Self love. This is a concept I have struggled with my entire life, but especially since the start of my 20’s. In fact, this is a concept I all but ignored until very recently. I heard people talk about it often in passing, but I didn’t give it much thought. The only ways that I thought about myself were negative, so the idea of self love seemed so out of reach that I didn’t even bother. I could even fool myself by saying, “Sure, I like myself. I’m decent person.” That qualified as self love, right?

    No. Not even in the slightest. Self love is a challenge to be tended to every single day. It is the overcoming of those voices inside your head that whisper that you aren’t worthy, or you’re ugly, or you’re stupid or boring or any of the ridiculous things we think up by ourselves and then believe other people see when they look at us. 

    But I shouldn’t be talking about self love as if I am some sort of expert that is involved in a love affair with myself. I am the guiltiest perpetrator. I loathed myself for so long that I believed that it was normal. Unfortunately it took me eons to come to a simple realization: the only thing standing in my way was myself. It’s all incredibly cliche, I know. And maybe that is why I ignored it for so long. Sayings like, “You can’t love another until you love yourself” or “You are your own worst enemy” were just drops in a sea of cliches. Never did I consider how true those words actually are. I always had this feeling like I was on the cusp of happiness, if only I could change these things about myself. If I was skinnier, if my hair was longer, if my skin was clearer, if I was more outgoing, funnier, then I would know happiness. I waited and waited for these things about myself to change, and my happiness continued to get pushed back further and further. It became a way of life to look in the mirror and loath what I saw, and it set a very somber tone for my entire existence. But when that sort of thinking becomes a trend, you forget that there are other ways to live. 

    I would say that my self loathing sprung partly from within, and partly from without. For as long as I can remember there has been a little voice inside telling me that I’m not good enough. How silly for a young child to worry about how other children think about them, right? But I did. I was a chronic introvert because I so feared how I came across. But the part of my self loathing that came from without gave backing to all of my deepest fears. It is unfortunate that I put so much weight and trust in another person whose only wish was to tear me down. When he discovered what truly frightened me, he took it and rolled with it, used it against me to make sure I felt like nothing. A much stronger individual would not have allowed someone to make them feel unworthy or hideous, but I allowed the little voices inside of me to become a real person, which gave life to my fears as well. If this real live person can identify these things I always feared, it must mean they are real and alive, too. 

    The missing component has always been self love. If I had loved myself it would have never been as issue. Even if I had loved myself a little I could have walked away from someone that made me feel so worthless. I allowed the words to become realities and began to loath myself even more deeply. At this point I was aware of it, but felt there was no way out. If someone else had picked up on my faults, they must be tangible and I must be a lost cause. 

    Slowly, as I pushed that person out of my life, I was able to gain back some self respect. By no means did I love myself, but I felt more like a human being again. I didn’t walk into a room and immediately feel like everyone was better than me. I had returned to square one as opposed to being in the negatives, where I didn’t like how I looked and was afraid of saying something stupid, but that had always been the case. 

    Then someone came into my life that urged me to love myself so voraciously that it oozed out of my pours. Yeah, yeah, I thought, easier said than done. People that really love themselves are born that way, it can’t be learned. I had never loved myself, so I shrugged it off as being an impossibility. But it’s the only way. Some people are born with it; they can walk down the street and not care what a single person might think of them because the idea never crosses their mind. I always envied those people. But it can be learned as well. I am teaching myself and learning every day. It might make me sound like a crazy person, but it takes a lot of talking to myself. I have to look at myself in the mirror and say the words aloud, “You are beautiful. You are worthy. You are just as good as anyone else walking this planet.” I have to address the things I think of as imperfections, a few extra pounds, my one slightly crooked tooth, and love them fiercely. They make me unique and turn me into something that no other person could ever dream of being. It is still something I struggle with, I go back and forth every day, but I try my best to solidify these new thoughts in my head in order to replace the bad ones.

    Self confidence is almost as visible as any tangible characteristic. It is visible in the way that you move, the way that you speak and the way that you interact with others. Being confident will not ensure that everyone likes you. I am guilty of having looked down on people that I felt had too much self confidence. I thought they were being showy or obnoxious. But I can guarantee that those people are happier than I have ever been. Those people are happy with who they are because they love themselves, and they are not burdened by those voices that follow them around and remind them of their faults. I would much rather think that I am better than I really am instead of worse. Sometimes when I am building myself up, I tell myself that I am a queen or a goddess. Is it a little overdramatic? Maybe. If I heard anyone else refer to themselves that way I might mistakenly think they were “overly confident” again. But for some, it’s the only way. Making myself feel like a queen is the way in which I boost that self confidence and embody that self love. 

    There is no way to be successful in life without self love. You could have millions of friends, the perfect job, piles of money, and none of it would matter if you looked in the mirror and despised what you saw. It has taken me far too long to learn this seemingly simple lesson. In the short time that I have been encouraging myself to love who I am, life has taken on a much rosier hue. How can you be unhappy or lonely or lost when you always have yourself to come back to as a base line? Life is meaningless without happiness, and happiness is entirely unattainable without self love. 

    It is a journey I have just acknowledged as entirely essential, and I am sure I have a long way to go, but knowing that I am on my way feels incomparably better than a lack of self love. 

Published by Alison Howe