‘The fact that someone else loves you doesn’t rescue you from the project of loving yourself.’ ~ Sahaj Kohli ~
Learning to love yourself isn’t easy. We are, after all, our biggest critics. It’s so much simpler to rely on someone else to love us instead. But, how can we expect anyone else to love us unconditionally if we can’t show ourselves the same affection?
This has been a tough task for me. I’ve heard the saying above time and again, but it never really registered. I’m probably what you’d describe as more pessimistic by nature. I spent my teenage years especially, struggling with low self-esteem. My motto was expect the worst then at least you might be pleasantly surprised! I didn’t really like myself much, let alone love myself.
In the last couple of years, I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know myself. I think of the main reasons we struggle to accept ourselves is because we don’t take the time to understand why we are the way we are. Something finally shifted in my perspective two years ago and I’ve been focusing on self-development ever since. I now understand myself better and do love and accept myself, which I never thought I would.
Let’s start at the very beginning…
At school I was always shy… painfully shy. I had friends but I was far from a social butterfly. I found it hard to understand why I seemed to experience things differently to others. I could be easily overwhelmed and I was diagnosed with anxiety at 14 and depression at 15. Those are two mental health conditions that are bad enough on their own. Mix them together and throw in the usual teenage difficulties and it becomes a real minefield!
I never felt comfortable in my own skin and I always felt inadequate. Even when I was among the top A Level results in my year, my first thought was ‘how did I manage that?’ I was always putting myself down. Even now, no-one is harsher on me than I am on myself. The difference is that I recognise that critical voice in my head and can handle it better – most of the time.
When I look back at my time at school, university and early twenties, there’s one recurring theme. Everything used to happen around me. Apart from the academic aspect, I used to watch everyone else getting on with their lives while I felt stuck. I’d get so frustrated with myself and wonder why exciting things weren’t happening for me. The answer is so simple now: I didn’t go out and get it. I was too scared to try. My pessimistic tendencies got in the way. My low self-esteem meant it wasn’t worth trying. I thought things would never work out for me.
I relied on other people for my sense of self-worth. When there were bumps in the road with friendships, it hit me much harder than it should have. My logic (or lack of) at the time was that if they didn’t want to spend time with me, then it was definitely an issue with me. Back then, everything was about me, nothing about other people’s insecurities. It was a self-destructive and entirely self-obsessed attitude to have.
Then there was the relationship issue. Now, I’m not at all a ‘romantic’ person. I’ve never dreamed of a big white wedding and wild romantic gestures just make me cringe! But for a long time I thought a relationship was the answer to all my problems. After all, if someone else loves you, that means you don’t need to, right? And, if you’re in a relationship then you’ll never be lonely. I feel embarrassed in all honesty to admit that I ever felt that way.
Unfortunately, I think I’m far from alone in that way of thinking.
Social pressure to couple up and the stigma of being single makes us feel like we’re something less if we don’t have a ‘special someone.’ I bought into that for longer than I care to admit. I thought I needed someone else to ‘complete’ me. I was waiting for my knight in shining armour to rescue me because it was easier than rescuing myself. But in the end, whether I was single or in a relationship, my issues were always there… and they were my responsibility. It’s such a cliché, but you just can’t expect someone else to love you, if you don’t love yourself.
The turning point
I’ve written before about my tumultuous career history. When I found myself handing in my notice at a job I found dissatisfying, it was pretty much a catalyst for everything else to change.
I’d let not only my relationship status but also my job title define me for so long. Neither of those things related to who I was as a person. To be honest, at that point, I had no idea what motivated, interested or inspired me. All I knew was that yoga and exercise helped me feel calm. So, I ran with it! I booked onto my first yoga retreat and that set me on the path of self-development. It’s made me confront myself – flaws and all.
I’m not going to lie and say it’s all been rosy. There are ways I’ve behaved in the past that I’d really rather forget. But ultimately, they’re what has led me to where I am now. Through mindfulness and yoga, I’ve got to know myself and, most importantly, understand myself. I wrote recently about how I discovered I’m highly sensitive. That discovery wasn’t all that long ago and it was a real light bulb moment.
What I’ve learnt above all else is that to move forwards positively, we have to first be prepared to look inwards honestly. We have to tackle our own demons and not rely on others to do it for us.
As for the relationship thing, it’s hard. I won’t pretend for a second that it’s not. But it’s not that it’s hard being alone. It’s hard being alone in a world that’s obsessed with coupledom. It amazes me how comfortable people I don’t know at all are in questioning my single status. I get bombarded with the same old questions: ‘why are you single?’ ‘what’s wrong with you?’ and my absolute favourite: ‘don’t you think you’re too fussy?’
While I could argue my case til the cows come home, I’ve found it’s better for me to just stay silent on the matter. The truth is, I’m happy being on my own and that’s something I never thought would happen. Now that I like my own company, have goals I’m working towards and don’t rely on others for my self-worth, a significant other is a ‘nice to have’ and not an essential. I’ve discovered a lot of people just don’t get that and that’s fine. It’s more about them than it is about me, but that’s a whole article in itself!
If you take away anything from this article, let it be that you don’t need another person, job, a house, a child or whatever to ‘fix’ or ‘define’ you. Take control of your own life and everything else will eventually fall into place.