Why is it so hard for you to love yourself?
I repeatedly ask myself this question as I look at my reflection in the mirror, which is now covered in “name tags,” or words and phrases that come together to form a definition about who we are. This exercise comes from an e-course that I’ve been involved with called Be You and Love It, allowing me to wrestle with my own identity, but to also experience wholeness in the process. I can honestly say that it has been a lifeline, and am beyond grateful for the woman who created it.
Yet the question still remains…why is it so hard?
From a general standpoint, self-love seems apathetic, as though you don’t care for anyone else around you. If you speak it outwardly, you’re either labeled as conceited, self-involved, or perhaps even bitchy. In some Christian circles, loving yourself is akin to not fully loving Jesus, or not putting Him above all else. And whether I’m looking at it from a spiritual standpoint or not, it seemed superficial and preachy; as though by following a particular formula, you’d somehow find the answer and instantly feel good. And I can’t stand that kind of sugar-coated thinking.
In my own experience, it has been challenging because I was never taught how to accept the way that God made me, to embrace my imperfections as opposed to trying to hide or change them. It’s possible that those who should have been examples didn’t know how to love themselves either, therefore passing it onto me. And because certain messages where coming from those older than I (most of them were adults and family members), it didn’t occur to me that their views were only one perspective. Even after I became a Christian, that perspective often drowned out God’s Truth.
That’s exactly why it has taken me thirteen years to fully understand the concept; wherever I turned, there was always somebody telling me that I was not enough, and I felt like I never would be.
I suppose I’ve been afraid to love myself because it seemed to indicate that I had to walk alone.
“Do what you can for yourself, so that you won’t need it from someone else.”
But real love isn’t independent, least of all from God. It’s a partnership, an equal partnership.
Self-love is hard work, and to espouse it means to be saturated in the love and Grace of God. That love pours out onto you, and you in turn pour that love into others.
If we can love others, why shouldn't we be able to do the same for ourselves? It doesn’t always have to involve making a list of personal attributes or reasons why we have worth. I’ve realized that love and acceptance isn’t just rooted in identity; it’s about what we do for ourselves as well. We need to do things that make us come alive because being ourselves is how we truly live. It means setting boundaries, because we know that we can only give so much before exhaustion and resentment sets in. It means recognizing that some relationships are for a lifetime, while others are for a season. It’s knowing when to keep fighting and when to surrender. It’s taking responsibility for our own actions and choices, but understanding that we’re not responsible for that of others.
For me, it’s nourishing my inner child that adores Disney movies, laughing at random moments, and going on adventures. If I can’t do that, I withdraw.
If love is allowing another person to be human, then we must give our own person that same permission. Permission to show up, mess up, and not stretch ourselves to where we’re trying too damn hard.
To love ourselves is to merely be ourselves.
I did the name tag exercise after I wrote those words in my journal; I needed to be alone, without distraction and without needing to explain what I was doing. I used yellow for the “bad” thoughts/opinions, and orange for the “good” ones. I started sticking the yellow tags on my mirror, an instrumental version of Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” came on my iPad, followed by Taylor Swift’s “Shake it off.” I don’t usually pay attention to signs or symbolism, but something was happening and it brought tears to my eyes. These words, many of which had been stuck onto me over a decade by peers and others in a state frustration, stared at me like a tiger waiting to pounce.
The orange ones were composed of a much shorter list, and I felt rather indifferent as I wrote them out. It seemed cliché almost, as though I’d heard those words a thousand times before and they no longer meant anything. I knew they were true to some degree, but I’ve always struggled with actually believing them. I can tell the difference between a genuine compliment and being buttered up; it’s why I shudder and bristle when a random guy calls me “beautiful” or “sexy” instead of being flattered. It’s a matter of trust, mostly, as opposed to words themselves. I can trust someone that knows my heart and has seen me at my worst, but definitely not a slime ball who only wants to take me home for the night.
But as I looked at them, I kept thinking how none of those names, good or bad, actually define me. Some of them are opinions and some are flat out lies. Others are just reality, and there are even those that have actually become assets over time.
It really is a journey, and one where I continue to grow and evolve, one day at a time. I accept that it is not a singular transformation, and there are days where I’m going to dislike who I see and wish that certain things were different, like the fact that I am deep and sensitive. I’m thankful for those who have been a positive influence, and continue to be as I experience different stages and transitions. I’ve been blessed to know some amazing men and women who exude a confidence and sense of self that I’m almost jealous of. But I’m getting there.
Love does not need a thousand reasons or adjectives, but a simple foundation that offers quiet strength. I will keep saying this until I run out of breath: I am a human being and a child of God, and I rest in that.