If loving yourself was easy, everyone would.
If I told you to love the next stranger you meet, could you? What if I told you that doing so would improve everything in your life and help you find the joy you have been seeking for a lifetime? Could you do it then?
For most of us who have yet to achieve enlightenment, the answer is No.
Let’s say then the next person you meet says something mean to you and treats you terribly. Let’s say your interaction with them leaves you feeling small and worthless. Could you love them then?
The answer – still NO.
The fact is, humans CAN’T love strangers and we certainly WON’T love strangers who have mistreated us or hurt us in any way. We just aren’t wired to attach so intimately to someone we barely know. In fact, we will work hard to avoid them, lash out, or do what we have to, to protect ourselves if we deem someone to be unsafe.
This is why, for those struggling with depression, low self esteem, and a variety of other mental health struggles, the social prescription of “just loving yourself” is misguided at best, and cruel at the extreme. Often, those experiencing depression are facing inner turmoil which makes the journey towards self love more complex than can be seen from the outside.
Imagine you are depressed and already feel down on yourself. You spend most of your days comparing yourself to others and feeling sure you will never measure up. While you are kind and encouraging to others, you spend almost all of your quiet moments silently engaged in constant self-critique. Your words to yourself are cutting and painful. Even some of your behaviours are self-harming or degrading in some way. Now, imagine you open up Facebook and find one of the always-beautifully-crafted posts telling you that loving yourself is the way to true happiness and fulfillment. You look for the fine print that tells you exactly how to do that but its not there. There are no other instructions – just, “Love Yourself” – so you are left thinking that everyone else knows how except you. Imagine how that would feel.
It’s time to quit the clichés.
If you have learned how to love yourself, that’s great. Live your journey and embrace all that life has to offer. If you haven’t arrived yet but just want to share your unconditional positivity with the world, please know that even our best intentions can lead us astray. Whatever the reason you choose to say it, please stop telling others to “just love yourself”.
To get to a place where we can treat ourselves better, we first have to get to know ourselves. This means slowing down and paying attention to our thoughts and feelings in a way that we likely have not before. For many, this process can be incredibly frightening and/or painful. Slowing ourselves down and turning inward provides an opportunity for all we have ignored (intentionally or not) to surface and this often triggers a process that can be mentally and emotionally very challenging.
Instead of encouraging those we care about to love themselves and leaving them with no other direction, let’s encourage the time and process required to get there. Encourage them to slow down and take small steps towards self-care. Talk about loving yourself as a destination, not a quick fix. Understand that the obstacles along their journey may make it difficult and encourage self-compassion. Put down the cheer-leading pompoms of “just be happy” and be willing to acknowledge that every day can’t be sunny and sometimes healing takes hurting.
If you are the one who is struggling, know this….
Loving yourself, like loving anyone else, takes time and focus. It means being willing to explore your needs, pains, your story, and everything that has made you who you are today. Some parts may be easy, some parts may be difficult. Some parts you may venture alone and some you may want professional guidance or support. Either way, loving yourself is not the common-sense-everyone-knows-how easy fix that society proclaims it to be. Self Love is the resultant destination of a complex journey to know and cultivate a positive relationship with your inner-self.
The path to mental health can often be a winding one that requires us to step bravely into the unknown. However, it is through an understanding of our needs, our patterns, and how we see the world that we can get a better look at the struggles that hold us back. When we see them, we can learn how to resolve them, clearing the path towards self-acceptance, self-validation and even self-love.
Bonnie J. Skinner, RP
B. Skinner Coaching & Psychotherapy