Finding the Courage to Love Ourselves
“Despite all theories, you will feel that you are isolated from life so long as you are divided within.” - Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity.
Why wouldn’t we love ourselves? It would seem so simple that our relationship with ourselves must be healthy in order to have any sort of joy with the world around us. Yet for the entirety of humankind, love for oneself has eluded us. My lips have spoken, “I love myself” when my thoughts are filled with shame, anger, and frustration. I’ve treated my body like shit, I’ve relinquished all discipline and let my responsibilities whirl like a tornado. I’ve ignored bills, gossiped about coworkers, and done half-assed jobs when I shouldn’t. Sometimes I can be a real shit. Granted, it is naturally human to be full of imperfections and succumb to such faults. So can we accept these things about ourselves too? What does it mean to love ourselves in the face of an unpredictable and sometimes painful existence?
The people around me are but a mirror for my internal state. There are times when someone is rude and I get somewhat pissed. I would classify that as reasonable. But on the other hand, when I find myself constantly frustrated or annoyed with those around me I must ask myself why I think everyone else is such a problem. When I’m looking through the lens of judgement and picking apart people and their character, I’ve got the lens on backwards. I’ve come to realize that when I become an expert at identifying the shortcomings of others, it’s really because those are shortcomings that I’m overflowing with, yet do not want to look at. There is absolutely nothing I can do about anyone else, but I surely have a say in how I conduct my life. And at this point, I’ve found a lifetime of work ahead of myself on my own imperfections. This is the first step I can take towards loving myself.
The Emotional Indicator
Depression and anxiety plagued my teenage years and early adulthood. I mistakenly spent half a decade attempting to run away from those feelings. What I didn’t understand was that running from uncomfortable feelings was only producing more of the same fear and pain. I made a mess of my life attempting to destroy all negativity and hoard positivity. My deeper self was trying to communicate with me through my own emotions and I tried to push them out. Anxiety, depression, fear, and pain are not problems, they are indicators that something is off track. Typically it renders down to that something in my life is not in accordance with my heart. The most loving thing I can do for myself is accept the pain and take the time to understand what is going on around and inside myself. Entire books are written on this subject. There is nowhere to run or hide because life is always staring me directly in the face. And I think that’s what scared the shit out of me; to live out my life authentically. All this suffering was rooted in my own lack of self-esteem and self-love, and the journey towards building those things was not a quick-trick or magical transformation. It was years of dedication and work, but the result was learning to love myself by listening to what my emotions were telling me.
The Courage to Challenge Ourselves (imperfections are okay)
Aside from being critical of others on a bad day, I’ve proven to be harsh on myself. I think the only reason I’m ever critical of others is because I cannot accept my own impurities. The lack of acceptance of my imperfections is a lack of acceptance for my humanness. Nothing lacks love and produces pain like trying to resist what we are. Finding the courage to love ourselves is finding the courage to look at our flaws. It’s challenging as all hell to look square at my deficiencies and be willing to take credit for that. But until I can take credit for my own faults, I cannot possibly grow beyond them. To ignore my imperfections is to remain in unnecessary suffering and is the opposite of self-love. By shaming and burying my faults I only toss another shovel of anxiety on top and never carry on. The only way I’ve found to heal and change my shortcomings is to accept that I have them, and will always have them.
Love is Bold
I used to think loving myself was putting essential oils in the tub, lighting some candles, and soaking for an hour. While this may be one way to love myself, love presents itself much more boldly majority of the time. Love is pretty easy when the house is quiet, dinner is made, and bills are paid. But when shit feels like it’s being catapulted by the Spartan army, love looks a lot different. Sometimes love is telling someone the truth, when it would be easier to not say anything at all. Sometimes love is not pampering myself, but rather adding more discipline because I’m slipping from what’s important. Sometimes love is ending a relationship or quitting a job. Sometimes love is asking myself, “what the hell are you doing?” Sometimes love is slowing down and sometimes it’s speeding up. It surrounds us all and is always within, but I mustn’t mistake the struggles in my life for being void of such love. To love myself is to be fully engaged in my life, whatever such circumstances. To love others, I must respect their struggles.
Stepping into the World (and out of Isolation)
Ever since I was a child I struggled with feeling like I was apart from the world. Life looked easy for everyone else - I thought everyone else received the manual for life and I was failing miserably trying to figure it out. I spent so much of my childhood in my own thoughts, even being an extrovert, comparing myself to everyone and never feeling good enough. I thought I wasn’t good enough for everyone else, but I really wasn’t good enough for myself. It was the inability of being able to reverse my judgement of others, my aversion to working with my own emotions, and my lack of acceptance for my human imperfections that produced this isolation from the world around me.
Working through my own roadblocks started to tear down the wall that separated me from everyone else. Brick by brick, month by month, I started to rearrange from the inside out. No amount of approval from others could ever create approval within myself, I had to earn that self-approval by being willing to deal with my own shit. All the whirl of emotions I’ve experience for the last 3 decades, I’ve had to take responsibility for. When someone else is to blame for how I feel, I am forever a prisoner. What’s mine is mine, and yours is yours. As I walk this earth, responsible for myself, I can finally step out into the world. Rather than feeling apart, I now feel a part (most of the time).