No one will ever love you unless you love yourself. This is a well-meaning phrase that has been used repeatedly to try to encourage those of us with issues surrounding self-worth and difficulty in seeing ourselves the way that others see us to somehow figure it out. The subtext is usually that if we don’t get it together, we’ll never have relationships, and no one will love the scarred, broken pieces. The message seems to say that the only people worth loving are those who are pristine. I don’t believe people who say this phrase mean that, but impact often trumps intent.
How does one begin to love themselves? It is something that takes actual work, and in some cases, therapy. What does it even mean to love yourself? It feels like a nebulous catch phrase that means thirteen different things but is often said without giving practical advice, much like my other pet peeve word known as ‘self-care’.
There is no doubt in my mind that I was loved as a child. In that case, love from my parents meant independence and giving me the space to make mistakes and do whatever other kids were doing. Sometimes, that meant letting me go sledding with friends. Other times, it meant allowing me to ride a scooter or go to summer camps. I was given the freedom to experience opportunities, despite how it probably scared my parents half to death. Over the years, this has held me in good stead because I have a stubborn streak a mile long.
I have experienced love from friends both on and offline in so many ways. One day, I will tell the story of how I ended up living in Georgia to moving to Washington state. It is a great story. It wouldn’t have happened without my best friend Cindy believing in me and loving me through the stages where I often didn’t know shit about shit. She helped to instill confidence in me and says that I gave her gray hairs I prefer to think that I just leaned extra hard into her wisdom. She gave me a home and the foundation for my found family in Washington. She stuck by me through thick and thin and ours is a friendship that has never wavered or waned.
I had some unchecked depression back then. Technically, I still have it but it’s more checked than it used to be, so yay growth and meds. I felt pretty low about myself because I didn’t have a job for a very long time, often felt like I wasn’t meeting whatever gold standard we’re demanding of other blind people these days, and secretly believed I didn’t have much to offer. But she loved me even when I didn’t love myself. What would it have done to me if she’d just said ‘well, you obviously don’t know how to love yourself, so see you later’. Her consistent friendship has been amazing and wonderful, and I swear, everybody needs a friend like her. Through Cindy, I met so many others through the Washington Council of the Blind, through those who she knew who eventually became my friends.
In online spaces, I have cultivated relationships that have either been brought offline, or are strong even if we have never met. Between online games and Twitter communities based on my hobbies, I have met amazing people who have seen me through some pretty harrowing times. I don’t know that I was waking up every morning going ‘gosh, me, sure love myself today’, but certainly I could feel their care.
My roommate is another example of someone who has seen pretty much all that there is to see of me. She’s seen the good, the bad, and the non-fuctionally depressing. I may not always know how to love myself, but I sure do know how to love my friends.
I have trouble speaking affirmations to myself. I have tried but I feel stupid and shy about it, as though the words are meant for anyone else except me. There are times when I have done something that makes me say ‘Wow, you’re awesome’, but as a matter of course, these supposedly confident words just make me feel weird and a little unworthy. Affirmations are for other people, not for me. I still try, though. Many of my formative growing up years was in a Pentecostal church, and Pentecostals are the pros at finding Biblical references for people to use and say. I felt weird about that, too, so maybe affirmations just are not my ministry.
One of the biggest ways that I have worked on training myself in finding that inner love was to show people how they should treat me. Often, it is an uncomfortable balance of being assertive and giving grace. Sometimes, it’s saying ‘No, it isn’t okay for you to talk to me this way’, or ‘This makes me uncomfortable’. If people love you, they will respect your boundaries and listen when you tell them that what they said hurts you. I honestly believe that most people are coming from a good place, but over the years I have learned that if the majority of people that I am around aren’t lifting me up, then I need to guard myself and possibly move on.
The other way that I am learning to love myself is demanding more in terms of relationships, from the other person and myself. Never again am I willing to be someone’s secret. Words are beautiful things, but they can be used to cover up the truth and keep you unhappy, and I allowed that far too often in past relationships. Because words are pretty, but they need to be backed up with actions as well. Figuring out my worth in these scenarios has not been easy, and it sure as hell hasn’t been pretty. But even if I don’t always love who I am, it doesn’t mean that I should be penalized and held back from others loving me or vice versa.
I just want to state that I don’t have all the answers. I’ve struggled with finding my worth for a long time and I feel like I’m finally beginning to scratch the indelible surface. I make mistakes, get caught up in pretty lies that others tell, and sometimes have a very difficult time holding my head high. But this imperfect, sassy, friendly, warm, generous person deserves love, even if I don’t know how to love myself like well-meaning people believe that I should. My pieces might be scattered and spilled out like a jigsaw puzzle the dog knocked over, but damn it, I want to be loved, too. I’m not pristine, but I’m learning that I don’t have to be. I just need to be real. Do you know what that has gotten me? People who stand by me through hell and high water, people who love me fiercely and without reservation, and I’m good with that.
How do you show love to yourself? Do you find it difficult?