How Do I Love Myself With So Much To Work On?

How does one reconcile loving oneself exactly as one is right now and knowing that one needs to do some fairly serious self-work?

– One, not with everything

Dear One,

Oh oh oh oh oh you ARE a Dear One. My heart goes out to you — because there is so much pain and confusion packed into this one short question, but also because I’ve asked myself this so many times. How do I love myself and fix myself, too?

Ain’t that the question?

Or maybe it isn’t.

Let me tell you this: I know what it is like to wake up most mornings filled with self-loathing. And I know what it’s like to work very very hard on the many things I have to do in my self-work.

And I also know what it’s like to feel deeply ashamed of the fact that I don’t love myself.

The shame comes from everywhere I turn: online, in magazines, in self help books, and in the damn memes people share on Facebook. People are screaming at me YOU CAN’T LOVE ANYONE ELSE IF YOU DON’T LOVE YOURSELF FIRST or HOW CAN YOU EXPECT ANYONE TO LOVE YOU IF YOU DON’T LOVE YOURSELF LOVE YOURSELF NOW NOW NOW NOW OMFG WHY DON’T YOU LOVE YOURSELF YET?!?!?!?

There are so many reasons people don’t love themselves. Basic low self-esteem. Terrible damage from bullying or abuse. Racism. Depression.Poverty. Trauma. None of these things are the self-hater’s fault. And hating yourself (or just not loving yourself entirely) is already unpleasant enough as it is. We can’t get away from the inside of our heads. We can look at our bellies or our crankiness or our social awkwardness and think we will ALWAYS wince at them, and this is saddening and upsetting and just plain stifling and depressing. It’s bad enough to live with self-hate.

I think the worst thing about a lack of self-love is how isolating it is. It feels like we’re alone in the middle of an ocean of humanity that can’t see us for what we really are with nothing but the hateful words in our heads for company. We don’t need to feel guilty for it on top of everything else.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: if you can’t love yourself entirely right now, please forgive yourself for it. Don’t believe all this bullshit that says you somehow don’t deserve love if you don’t love yourself, or that you somehow are lacking in the love you offer to friends, lovers, and family if you don’t 100% think you are the cat’s pajamas.

Because you deserve love. You deserve love because you are a human being.And you deserve help for the issues you need to work on, and sure you also deserve self-acceptance and self-love but you’ll only get there AFTER you’ve spent the time working on the stuff you have to work on. Some of the most famously self-loathing people like the dearly departed Robin Williams had families who got oceans of love from them. We can be broken and wish we were better and stronger and kinder and smarter and all that stuff, but we can still show and give love with the best of ’em. We can; we do.

If you were all filled with self-love right now, you’d either have already done a lot of the work you need to do or you’d be a narcissist. You know who loves the shit out of himself? Donald Trump. You do not want to be that guy.

So I think what you need to do is not try to love yourself exactly as you are, but try to trust yourself that even if you don’t love yourself perfectly right now, you are worth the work. You are worth the therapy or the talking it out with friends or the self-reflection or the journaling or the yoga or the exercise or the meds or whatever it is that helps you do that self-work.

You can trust that there is a part of you that DOES love yourself, or at least wants to very badly, and that part is going to lead you to the help you need.And then you power through. You slog through. You churn through. And you feed yourself with tiny moments.

Even I, in my towering miserable Irish depressed self-loathing, have my moments. When I am biking in the sun. When I am learning something new. “Oh my god I love myself when I am doing this,” I will catch myself thinking.

Are you really good at organizing a desk drawer and feel a sense of accomplishment when you do it? Are you skilled at explaining something in a way they’ve never thought of it before so they finally GET it? Do you love to learn new dances? Are you really, really nice to your pets?

Take those moments of feeling good about yourself and enjoy them. Point them out to yourself. “I love myself when I write great thank-you notes,” you might say. It might last for five seconds. But feed yourself with those tiny moments.

Because as much as our popular culture annoys the living crap out of me with its unrealistic demands for how we’re supposed to feel about ourselves, Dear One, self-love is what I want for you, too. Maybe it can only be tiny bits of self-love in eentsy beentsy moments right now, and maybe you’ll never get there to the complete acceptance you hope for. But working on things, even if you don’t know why you’re doing it, can at least get you closer. You are worth it. You are worth all kindness and the work and the trying and the growth and the love love love.

And I wish I could give you a big hug and tell you so — from one person with a lot of work ahead of her to another.

This letter originally ran in on May 12, 2016.

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