Self-love gets a bad rap. Probably because it’s so wildly misunderstood.
I mean, I get it. It can sound unattainable, self-indulgent, even a little weird. Judging from a lot of the complaints I hear about it, oh, all the time, it’s clear to me that a little understanding needs to be spread around. And that’s cool, it’s what I do.
But reading an article claiming that self-love is bullsh*t…that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had to try to clear things up because while self-love gets made fun of, or dismissed as bullsh*t, or whatever, there are people out there who are really suffering without it and need real help. I know I suffered for a long, long time, and want to spare anyone I can that kind of pain.
So here are a few points I wanted to address, in case anyone was confused:
Self-love doesn’t mean liking yourself all the time. Do you know anyone who you like all the time? We all have things we don’t like about ourselves, and that’s where acceptance comes in – especially on bad days. There’s nothing I can do right in this moment about my big thighs, for instance, and I have to accept that vs. wishing and hoping that they’ll magically get smaller (while comparing them to much thinner thighs, which just makes me feel worse). Waste of time, waste of energy. If I want to change them, I can spend time on that, but right now? Just gotta accept it. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t love myself or even that I don’t like myself. My thighs, my tendency to procrastinate, my fear of driving…these are parts of me that I don’t like, and they can’t change in the blink of an eye, but I still love myself. Same thing with any part of us – whether or not we can or even want to change our bodies, or our habits or tendencies, we can acknowledge and accept those parts AND still love ourselves. In fact that’s the only way to go.
Self-love doesn’t mean faking self-esteem. Talk about false logic. Self-love means trying to build your self-esteem so you stop settling for the littlest crumbs of what life will throw your way, so you’ll start standing up for yourself rather than just laying down and letting others walk over you, so you’ll start asserting what it is you need. But you need to believe that you deserve these things first…which means your self-esteem needs work. It’s a process, day-to-day, sometimes choice-to-choice. The more you work on it, the better you feel, and the more you’ll want to do it. A pretty exciting cycle, right?
You DO need to build your self-esteem and love yourself before anyone else can. Trust me on this one. If you hate yourself, you’ll constantly be looking for reasons your relationship won’t work – even if you don’t know you’re doing it (and you probably won’t, either). Your insecurities will bubble up everywhere. We’ve all seen it – the super clingy boyfriend/girlfriend, or the one who is always convinced the other is cheating, or the one who cheats/treats their sig other like trash because they figure their relationship will never work anyway so why bother, or the one who always needs reinforcement of how loved/beautiful they are…Nobody wants to date that person, do they? I almost lost what turned out later on to be my marriage because I was so afraid to let myself be loved, so I kept pushing a really amazing guy away – convinced he couldn’t possibly love me once he really knew me. I was also nursing a pretty extreme binge eating disorder at the time, plus other self-abusive activities. It doesn’t take a genius, folks.
Self-love and false self-esteem are NOT the same thing, nor does one lead to the other. Like, what? If I start making choices out of a place of love for myself – spending time with people who add to my life rather than draining my energy, refusing to date a guy who makes me feel like nothing, standing up for what’s important to me, taking care of my body and my spirit – how is that false self-esteem? If anything, I’m making choices from a place of healthy self-esteem, which is better and better because I’m treating myself with love and respect for once. Because my self-love has improved, because I’ve been working on it day by day, because I’m starting to believe that I’m actually worth it. How is this false? How is this bad? False self-esteem is built up when one person throws pretty lies and empty words at another person without providing context or support. You know who does that? Coaches who give other coaches a bad name.
No, a person doesn’t just wake up one day with either poor OR amazing self-esteem – but that doesn’t mean that telling them they need to improve it, or pointing out that they make poor choices because their self-esteem is poor, is a mistake. That’s why coaching isn’t just a one-shot sort of thing, nor is therapy, nor is any sort of activity or behavior which results in sustainable life changes. It’s a process. Just like learning to love yourself in a natural, sustainable way that’s true for you is a process. That doesn’t make it bullsh*t. That makes it life. And it’ll look different to everyone.
Rather than complaining that self-love has an air of perfectionism, why don’t we instead try to explain what it really means – making positive choices from a place of love and acceptance – so we can make it more accessible to everyone?
Yeah, it’s messy. Nobody’s perfect, but nobody’s being asked to be perfect, either.
It involves taking time to go through past disasters, it involves forgiving ourselves and other people.
It means saying “I’m worth more than this” over and over again until the words become the truth.
It takes time to undo a lifetime’s worth of negativity, loneliness, guilt, shame, whatever.
But nothing – and no one! – is more worthwhile.