Self-love for dummies
Please, take this article with a pinch of salt, I’m still struggling to tame my inner voice here and there, but if you’re looking to grow into self-love and feel like you don’t quite understand it, maybe this personal experience helps sort things out.
Self-love is not straightforward
Long before my own therapy started showing results I was reading about self-love. Books, articles, stories of women who had this feeling embedded into their personality, and even though I consider myself a rather smart and well-educated human being, I have to admit I never quite got it. Not until it started manifesting in myself, but it was a rather difficult and lengthy process, especially because I had very little to build upon.
You know, I was one of the struggling ones. I managed to be successful at most of the things I felt were important through an immense volume of work and thus I overcame most of my weaknesses or missing talent, but truth be told, until my late 30’s, I didn’t feel good in my life. Each new accomplishment and its subsequent joy faded rather quickly into oblivion and I returned over and over to the feeling that I HAD to do some more until I would finally begin to feel that self-love I was reading about.
What got you here won’t get you there
It is, of course, useful to consciously avoid situations, people and behaviors that are fragrantly destructive or belittling. This is the hygienic layer of the behavior. Stay away from toxic people and situations, take red flags for what they are and completely avoid the situations or persons, be careful how you treat yourself (food, rest, sex and life in general) and then you can start building.
Until I managed to cut off toxic people and situations and I started some more respect to myself by being really careful how and what I eat, who I sleep with, how much I sleep, how do I recharge, my life was quite a mess and I was quite unhappy, despite my fulfilling career and social life.
Judge yourself from the outside
Because I had difficulty deciding what situation or person was toxic, I applied the filter “If this was happening to my daughter, would I advise her to avoid it?” and it managed to shed light on what was acceptable or not in my life as well.
When you are quite twisted (trying to avoid the eff’ed-up version) you often have trouble deciding for yourself what’s ok and what’s not ok, because this is what happens when you grow emotionally traumatized. You have a really low standard and learn to live with some very complicated situations, but the “daughter filter” helped me discern better. I, unfortunately, tried to apply the same technique to start feeling some self-love, but I was quite disappointed to observe the fact that it really didn’t bring me any more depth than the simple, basic feeling that I was treating myself nicely.
Acknowledge the wound and be honest
For me, because I had the chance of finding some sort of social and professional success, it was difficult to dismiss my previous life. I felt like at the core of my success was, ultimately, the fact that I didn’t really like myself.
I was afraid that once I’d start being comfortable with myself, I would become fat again, for instance (I grew up as an overweight teen and being fat and then losing weight kind of defined a big part of who I felt I was). So, for years, I struggled with this until I started making lists of things that went well BECAUSE I didn’t like myself and, well, what went terribly wrong, for the exact same reasons.
I reframed the things that went well in a more constructive way, looking for ways to continue the good behaviors in the future, that had some better emotional roots than self-loathing. For example, I felt that thanks to not liking myself I managed to reshape my body. I reevaluated that in a more age-appropriate vision.
Now, at my 37-year-old self, having a nice body translates into having energy, staying active and healthy, being connected to the way I am, feeling attractive and confident, having a nice, strong immune and reproduction systems. Same result, different emotional root.
Remember good things in bad experiences and do not lie to yourself
Not knowing how self-love feels like makes everything more difficult.
My biggest problem was that I didn’t know how self-love feels, and I was usually wondering whether or not I was heading in the right direction.
I feared mostly that my critical voice was becoming destructive and that my process wasn’t deep enough to create substantial change. Blocking this process was in fact the most difficult part, and I managed to silence my mind by journaling and meditating. Also, whenever I observed myself being overly critical and doubting my process, I would apply the “daughter filter” to myself. Would I allow somebody to talk to my daughter in those exact same words I was addressing myself? Most of the times, the answer was “hell, no” and in time I managed to feel love about my own self.
If a dog bangs his tail when he’s happy, banging his own tail won’t make him happy
I would have saved a lot of time and energy if I hadn’t believed in “fake it until you make it”. For years I erroneously thought that IF I acted AS THOUGH I love myself, I had some good chances of growing into loving myself. You know all those warm foamy baths, candles, face masks, self-help books and positive thinking? Seriously, save yourself the time and drop it, if you don’t FEEL it first, they’re just a pleasant waste of time (and often, money).
You can get some inspiration from some books, you can get some optimism if you’re overly critical and some degree of hydrated skin, but that’s about it, unfortunately.
Give it time, lots of it
Love comes with patience; you can’t rush the process.
I’m currently in my 11th year of therapy, with a total of 2365 sessions of therapy. AND NO, I’M NOT BATSHIT CRAZY, as you might think of . I’m not saying it will take you half your life, but you should give it a couple of years of daily self-work to feel like you’re making SOME progress.
Remember, you are changing deep patterns that have been embedded into your personality, it’s not a superficial transformation. And it’s a continuous process, you should grow WITH it. Have faith, even if you feel like you’re not there yet, these things take time.