In all honesty it’s been a 42-year journey to be able to say, without cringing, that yes, I do love myself. But it’s not an Instagramable rainbows-and-unicorns love. I love myself very quietly, very gently — and occasionally, when it’s needed, I love myself like a lioness protecting her cubs. I’ve learned that I am responsible for my own happiness and my own sense of worth and that everything I value is built upon the foundation of how I look after myself. Because no one else is going to do it for me — it’s not their job, it’s mine.
I grew up with low self-esteem. An absent father and a troubled teenage resulted in the search for love outside myself, yet even when I found a sweet devoted boyfriend, I couldn’t really accept that I was loveable — it was like sticking a Band Aid over a festering wound.
Somehow I made it though my 20s intact. I worked hard at building my career and did my best to maintain a relationship. Looking back through my journals I see everything was focussed on the external — achievement, status, love from another. I knew something was missing but there was no way I’d stop striving to figure out what it was…
… And then, at age 32, I experienced a devastating bereavement that rewrote everything I knew about life.
Painstakingly, and with help, I pieced myself back together. I had to learn how to exist on my own, to unravel the past and find meaning in my new life — perhaps for the first time ever. Those first few years of grief and healing changed everything for me. It was like being given another chance to have the relationship I’d always wanted, but this time with MYSELF.
The by-product of all that inner excavation was the blossoming of self-worth, which I feel is the precursor to self-love. It’s almost impossible to love yourself if you can’t see your own worth. When I realised I could say no to the things I didn’t want to do and could extricate myself from friendships that were causing me pain, I was signalling to my self that YES, you are worth more than this. The more time I spent with myself the more I had my own back and it’s amazing how fiercely you advocate on your own behalf when you only have yourself to rely on.
The most challenging piece of all this was the conscious dance with my shadows. It’s easy to accept the nice bits of ourselves but harder to hang out with the murkier stuff. I’ve sat with my obsessiveness, my cynicism, my envy, and rather than disown it I do my best to embrace it all — it’s as much a part of who I am as any of the “good” stuff. I am obsessive and I am creative. I’m cynical and I am hopeful. I am envious and I am a warrior. The door to self-love opens wider when you can hold the wonderful things in the same hand as the stuff you’re ashamed of.
All of this is a daily practice for me. Radical kindness seems to be the key whenever I come up against the temptation to put myself down. Self-love doesn’t require us to be perfect. It merely asks us to be open to accepting the truth of who we are — the light and the dark — and to actively extend the sort of kindness we’d give to a cherished loved one. I have down days and I have fantastic days and through it all I try my very best to be kind and compassionate towards myself. To love the woman I see in the mirror because she really is doing the best she can.
I recorded a little self-love visualisation so we could practice the cherishing together. You can listen to it over here.
This is my contribution to the April LOVE project. I invited 28 inspiring women and one brave guy to share their thoughts and stories of what self-love (how you feel about yourself) and self-care (how you look after yourself and put that self-love into action) means to them. We have a truly delicious mix of essays, videos, meditations and journal prompts for you to explore.
We started today but you can sign up at any time to get the daily self-love emails. Don’t worry if you miss a few days — I’ll be making an ebook at the end to send out the first week of May. All free, of course.
Sign ups are happening over here xo