The first thing I knew about self esteem was that I didn’t have much of it. Around the time I started growing armpit hair, I was referred to a special program for kids with low confidence. I don’t remember much about the class except that the program’s counselor constantly tried to covering up her smoking habit with an offensively pungent perfume. I think the program didn’t work very well, because, ermm, I guess because I am writing this.
Not loving yourself occurs when you fundamentally lose sight of your inner beauty. For many years, that is where I was. I saw myself as having little value, and constantly compared myself to friends who were infinitely more intelligent, charismatic, and attractive.
Loving yourself requires radical acceptance. It means you have to confront the parts of yourself that scare the shit out you and bring them all out into the open. You have to give yourself an honest and thorough examination and accept everything that cannot or should not be changed. I was stuck for half a decade because I refused to admit that I was gay. I knew I was, but I clung desperately to the fictitious dream that I had crafted for my life. I bought jean shorts from H&M, but then returned them after trying them on in the privacy of my bedroom. I would avoid saying certain words or try to inflect my voice differently so I sounded less…fabulous. I couldn’t love my true self, because I ran away screaming from my true self.
I existed in this fantastical imaginary world of me as an “ordinary” straight person, but it was just that: imaginary. You can’t love the life that truly is if you are too busy lusting after a life imagined. I promise, no matter how hard this seems, it is not nearly as hard as the unbearable grind of living a life that is not authentic.
Don’t be embarrassed about the things that make you who you are. Don’t hide the fact that you are a 17 year old guy who loves to knit. Screw stereotypes and forget the haters. You like what you like and you are who you are. Pretending anything else is just concealing one part of what makes you a wonderful human being.
Accept your own forgiveness. Take a broad survey of all the things that you have done wrong, do what is possible to amend them, and then — as if they are leafs peacefully drifting away on a river — let them go. Maybe you’ve done things that you cannot take back, but as long as your heart beats on, you have the ability to redefine and change the trajectory of your life.
Embrace every spontaneous moment to be you. Don’t worry about how to “fit in” or blend into the crowd. The crowd isn’t offering you anything, but on the other hand, you have so much to offer the crowd.
Invest in people who love you. Not just the “omg I want to make out with your hot face” love, but the “I have no physical attraction to you, but I would lay down on the railroad tracks for you” type of love. These are the people who will sacrifice for you, who will laugh with you, and who will fight for you. These are the people who will hold your hair back in the bathroom after a night filled with mistakes. These are the people who will remind you everyday that you have value beyond comprehension. If your “friends” aren’t doing that, they aren’t worth your time.
Don’t be afraid to seek out professional help if you need it. Despite leagues of progress, there remains a stigma around getting treatment for mental illness — particularly among us men. While going to the doctor for a sprained ankle is perfectly acceptable, it is somehow an unmasculine act of weakness to get help for our broken emotions (In actuality, given a choice between the two pains, I would easily pick the sprained ankle). We all have the right to live happy fulfilling lives that our brain allows to to appreciate. If that isn’t happening, we need to correct the thought patterns that are bogging us down.
And finally, be patient with yourself. Physical wounds can take time to heal, and so can emotional wounds. Don’t expect your mentality to take “a 180” overnight. Don’t rush yourself. Unchaining yourself from depression, anxiety, and self loathing is an exercise that can be more rigorous than scaling Mt. Everest. If you are still trying, though, you are more than halfway there!
At the start of last semester I found myself walking with some friends that I had made at a new job. Our conversations were natural and seamless, and the banter was quick and witty. I made some sarcastic comment out of the corner of my mouth, everyone roared with laughter, and I caught myself thinking the words “I love myself”.