends. I finally had one betrayal too many, and so I left. I wasn’t confrontational or anything – I was far too meek for that – but I just decided I had had enough. And I stopped spending time with them and moved on to a different group. (Pretty radical for junior/senior year though, I guess.)
Into college, though, I still needed my friends’ approval a little too much. Of course, we all like approval, but I couldn’t tell there was anything to like about me unless I had a mirror: someone reflecting approval back at me. Whether it be parent or friend or authority figure, I needed someone to tell me I was worth liking, because I couldn’t see it. Objectively, I knew I got good grades and I wasn’t totally uncreative, but I always used to say I didn’t trust others to see it. The truth was, I didn’t see it unless someone was telling me I was good. I needed a social mirror, but that mirror is finicky and inconsistent. It’s not like people stream compliments at you 24-7…it’d be weird if they did! But in the moments when I didn’t see active approval, I also could not see my own worth.
Then…it took another act of betrayal, this time, a far more devastating one – one in love that made me see how I had not stood up for myself. How I had not acted with self-respect. How I had given and given, only to be betrayed. That made me angry enough to say “No more.” I had gotten to a point where I knew what I wanted: marriage. I wanted someone who loved me. And I didn’t want it to be so.damn.hard. anymore. It took so much effort before, trying to be the perfect girlfriend, the one worth loving. I couldn’t do it anymore. I vowed the next time it had to be for real. The next time, I could not be the only one carrying the entire weight of the relationship. ‘Cuz I just did not have the energy anymore.
I took a lot of time for self-reflection. It took me a long time to process what I wanted from life. And to be honest, part of it came from having a stable, loving relationship, that – after a lot of hard work at the beginning – reaped enormous dividends of stability. It was like, having figured that part of my life out, I was suddenly free to figure everything else out. I had a foundation that was solid, and then I could work on everything else. It doesn’t sound that empowered to say I needed someone else to provide stability before I could figure myself out. Maybe that’s just how I operate. Maybe that’s just how things just happened to fall in place in my life. Maybe I just needed my heart to heal first. I don’t know.
But I did put a lot of effort into just plain old self-analysis. A lot of it was about figuring out what events in my life stood out in my memory, and seeing how my parents and other life experiences shaped me into who I am now. How they formed my desire for family, my values, my difficulty with trust – all of it, the good, the bad, the ugly. And a lot of it was about figuring out what I really wanted in life – what would make me happy: a family, a varied, challenging and flexible career, words, good food, travel. And I went out and chased it. The rest was about figuring out what kind of person I wanted to be (partly by noticing what it was I admired in others). And I worked on that too.
After a while, the pieces started to fall into place. Step by step the career falls in line. Step by step I make little achievements in being a more well-rounded person. And finally, I just discovered I didn’t need the mirror anymore. I could see myself – both the good and the bad – and I knew my worth and I didn’t need others to tell me (as much). (Usually.) Compliments and hubby support are always welcome.
Looking back on it, I think falling in love with yourself is much like falling in love with someone else. And I’m not talking crush, I’m talking the real thing.
1. It starts with respect. Extending a little respect for yourself and learning to treat yourself with respect is essential.
2. Just like bridging the gap between warring factions, it also requires understanding. Take the time to understand who you are, where you came from, and who you want to be. With a little understanding, you’ll find something worth respecting…and maybe even something worth liking.
3. Give yourself time. Time to learn to trust yourself. It sounds kooky maybe, but sometimes, I think the problem is we don’t always trust ourselves to behave the way we wish we would. But once you set your intentions and commit the energy to being who you wish you were, eventually you’ll catch up.
And one day, you might just wake up smiling, realizing you’re just thoroughly happy and content. And it’s because you’re in love.
*I can hear the jokes already, and it might seem odd I would post on such a topic when so much of our culture is so self-absorbed, self-involved and entitled. But that’s not the kind of love I’m talking about. It’s not about narcissism or vanity, selfishness or a “me-first” mentality. It’s the kind of love that frees you to love others more deeply. It’s the kind of love that allows you the space to give back to the people around you.