The Hardest Kind of Love

Self love (n.) – regard for one’s own well-being and happiness (chiefly considered as a desirable rather than narcissistic characteristic).

Until recently this concept had been foreign to me. For most of my life, self love and self acceptance have been elusive. I was forever striving for the next accomplishment, but what was the end goal? Is it for the approval of others? Is it to assign meaning to my life? It wasn’t until I started to feel void, a severe lack of a certain je ne sais quoi, that the pieces started to come together. I was always searching for my own approval, but I never realized it until recently. It was a lack of self acceptance that was manifesting as a heavy emptiness that I could quite literally feel in my chest in times of stillness and silence. I chose to write about this today because I think it is something that everyone struggles with at least on some level. A lack of self love and self acceptance is usually so well disguised that even the most introspective person may not recognize it. I certainly did not. This is why I came up with a list of a few reg flags pointing to a deeper issue.

1. Self sabotage

When the phrase self sabotage is uttered, thoughts of people steeped in addictive, harmful behaviors usually come to mind. Self sabotage isn’t always so dramatic. For me it was the little things, such as putting off the tasks I had to do in order to get to the things I actually wanted to do. I’d steal my own precious time by getting lost in the endless pit that is the Internet, but namely social media. Instead of studying for the huge chemistry exam at the end of the week, I’d decide at that precise moment it was time to do the laundry I’d been putting off for a week. And then I’d find that the dishes from the morning’s breakfast hadn’t been done yet, so I’d wash those. And, oh look! It’s time to make dinner! And I’d find more menial everyday tasks that are never actually complete, and I’d do those. By the time I was finished it would almost be time for bed. I was my own worst enemy.

Now, whenever I feel myself getting sucked down the hole of endless procrastination, I take a step back and analyze what I’m doing. If I feel my focus fraying at the ends, it helps to isolate myself in a quiet room with no electronic devices and just take a few minutes to clear my mind and refocus. Coming back to the task at hand is always much easier, and I find that my attention span improves.

2. Perfectionism

“Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.”

There were certain markers and milestones I’d set for myself, and looking back they were mostly lofty and unrealistic. Throughout most of my life I’d been used to succeeding, because that’s all I ever knew. I rarely had to study for exams. I was always fairly good at sports. I was pretty. But none of it was good enough for me. I could never accept a compliment wholeheartedly. Whenever accolades were given, in the back of my mind I’d tell myself that I didn’t actually deserve it. I’d consistently berate myself whenever I wasn’t the best or the brightest. Losing was not my forte. It was an endless cycle of setting goals for myself and telling myself that I’d be happy once the goal was met. In reality it never made a difference if I met a goal or not. If I succeeded in meeting my expectations, there was always a loftier goal waiting behind it. If I didn’t meet my own expectations, there was a lot of negative self-talk. This was a cycle that was ingrained in me from quite early on. I was my harshest critic.

Today whenever I recognize a self deprecating thought, I acknowledge it for what it is. For every negative thought I have about myself, I try to think of one or more positive thoughts, and this effectively changes thinking patterns. I now recognize that I’m wasting my energy whenever I’m too critical of myself. No one can ever be perfect. It is in the very nature of being human to be imperfect.

3. Being critical of others

Looking back, this was the most obvious sign of an underlying issue. It’s true what they say about people who judge others. It’s their problem and not yours, and truly it was my problem. I’ll be the first to admit that I alienated myself from quite a few people because of an overly critical attitude. I wasn’t openly critical, and I wasn’t mean. I would keep my thoughts to myself, but I let those thoughts keep me away from people that could have been potential friends. There were times when my criticisms were helpful, however, especially in ending toxic friendships. For the most part, though, I let those criticisms take over and dictate my interactions with the surrounding environment. I was projecting my own self-criticisms onto others and assigning my insecurities elsewhere. Slowly I came to the realization that the things I didn’t like in others were the things I didn’t like about myself.

Then one day I woke up and realized that everyone acts as a mirror for the Self (it wasn’t literally one day, but actually a series of painful self realizations that unfolded over a period of time). By recognizing that the things I detested in others were actually the things I didn’t like about myself, I was able to be kinder and gentler in my thoughts. In practicing forgiveness of others, I was able to ultimately practice forgiveness for myself. This has, in effect, given me the ability to be more empathetic toward others. I can now recognize that criticisms of others, no matter from whom it originates, usually comes from a place of hurt and insecurity, and I am able to forgive more easily. Resentment is a heavy emotion that I don’t care to carry around anymore.

4. Garnering validation from external sources

Because there was little to no validation coming from within, I had to seek it elsewhere. I partially, and unknowingly, relied upon others to let me know if I was doing a good job or not. Like so many others, I’d seek validation through social media. The more likes meant more validation. This was a self-defeating trap, because I’d get external validation and then reject any compliments all in one breath. It was an endless vacuum of insecurity and negative self-talk. One minute I’d find myself seeking support in my choices from others and then the next I’d be second-guessing my own decisions, wondering if the outside support was simply lip service.

There was a period where I had a real battle between my need to stay connected and my misuse of social media. I ended up deleting my Facebook account for the better part of a year, and for the most part I liked being disconnected. Then I realized the necessary evil of staying connected in a digital world. I had friends and family spread out all over the world, and I wasn’t being fair by cutting them off from my life digitally. Many of my friends and family relied upon social media to stay in contact, so I struck a compromise. I didn’t care about having a million friends on Facebook or having people approve of my posts, so I severely pared down my friends list and kept it only to a few acquaintances, close friends, and family. I can proudly say that I am no longer obsessively glued to my mobile phone screen, and I enjoy being more present in my daily life as a result.

Once I was able to recognize these ugly and self-defeating characteristics, I was ready to move forward with healing. With the advice of a trusted friend and intuitive, I have been assigned a daily mantra that I repeat to myself whenever I feel especially vulnerable. I say the words, “I love and accept myself for who I am,” so that I am able to recognize when I’m being unusually hard on myself and stop the cycle of self deprecation. The first time I ever did this exercise I cried quite a bit, and it was uncomfortable to say the least. It was undoubtedly necessary, however.

It was relatively easy to learn to love and forgive others for their faults, but the real challenge was to practice the same unconditional love and forgiveness for myself. In my experience, this not only was the hardest hurdle to overcome, but also where the most growth has occurred. I am still largely growing and healing in this area of my life, but I cannot begin emphasize how necessary it was to make peace with myself in order to live a happier and more fulfilled life. My hope is that anyone who is reading this will benefit from my shared experiences and have the courage to learn how to give the self love and self acceptance that everyone deserves.

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