One of the most difficult journeys that each of us faces in our lives is our quest for self-love. We spend every waking moment of our lives passing judgments on ourselves and others in a seemingly always fruitless search for the one thing, day, beauty trend, follower count, or therapy session that will flip the switch and turn on an endless flow of self-love and true happiness. However, in my very limited experience of being a person, I’ve discovered something that changed the way I think about what “self-love” really means: that it’s possible, dare I say better? to learn to love yourself and dislike yourself at the same time.
Now I want to make it exceedingly clear that I am in no way any kind of mental health professional, and my relationship with myself has been a rocky, to say the least, so everything I say in this article is purely based on my own personal experiences and observations. That being said, I’ve noticed a general consensus that self-love means thinking that every part of you is beautiful or flawless without a shadow of a doubt, and I have some major issues with that idea. First off, it implies that perfection should be our expectation for ourselves, and actually perpetuates the very insecurities we’re trying to prevent by setting such an unrealistic goal for ourselves. Second, it invalidates all of the perfectly normal, human things that we feel and experience on our journeys to growth and self-discovery.
It’s incredibly important to be able to remain aware of our own insecurities, physical and otherwise, and acknowledge those feelings on the basis of acceptance and trust. In the same way, we would want to give a loved one space to healthily express their insecurities or weaknesses without being shamed our negatively judged for them, we owe it to ourselves to respect our own feelings, even if they’re negative, and even if they end up being incorrect. Once we can establish a sense of trust with ourselves and make the promise to take care of ourselves, no matter what it is we feel is “wrong” with us, it becomes a lot easier to face and handle the insecurities and negative attributes that we do have. In other words, our faults don’t have to become the end of the world or the defining aspects of our worth as human beings.
If you’re looking for more specific ways to go about this act of loving but not liking, here are a few examples of things I try to think or follow when I’m insecure. Firstly, I’ve found it helpful to try not to refer to my insecurities as my whole being. For instance, saying “I don’t like the way my skin looks today,” feels much less harmful than saying “my face is ugly” or “I hate my face.” By narrowing it down to just a smaller, more specific part of myself, the insecurity doesn’t seem like such an astronomical problem that I have with who I am as a person. I’ve also found it helpful to try and replay compliments or words of affirmation that my friends and loved ones have said to me. This is especially effective if my insecurities are more on the metaphysical side, such as the worry that I’m constantly annoying people, which is a very common insecurity that I’ve had to deal with in my own life. Replaying the times my friends have told me they like being around me, or even just that I’m not as annoying as I think I am, helps me to move through not liking this part of myself because I can acknowledge that even if I don’t like the way I present myself sometimes, someone else does. It’s also a good reminder that I am loved, if not entirely by me, then at least by someone else.
Once again, these things are the phrases and strategies that work for me, and if you’re reading this thinking that you can’t relate at all or that it won’t work for you, that’s okay. Everyone is on their own incredibly complicated journey to self-love, and there are so many ways to get there. The main thing that I hope to have you, the reader, take away from this is simply the idea that it’s okay to not like something about the way you look, dress, act, sound, or carry yourself sometimes. What’s important is to try and acknowledge the fact that most of the things we think make us undesirable are either temporary, or changeable, and those that aren’t were probably meant to be there in the first place. If we separate our imperfections from our self-definitions of our worth, we can enter into an abounding sense of self-love that is much richer and deeper than the outrageous standard of perfection that we as a society have come to set for ourselves. We need to be able to give ourselves space and time to understand that the things that make us “imperfect” are not what makes us worth loving, but rather stand as opportunities for growth and reflection. What makes us worth loving is the heartbeat in our chest that tells us we’re here, we’re alive, and we deserve to be loved, simply because we exist.