I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase, “you can’t love others until you love yourself”.
What I have found to be true in looking back, is that I could never accept love from others until I loved myself. There was nothing anyone could do to make me believe that they loved me. And people did a lot of things to try to convince me. They gave me their time, words, gifts, their best efforts at convincing me that I was loved. I did not believe any of it. I had impossibly high expectations of people. Expectations that could never be met.
I wanted people to fly to the moon and write it in the stars that they loved me. Even if they had done that, I would find some reason why it wasn’t enough. Why what they did actually proved they did not love me. They used the wrong stars, they took too long, they made eye contact with my enemy after they did it. Whatever. I truly believed for many years that I was unloved by everyone who claimed they loved me. I thought they were lying. What was actually the case was that I believed I was unloveable. Because how could anyone love me? “They claim they love me because they don’t really know me,” I thought.
As my quest for self-love began, I noticed that it became easier for me to accept love from others. It’s hard to pin point the day or the exact action that brought about this change. I was doing a few things daily that, over time, changed the way I thought about myself.
First, I started a “happy jar”. At the end of everyday, I write one happy thing that happened that day. things like, “I shared honestly at an NA meeting and felt better afterwards,” or “I took a nap with my kitten,” or “I breathed oxygen.” Looking at the positive in each day helped me have a more positive outlook, and I think it helped me grow towards loving myself.
Also, I started every day by looking in the mirror and saying “I love you” out loud to myself. At first it seemed silly, but it changed the way I thought about myself. Now, the first thing I think when I look in a mirror is not that my skin isn’t clear enough, or I’m not thin enough, or I’m just not enough. Instead, when I look in a mirror the first thing I think is, “I love you.” That’s really powerful and has changed my life.
Some days I forgot to say “I love you” to myself in the morning, so I put a note by my mirror to remind me. This gave me the idea to put notes all over my apartment. I wrote notes to myself and put one by my bed, by my desk, on my fridge, and by my door. For example, the one my by desk says “no matter what gets done, and what is left undone, you are enough.” The one by my bed says “yes, you are imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that you are also brave and worthy of love and belonging.” both of those are Brene Brown quotes. She’s amazing. Now, I write myself notes all the time. The night before a big exam, I’ll leave myself a note to read in the morning encouraging my best effort instead of perfection. I love getting love notes, and I don’t need to wait for one from someone else in order to feel validated and loved.
I started taking myself on dates. I took myself out to dinner, I went on walks, I went to see live music, anything I might have done with a boyfriend in the past. The most memorable date I went on with myself was to see Nick Offerman do stand-up comedy. I was nervous to go to an event like that by myself. I spent about 15 minutes in the bathroom because I got there so early and had no one to talk to. Eventually, I faced my anxiety and sat in the lobby until the doors opened. I didn’t play games on my phone, I just sat and patiently waited. I filled that time with self-loving thoughts instead of self-critical ones.
Which brings me to my next activity. I call it treating myself. It can be any activity that you like doing just for you. An activity that feels like a luxury. For example, mine is that I get my nails done. I used to get my nails done every week. Now I get them done less often. While I get my nails done, I tell myself only self-loving things. I spend about an hour having a totally loving inner-dialogue. It’s really difficult to do this for an hour. I tell myself I’m beautiful and a little voice will chime in that says, “that’s not true,” I tell myself I am smart and worthy of love and a little voice will say, “here’s an situation that explains why you’re wrong.” I try not to judge those thoughts. I spent my whole life thinking negatively about myself, it’s okay that the habit is still there. Instead, I just say to myself, “hey, you don’t have to think that way anymore, it’s okay to believe you’re beautiful and smart and worthy of love.”
After a few days, I noticed a slight change. After about three months, my life changed. When I was walking to class or taking an exam or really anywhere any time, I noticed that my thoughts were less-critical. Most importantly, I noticed that when someone complimented me, my first thought was, “that’s true” instead of “wow that person doesn’t know me at all.” This enabled me to feel closer to others than I ever had. I gave myself permission to be myself and accept love from others. One of my notes to myself says, “a lot of people love you, and they aren’t wrong.”
Now, I really need to emphasize that I am not perfect at this. For example, sometimes I embarrass myself by giving people more information about my life than they asked for. These situations are where I get the most self-critical. I have a deep desire to be known by others. That is a wonderful thing. It comes out in ways that are less-wonderful. If someone is talking about what type of razor they should shave with, I might say something like “yeah, I’ve had some really bad experiences with razors.” Not the time or the place, Sim. In these situations, I say really mean things to myself. Because I just made people uncomfortable and I told them about a disturbing time in my life with no explanation or context. I notice myself saying things like, “wow, you are an idiot,” or “what kind of person does that? These people are never going to talk to you again.” I try to combat these thoughts with kind ones, but it can be really difficult.
Another example is when someone is confronting me for something I did wrong. A few weeks ago, I was apologizing profusely and I nearly apologized for being alive. I almost said it out loud, “I am so sorry that I exist, I should never have been born.” A completely inappropriate comment for the situation. But in that moment, I felt that who I was as a human being was wrong, instead of just my performance being a bit lower than what was expected of me. I clearly have more compassion work to do.
This is something I work on in some form everyday. Mostly I do this because it brings me a lot of joy and love, and it allows me to accept joy and love from others.