I sat for about ten minutes staring at the blinking cursor when I first started to write this blogpost. As much as I've been privileged to help other people on their journey to self-love, it's completely different when I direct that introspection towards myself. Even today, after practicing therapy for six years and studying psychology for thirteen, it's still hard to understand and talk about. I guess that's a good place to start.
It was in college when I was studying psychology that I first heard about this idea of self-love and why it's so important. Before then, it never occurred to me that self-love would be something I needed, let alone something that existed.
My childhood years consisted of extremely competitive gymnastics where I was never taught to love myself, but only to be critical of myself for the purpose of performing perfectly and winning a medal for my team. I suppose the most self-love I felt at that point would be when I did actually win something, which in hindsight, was an unhealthy precedent.
My teen years were spent avoiding trauma I experienced at age 13 as well as the grief of losing all four of my grandparents. As soon as I quit gymnastics at age 14, I got my first job. It seems that I did not want the space to "work on myself," let alone love myself, which was a foreign idea at that point. I only knew hard work and felt the need to keep going with that. So I worked as much as my worker's permit allowed me (30 hours per week) and haven't stopped working since.
I moved away from home for college when I was 18 from Northern to Southern California, a 9-hour drive and 1.5 hour flight. In my freshman year, I heard this weird term, "self-love," and initially scoffed at it. It seemed like such a hippy-dippy, soft-person concept, something only people with long hair who live at the top of mountains do.
Despite my initial, visceral reaction to the idea of self-love, I was officially introduced to it. I had been told by a professional, one of my professors, that self-love was something to strive for and, if I wanted to help others love themselves, I would have to love myself first. I didn't believe this at first, but at least the notion was present in the back of my mind.
Around this time I entered what was the start of a six-year, abusive relationship. After moving to New York, my life was completely changed by the graduate program in mental health counseling I spent two years completing. We spent extensive amounts of times in each of our classes discussing ourselves, our stories, our thoughts, behaviors, and so forth. I started to see the embodiment of self-love in other people, people I became close to and who I admired. I learned about their journeys. Self-love became something to strive for and not something to banish because I feared it and didn't believe I deserved it.
The greatest act of self-love I committed was leaving that abusive relationship. In 2015, a couple of months after graduating from the master's program, I started intellectually and spiritually considering who I wanted to be and how I deserved to be treated. In ending that relationship, I realized how much I didn't love myself during that time. It was easy to see it in that six-year time period I spent with this person because it was so abusive and clear. In the years and personal work since then though, this realization has expanded to how much I haven't loved myself my entire life and how that's led to a very complicated, conflicted, and now thriving relationship I have with myself.
I am at a point where I have done so much work on myself that I am able to look back on specific interactions and people and see how that directly relates to feelings of self-love or self-hate in the present. Being completely honest though?
Oftentimes, it is two-steps-forward, one-step-back. I have an epiphany and it is quite daunting and the mere existence of it is all I can handle at the moment, so it just sits. It might be months, even years, before what that epiphany means about the way I view the world and myself really begins to soak in.
Here are some of the vehicles I use to help me on my journey to self-love:
These all allow me the space to consider myself. Some are more direct than others, like therapy where I am actually talking about self-love. Others are more indirect, but just as powerful, like cooking or walking, where I'm simply allowing myself to exist and do something that makes me feel good.
In addition to discovering how to allow self-love in, I've also evolved in my definition of it. I used to think it was the ability to say, "I love myself," but now, I have so many other ways of experiencing self-love. Here are some of mine:
+Expressing pride in myself, to people or just even to my journal
+Allowing myself to participate in self-care and not feel guilty about it
+Looking in the mirror and actually thinking I look pretty
+Letting my guard down around my partner
+Truly being happy for someone else and not feeling resentment, jealousy, or competition
+Talking myself down when I feel depressed or anxious and negative thoughts come swarming in
+Saying "thank you" instead of "I'm sorry" - I'm so tired of apologizing
+Telling my story
I'm still scared of it. That has a lot to do with my experiences with it, but also our culture. Sadly, our culture conflates self-love with self-absorption, which is completely different. We also get conflicting messages, such as "love yourself, but not too much" or "love yourself, but change your weight, your clothes, wear make-up, do this, do that" or "you can't love anyone until you love yourself, but right now I need you to love and take care of me" to name a few.
As the title of this post indicates, my journey to self-love is far from complete and in reality, never will be.
What IS starting to be a constant and steadiness though, is how to find that self-love and to be open to it as I change, such as with what I listed above.
It's certainly not a line that you simply cross from self-hate to self-neglect to self-avoidance to self-love. It's not definitive like that, which is why the long spiel here about my complex journey. Self-love is exhausting, daunting, and scary. But it is also necessary, at least to be on the ongoing journey to it.