August 23, 2020

Do You Actually Love Yourself—or Are You Just Pretending?

“If someone does not want me, it is not the end of the world. But if I do not want me, the world is nothing but endings.” ~ Nayyirah Waheed


Do you love yourself?

If you had asked me that question even 10 years ago, I would have unequivocally said, “No.”

It was that simple. I didn’t.

I believed that by striving and achieving to do all the “right” things, I would be successful and therefore lovable. But, there was a glaring omission.

None of what I was doing was for me or about loving me for who I am. It was to gain that elusive external approval and a feeling of worthiness in the eyes of others. I was living a life that was not about me. I wasn’t honoring who I am, and the me I was projecting was someone I didn’t resonate with.

No wonder I didn’t love that version of me. Why would I?

When I was a child, I often felt as though I were literally crawling out of my skin. I was that uncomfortable with myself. Sensitive, shy, and unconfident, I absorbed the barrage of messages drilled into me about all that I wasn’t, and let them weigh down my heart and soul.

I was a tomboy, my mother wanted a girlie girl; I was into nature and Wiffle ball, the other girls wanted to play with their dolls; I had a rich inner world in my head, everyone thought I was a quiet nerd; I suffered from depression (not that I knew it at the time), everyone thought I was cranky and weird. I was painfully aware that I was “different,” and the rejection was more proof that there was something wrong with me.

So, being creative and doggedly persistent, I tried to rearrange the very fabric of my being into something socially acceptable and normal. Except, instead of giving me the life I thought I wanted, it proved to be a slow, stifling death.

It took decades for me to come to the epiphany that there is nothing wrong with me. I let everyone else tell me who I should be, and for so long I listened. I didn’t love myself, but not because I was inherently unlovable or tragically flawed. I didn’t love myself because I wasn’t being me. I just wasn’t loving myself as I a truly am—flaws and all.

It took a job loss, a cancer diagnosis, and a complete tilt in my perspective to strip me down to my essence and get me to this point. I don’t recommend such drastic measures. You can start loving yourself now, right where you are.

You may be wondering just how you are supposed to do that. Of course, if you feel you need professional help, you should consult a licensed practitioner in mental health and/or nutrition.

If you are just looking for some coaching to get you started, here are three ideas I would suggest:

1. Are you moving to your groove?

Start with taking a look at what you eat and how you move. Is the way you are caring for your body saying, “I respect and love myself and I am honoring that by keeping active and eating in a healthy way?”

I am not saying go on a crash diet and run 15 miles a day. I am suggesting being conscious of what you eat, eating it mindfully, and making sure that you engage in some kind of movement you enjoy—dancing, yoga, running, walking, circuit training.

If you restrict your food intake too severely and engage in exercise you don’t enjoy, you won’t be living a life you love. You’ll be imposing an ideal that isn’t you.

Remember—to love yourself, you need to act like it!

2. Check for autopilot syndrome.

Are you doing things because you always did them that way, or, worse, because that is what you, or someone else, think you should be doing? Red flag. You are not loving yourself when you do this. You are just going through the motions.

And don’t try to change old routines and bad habits all at once. Tackle one or maybe two at a time. And make it mindful and thoughtful. Replace them with new, loving, empowering habits and patterns over time, and weave them seamlessly into your life. If you leave a vacuum, the old routines and habits will leak back in.

3. Do you know who you are?

If you are ready for a thought-provoking exercise, start an “I Am” Three-Part Chart.

Draw or insert a chart into a document, with three columns. The first column is titled “I am;” the second is “Ranking;” the third is “I do.”

Okay, ready?

In the first column, list at least five or six things that you are. Not what you do (that is for column three). For example: I am a thinker, animal lover, compassionate, strategist, listener, healer, diplomat, explorer, tinkerer, and so on. The words in the list should be a descriptive quality, not a profession or action.

Now for the second column. Compare your first entry against each of the other entries you listed in the first column, one at a time. Between each two qualities you are comparing, put a tick or small line next to the one that describes you or resonates with you the most. You can only choose one for each pair you compare. Then compare the second quality with the rest of the qualities, just like you did the first, then move onto the third, and so on.

With each comparison, put a tick or small line next to the one you think is more important or resonates more out of the pair, working your way down the list, until you have compared all your “I am” traits with each other (and yes, you are repeating comparisons of qualities).

What are your top three (i.e., the ones with the most tick marks)? They should resonate with a version of you that you love.

Finally, the third column—and the hardest to complete—is to jot down or type in some words or phrases that explain how you are honoring those top three qualities in your life. If you are finding this difficult or you don’t have much to say in that third column, then it is time to step back. Are you living in a way that shouts, “I love myself—and look, I can prove it!” or are you looking at the chart with dismay because you have just discovered that you really don’t have any proof that you are honoring yourself?

Don’t despair if the first and second columns don’t quite match with the third—yet. Consider it a call to arms by you, for you. So maybe instead of filling in all the things you are doing to love and honor yourself in the third column, you can start with things you can start doing to work your way toward answering that all-important question, “How do I show that I love myself?”

You can be a work in progress and still love and honor yourself. The journey is yours to take, after all.

Aren’t you worth it?

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