Prior to this year, the “self-love” buzzword used to really get under my skin. All the “just love yourself” statements always made it sound so easy. Just like how people commonly say “just let it go”, as though you can flip a switch on something painful and suddenly it will no longer hurt.
For someone that is struggling, hearing those kinds of statements from others can royally tick you off… including from your therapist, as it turns out!
We’re not born with shame, self-hatred, or insecurities. That begins to emerge through our childhood by observing those closest to us. It is then reinforced and amplified by socialization and what we see in the media.
I’ll give you an example from my own life:
I grew up primarily in the care of my mother, who was hyper-fixated on appearance as a measure of self-worth. She had been bullied as a kid for being overweight, so she was always trying to lose that last bit of weight. She associated being overweight with pain, and being fit or thin with more positive things like approval and praise. This led to an adult that spent hours at the gym, ran 10k a day, and battled with an eating disorder to try to look a certain way.
When she was thin she would feel great. She would dress in skimpy outfits and go out on the town feeling incredibly confident. When she didn’t feel so great or struggled with her weight, it was a very different story. As I grew up witnessing this, I started unknowingly adopting those same beliefs about self-worth being tied to your appearance.
As I emerged into my pre-teen and beyond years, this became increasingly problematic. I distinctly remember times when I had gained a little bit of weight and was feeling down on myself. Rather than being told that I was perfect as I was and that my worth was not tied to how I looked, I was told “you just need to lose 10lbs and you’ll be perfect!”. I was encouraged to go to the gym and go on a diet.
I know that she meant well. She didn’t want to see me get bullied as she had been in her younger years. That said, it doesn’t change the fact that it had a detrimental effect on my own self-worth. This parenting approach was coming from her own unconscious beliefs, and though she was trying to shield me from potential pain, it caused pain in a whole different way.
This is just one example of many of course. There are plenty of ways in which we can be exposed to, and unconsciously adopt, these types of self-hating behaviours and beliefs.
Maybe you grew up with a perfectionist as a parent, needing everything to look and be perfect.. or else. This can lead children to becoming hyper-focused on perfectionism themselves. Holding yourself to incredibly high standards, punishing yourself for failing to meet them, and struggling to truly appreciate and celebrate when you do meet them because you always feel as though you could have done better.
Another example would be parents that use a lot of self-deprecating humor or demonstrate a lot of negative self-talk. Hearing those you love talk down about themselves, call themselves dumb, or make jokes about being lacking in various ways can have a similar effect on children raised in that type of environment. They may start to adopt those same tendencies, which will follow them into their adult lives and relationships.
So many of us grow up like this learning these limiting mindsets and beliefs from parents that lack self-love themselves. The really unfortunate thing is that these beliefs can hold us back long into adulthood until we bring them to conscious awareness.
This year I learned that loving yourself is not something that you just wake up one day and decide to do. It is something that you consistently decide to practice through little steps each day. Most importantly, it is something that can be learned.
It’s correcting the negative thoughts and eliminating self deprecating humour.
It’s using affirmations and working on yourself.
It’s taking yourself on dates and doing things you love that make you feel good, in whatever way that presents for you.
It’s setting and holding boundaries to protect yourself from emotional harm from others around you.
It’s honouring and allowing yourself to feel however it is that you feel… without trying to distract yourself, shove it down, or force yourself to feel a different way.
It’s allowing yourself to have a break without being hard on yourself for wasting time or not being productive.
It’s allowing yourself to celebrate small successes and having compassion for yourself when you have setbacks.
It’s coming to terms with some of the shadow parts of yourself so that you can accept yourself more fully.
It’s doing whatever you need to do to bring joy and happiness to your life and get back to your true self, free of everything you picked up from others along the way that no longer serves you.
You won’t be perfect at it all the time, but the great thing about practice is that the more you do it, the easier it gets. If you keep building these things into your daily routine, you start to see your perspective change. It may be slow movement, but I promise that you are are worth the effort! So much more in this life is waiting for you on the other side of this journey.