There are so many reasons why we don’t love ourselves as much as we could.
Fixated on our wrongdoings and imperfections, we tend to see ourselves through a lens laced with the personal knowledge of our stories regardless of what we choose to share with others. This knowledge of the good, the bad and the ugly creates the unfortunate self-destructive diatribes to which we fall prey every time we’re reminded of our less-than-shining moments.
Maybe you were the cause of a loved one’s heartache. Maybe you allegedly ruined someone’s life. Maybe you bullied a helpless peer, or maybe you watched someone else bully a helpless peer and did nothing about it. Maybe you hurt people. Maybe you meant to hurt those people and maybe you didn’t.
Maybe you said things you wish you hadn’t said or did things you wish you hadn’t done—and maybe you’d give just about anything to go back in time to unsay and undo those things.
Maybe if you could, then you’d love yourself. Maybe then you’d recognize your fragile human heart as you see it in others. Maybe then you wouldn’t have spent all those years hating yourself for things you could no longer control or change. Maybe then you wouldn’t have coped with those nasty words in your head, with life-altering addictions, with unruly escapades into troubled waters, with a deep void of lostness that no apology could hope to fill.
Maybe then you could love yourself. Maybe then at least you’d feel you deserved it.
But alas, here you are. And I’m right here with you—trying to love myself, even when I don’t. Even when I know that I have without a doubt caused heartache and pain and trouble to people who didn’t deserve such treatment (because no one deserves such treatment). Even when I feel undeserving of love from anyone, much less myself, knowing that I’ve done those things I wish I could change, but can’t.
As grim as that sounds, I’ve come across a piece of the answer to loving myself despite my apparent inability to do so, but it must be taken for what it is: a piece. A small piece that is by no means whole or complete, but is certainly a part of that wholeness and completeness. A small piece, but a momentous start no less.
There is a way to love yourself in spite of all your faults and shortcomings and past mistakes and all the mistakes you’ve yet to make (because no matter how much you love yourself, you’re still human): It’s a little thing called forgiveness.
We love ourselves even when we (think we) don’t by forgiving ourselves even when we think we can’t.
The concept is simple, pure in its intent, clean in its abstract form—but it’s hard as hell in practice.
It’s hard because forgiveness is not what we wish it would be; rather, it’s not what we’re taught it should be. Forgiveness is not the cure-all for anything gone awry in our lives, nor is it the sole means to achieve a sense of fulfillment in our continual search for completion.
Forgiveness isn’t going to “save” us.
Forgiveness isn’t that glamorous.
Forgiving yourself doesn’t make up for the heartache you brought upon your loved ones. It doesn’t undo the alleged ruining of someone’s life. It doesn’t un-bully a helpless peer, nor does it change that you watched someone bully a helpless peer and did nothing about it. It doesn’t unhurt people, whether you meant to hurt them or not. It doesn’t take back the things you wish you hadn’t said and done.
Forgiveness doesn’t change what’s happened. Nothing can.
But forgiveness can change who you become despite what you’ve done, because offering forgiveness is simply acknowledging and accepting one’s humanness. It’s nothing more than that, yet it’s among the most healing kinds of love, indiscriminate in its most honest form. And you offer it to yourself by starting with what you already know how to do: Admitting you’ve done wrong. Recognizing where you’ve fallen short. Acknowledging those you’ve hurt and sincerely apologizing if it makes sense to do so.
Then you think. You ask yourself questions about guilt, about how you may have suffered before, during and after you did wrong, about how your circumstances may have informed your choices, about how whatever happened has dragged its way into your current life and why you’re still letting it hang on to you.
So, why are you? Can you give at least three good reasons? And if you can, do those reasons involve someone else’s happiness?
If they do, pause and think of this: If someone else’s happiness depends on your harboring the guilt you may or may not “deserve” to endure, should that person have such a potent force in your life? I know this is a touchy subject, because every situation is wildly different and relationships are complex and layered and difficult at times, but they don’t have to be. Relationships can be simple if approached as one of the many ways to nourish our lives, though the nourishment must come from both ends and it must come from love. Thriving off of another person’s guilt comes from insecurity, which is just another form of fear, which is in fact the opposite of love.
And forgiveness has only to do with love—nothing to do with fear. Therefore, it’s from love that you must always begin and it’s to love that you must always return when your efforts meet the inevitable difficulties of the task (e.g. relationships rooted in your guilt and subsequent self-hate).
I know there are plenty of reasons why we don’t love ourselves. I know plenty of them are a far cry from the aforementioned scenes. But I also know that the aforementioned scenes are among the most difficult to reconcile on a personal level, and on this matter I speak only from experience.
It’s not easy, but we have it in us to forgive. We can recognize our fragile human hearts in the hearts of others and know that forgiveness is necessary to move on from what has been.
And then we do it. We learn to forgive ourselves, we come to hate ourselves a little less as we venture into love a little more and piece by piece, we get there. We learn to master that little thing called forgiveness.
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Author: Sara Rodriguez
Editor: Renée Picard