It’s the New Year, and you’ve probably seen it all over social media: this year, my intention is self-love. I used to wonder what this actually meant. It seemed so abstract and bewildering. Annoyingly, this phrase never came with instructions on how to actually do this. So for the longest time, the idea of self-love felt empty and shallow for me. But once it finally clicked, it never felt so clear and simple.
Self-love means not needing anyone else’s approval or validation. Self-love means being enough for yourself and for everyone else in your life. Self-love means not having to prove your worth to anyone—even yourself. Self-love means accepting and loving yourself for who you are.
Coming from a Korean, codependent, religious household, my worth felt very driven by my parents’ approval of me. For my pastor dad and mom, nothing was ever good enough unless it was for their God and their church. This caused me to feel like I always fell short of their expectations and love because I just for the life of me could not adhere to this requirement and condition for their affection.
Without this unconditional love and acceptance that seemed so standard for many of my White friends and peers, I spent a quarter of my life hiding parts of myself, fearing my parents disapproval. I never felt safe enough to be my true and authentic self in front of the two people who gave me life and were supposed to love me no matter what.
This creeped into many aspects of my life. I looked for love and belonging in my partners, thinking that having a boyfriend would fill this lonely void in my heart. I sought external validation from friends, bosses, and colleagues, believing that going out of my way to help others and people-please would make me feel loved, wanted, and needed.
I tried so hard to fill this internal void through external ways. Sometimes it worked, but the feeling was usually fleeting. Like a quick fix and a band-aid over a gunshot wound, it didn’t get me far, and I had to find more ways to fill this void.
It took me many years of therapy, joining a support group like Codependents Anonymous, processing my trauma and negative core beliefs with EMDR, therapy with my own clients, and most importantly, being able to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
These days, I no longer feel like I need this external validation. What was once a void is now full of love and acceptance because I’ve finally gotten to a place where I actually believe that I’m lovable, worthy, and best of all, I’m not alone.
So my intention for this year is to continue cultivating this internal validation and not caring about others’ approval. I’ve accepted that I might never get the kind of unconditional love and support from my parents that I deserve, but I’m okay with that. I don’t need it anymore. I recognize their limitations, and if anything, I’ve learned exactly what not to do when I have children of my own. Here’s to breaking intergenerational cycles and learning how to unconditionally love for the first time.