I’ve been on a journey lately. A journey deep inside myself with the goal of learning to truly love the person that I am. It has not been easy. While being kind and loving to others has always been second nature to me, the idea of treating myself with that same compassion and care has proven to be one of the most difficult things in my life. But I’ve been working hard on it, and lately I am better prepared for this battle, one of self-acceptance and love that I didn’t know before.
I found myself wondering why this has always been so hard for me. Why is it often so easy for us to love others but we find this concept of self-love so difficult? Is it because we see the idea of self-love as sort of self-centered and think that loving ourselves is just plain selfish? Or is it easier to love others because we see, for the most part, the best sides of them, whereas we have to see and live with what we may view as the worst parts of ourselves? I get it, self-love is hard and I used to think the same things, that self-love was just some trendy idea thrown around in therapists’ offices. But I now believe it’s so important and that life can be so much more fulfilling when you’re happy with the person that you are.
I know it can also be hard to love yourself if you are, like I am, a perfectionist. For a perfectionist, very few things that we do ever feel like they are good enough. We are constantly striving to be better and to do more in our lives. I’ve struggled with this since I was young. And I’ve come a long way with my perfectionism. I like to say that I’m a “recovering perfectionist”. I’ve learned that imperfections can be beautiful and to let things go more easily. I think having a chronic illness has forced me to learn to be okay with things being less than ideal, because my body often just won’t let me be that perfect version of myself that I pictured myself becoming and strived so hard to be when I was younger. I’ve accepted that life has had other plans for me. Maybe this has been a blessing in disguise.
I can remember so clearly how nothing that I did was ever good enough for me when I was younger. I was voted homecoming princess in the 10th grade, but in our school, two people from each grade shared that crown, and I remember thinking how much cooler and more popular I thought the other girl was compared to me. I couldn’t just enjoy the honor I had received, because I still wasn’t good enough in my mind. My senior year I was voted Most Attractive Female in our class for the senior superlatives and I remember when the votes were being tallied, it was a close race between me and another girl. When I found out that I won, I was shocked. I told myself that the only reason I beat the other girl was because I was always super nice to everyone which probably made more people vote for me, not because I actually deserved it. I could go on and on with examples like this, of times when I never felt good enough. In short, perfectionism, just like comparison, is a sneaky little thief of joy.
I wonder, looking back, how much joy and happiness I missed out on because of my perfectionism and lack of self-love. It makes me sad for the girl I was back then, but it also makes me more determined than ever to learn how to truly love the skin that I’m in today. I want to give that girl a big hug and be the person today that I needed back then. But this has proven to be hard. I’ve asked myself many times how I can really do this; how can I really love myself when I live in a body that is constantly letting me down?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in pain or facing yet another surgery and I’ve told my husband, “I hate my body”. It’s not easy to love your body when you feel like it is just a constant source of pain and discomfort. But recently I began to wonder how detrimental that viewpoint was on both my body and soul. Constantly feeling like I hated my body and being a tense, frustrated ball of nerves because of my pain just uses up so much valuable energy that I could be using for so much good. So I decided it was time to flip the narrative. Time to change the words I say to myself on a daily basis. The words we speak to ourselves become what we believe and shape who we are. I decided that I was going to learn to love this body that I’ve been given.
While I used to view self-love as kind of cliché and selfish, I now believe it is a beautiful thing that is so incredibly important, especially as a woman and a person that has a chronic illness. And if you’re a person who loves to help and serve others, learning to first love yourself is paramount. Alan Cohen said, “You can be helping many people, but if you are not helping yourself, you have missed the one person you were born to heal”. You cannot pour from an empty cup. When we first love and take care of ourselves, we can then love others more fully, with our whole hearts.
So how do we cultivate self-love in our lives when it often seems so elusive? For me, I’ve started by looking back at my journey and the challenges I’ve faced, and I’m learning to love my story and the woman who has overcome so much. I’ve started to think about my pain differently. Rather than viewing it as an enemy that I hate, I’ve started to realize the good that has come from my pain. Because I know what true pain is, I am able to feel and appreciate joy and happiness so much more. I have a different perspective on life because of it. It’s given me a wisdom that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s allowed me to help so many other people who are hurting, because I’ve been there and I know how to make it to the other side. My pain has given me purpose, and that’s something I’ve learned to love.
I’ve recently started doing a meditation to help me change how I think about and view my body and pain. During this meditation, I put my hands on different areas of my body while I breathe in, saying to that part of myself, “I love you”. I then breathe out, while telling myself, “we’re healing”. I’ve been doing this every day, with each part of my body, especially the ones that hurt. When I first started this meditation, I thought it was a little silly and I didn’t believe what I was telling myself, but I did it anyway. And I kept doing it. After a few days, the meditation made me start to cry. I was crying because I was thinking about the woman and girl who used to hate her body so much, this beautiful body that I was now starting to love and appreciate. I felt so much sadness for this girl and how I treated her. I wanted more than anything to change that. Since then, I’ve started to believe the words that I’m telling myself. And its a wonderful, freeing feeling.
You may not need to go this far to begin on a journey of self-love, but I encourage you to make self-love a priority and begin by changing some of the things that you tell yourself and how you see yourself. You can start by learning to forgive yourself for your past mistakes. Beating yourself up for ways that you have failed in the past does nobody any good. If you need to, think about how you would treat a little child or your best friend and how you would forgive them for making a mistake, for being human. Think of yourself this way and try to be kinder to yourself. You are human and in this life you will make mistakes. Use them to learn and grow, and then move on.
How many times have you looked in the mirror and seen things that you don’t like about yourself? I’ve started to look at myself and purposefully change the way I view my body. I have five big scars on my lower back from all of my surgeries that I’ve hated for quite a while. But recently I’ve challenged myself to see them differently. I now see my scars as battle scars that I am proud of; they show how strong I’ve been and all that I’ve overcome. I encourage you to see your scars in the same way.
Our bodies and lives each tell a story that is so special, a story that no one else has. A story that deserves to be celebrated. My hope for you is that you can start to see your body in a new light. See the wrinkles and lines on your face as reminders of a life well-lived; a life filled with all the beautiful and heartbreaking emotions that come with a life lived fully.
See your hands as hands that have loved, provided for, and served others. Hands that have nurtured your children and created beautiful things. See your arms that have held and supported friends when they were hurting and needed a soft place to land.
See your legs that have carried you through life, navigating each obstacle thrown in your way, carrying you through to the other side each time. It may or may not have been graceful, but they’ve always gotten you where you needed to go. See your feet that have met the floor each morning, even when all you wanted to do was stay hidden under the covers. No matter what life throws at you, somehow you have just kept putting one foot in front of the other and facing each day with strength and grace.
Mamas, see your stretch marks as a beautiful reminder of the life you grew inside of you for nine months and brought into this world. See your grey hairs as proof that you’ve shown up, for your family and friends, even when life gets hard. And you will keep showing up, because you are so strong.
I encourage you, if you struggle with self-love, to try to change the way that you view your body and the words that you say to yourself. Even if you don’t believe it at first, keep telling yourself “I love you”, keep viewing your body as beautiful and strong; I promise it will start to sink in. And when you learn to truly love yourself, not only can you love others more fully, but life becomes a little more beautiful and happiness a little less hard to find. Start to put self-love and self-care a little higher on your list, I don’t think you’ll ever regret it. You are so beautiful, and you deserve nothing less.