They say that no one can truly love you until you love yourself. But I think that is beside the point, as this presents self-love to be a stepping stone to validation from others. It isn’t a stepping stone, it isn’t a means to an end; it’s the ultimate goal, the finish line we strive towards.
Here’s a fun fact that you may not have consciously considered: you are the only person that you will be with for your whole life. You are the person that you will spend the most time with. Isn’t it a shame to not like the person you’ll spend every minute of every day with? It’s more than a shame; it’s a complete waste of everything good about you. Because there are great things to you, traits or values, behaviours or thoughts. Everyone has some good in them, and I’m sure you’ve spent time looking for the good in others, so why don’t you do the same to yourself?
This guide is not the end-all to loving yourself, I probably should package it to be precisely that, but I’ve never been a fan of clickbait or unfulfilled promises. Instead, these are four steps to consider; an outline to get you started. Make this the year that you not only start liking yourself, but wholeheartedly fall in love with who you are. Get to know yourself, and then start appreciating the unique and wonderful creature that you are.
We learn who we are through learning what we’re not. This may sound counterproductive, but hear me out. It is far easier to work out what we don’t like than to search within for what we do. So the best way to discover yourself, and then work towards loving yourself, is to work out what things aren’t you and use trial and error.
You need to try everything, at least once, just to know. Try different hobbies and see if one brings you joy. Try different plans with friends, and see which ones you find boring and which keep you entertained. On that note, try different friends! I just mean that you should push yourself outside of your comfort zone and get to know different kinds of people. They like to say that you’re a product of the five people you spend the most time with, but if these are all the same kinds of people, you won’t get the chance to explore different aspects of your identity.
By crossing off things that you don’t like, you’ll find it easier to narrow down what you do. By understanding the many traits that people can be through witnessing it yourself, you begin to hone in on the qualities you actually exude.
In university, I enjoyed going to parties… a lot. I could drink plenty, and I definitely thought I was happy doing so. Then I graduated and went through some heavy stuff. I started going to therapy for my yet undiagnosed personality disorder, and I realised that I had no idea who I was. I had spent so long mimicking everyone around me and convincing myself that I liked the things that they liked. But with the help of therapy, I was given a blank canvas to fill in for myself. I realised that I didn’t like going to parties or nightlife in general. I realised that I was an introvert who could easily mask myself as an extrovert. Some of my friends didn’t appreciate the change and couldn’t find much in common with me anymore, whilst others were ready to meet who I felt I was. And that’s okay, since it gave me space to meet new people and learn what I liked through what I had in common with them.
My point is that it’s okay not to know who you are, even if you really thought you did. And it’s okay to realise that you’re different to the people you chose to surround yourself with. Starting from scratch means that there are endless possibilities to work with.
Once you know what you don’t like, and through that what you actually do like, it’s time to meet yourself. Expose yourself to the things that you enjoy as much as possible. Refine these skills or hobbies, go to those events or places, and truly immerse yourself in who you are and what you enjoy.
Part of this is spending time with yourself. We’ve come to fear alone time, and we’ll do anything to avoid it, like get into relationships we know aren’t suitable for us or overschedule ourselves until we burnout. We view alone time as an indulgence or sign of loneliness rather than as a need. Alone time is the best way to recharge your internal batteries, and it is the best way to meet the new you.
It will be too tempting to skip your alone time as soon as someone suggests plans, so schedule it in with yourself. You can choose what you’ll do, maybe start easy by just watching a film or going for a walk, and build it up to meditating or going out for dinner by yourself! Test your limits and work to be comfortable with your own mind. You’re going to spend your whole life with yourself, so you may as well get to know that person.
We carry a lot of shame with us. It’s the shame that creeps into your consciousness when you’re lying in the dark and trying not to relive embarrassing moments. It’s that feeling of guilt buried deep within you, the one that convinces you that you’re not a good person or that you don’t deserve happiness. We all carry it in some form or another, which feeds into our doubt and negative thought spirals.
You need to let it go. This weight that you carry will do no good for you, and it won’t stop you from repeating mistakes or hurting someone; it will only serve to hurt you. This guilt will eat you inside and grow into a barrier between you and success, between you and happiness. You deserve to be happy, and you deserve to be forgiven. But only you can forgive yourself. So take a moment, an hour, a day, and work through that shame. Forgive yourself for past mistakes, understand why they happened and why it is okay that they did. You cannot change them; simply learn from them.
We carry a lot of pain that wasn’t even our own doing, that we’ve somehow twisted to be about us and our faults. You need to release it, to hold your inner child and recognise that the pain doesn’t need to pull you back anymore. There are blessings in pain, ones we can only see far down the line. It doesn’t excuse who hurt us, but it means that they don’t deserve to keep hurting us.
I’ve lost the majority of my youth to my mental illness. Many moments that should’ve been incredible were clouded over by my depression, like birthdays, my graduation, my first love and more. I was so sad to have lost all of this; it felt so unfair, and like it was somehow all of my fault. Like I didn’t try hard enough. I’ve studied psychology and know extensively that someone doesn’t choose to be mentally ill, yet I couldn’t reflect this lesson to myself. It was finally in therapy for my BPD that my therapist explained that I wasn’t sad; I was angry. I was feeling angry at myself for it all, when really I needed to be angry with everyone who didn’t help me, who didn’t notice or at least didn’t want to. Once I expressed all of that, it began to work away at this anchor that I had been dragging along with me.
To love yourself, you need to forgive yourself. Whether that is for things that you’ve done or things that have been done to you. They hold a place in the past, so don’t give them a place in your future.
You can be anything that you want to be, but you also can’t be everything. I’m sorry to be the bearer of that news, and you’re more than welcome to prove me wrong. We have many years in our life, but sadly they’re not unlimited. So you can’t pick and choose out of the vast existence of professions, traits, hobbies, and lives to be lived. But you can explore those you want the most.
I’ll never be a lawyer. I used to love the idea of being one, but it isn’t a path I followed or one that I ever will. I’ll never be an FBI agent, despite my love for Criminal Minds. But I studied psychology, and maybe one day I’ll go back to it. I’ll be a writer, as that’s my biggest priority and what drives me every day. I’ve always loved the idea of teaching, and so I don’t write off that possibility either.
I could be upset that I won’t be a lawyer. I could be jealous of my friend who is becoming one and fixate on that, and how successful I know she’ll become. But what’s the point of that? Why should we spend our lives mourning what we aren’t, rather than celebrating what we are?
Once you know who you are, the traits that constitute you and values that drive you. Acknowledge what your friends love about you, and if needed, ask them exactly what that is. It can feel vain to feel grateful for who we are, but it really isn’t; it’s a necessity in this cut-throat world. Celebrate who you are and the ways that you differ from everyone else.
And now that you know who you are, you can choose to stay true to it. To not bend for the will of others or let them trample over your boundaries. Construct your limits and share them with others—live life on your terms. There is no point making your life what someone else thinks it should be, whether that’s a partner, family or friend, as you’re the one who has to live it. You’re the one that has to get up, day after day, and experience it. So make sure that you are living for yourself and not for someone else.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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