I wish I could title this post “How to Love Yourself in Six Easy Steps,” or “How to Love Yourself: A Comprehensive Manual with a Money-Back Guarantee.” If that were the case, I’d be a lot happier, a lot richer, and might single-handedly have destroyed an entire breed of psychologist. There isn’t one way to love yourself. The process is not short, easy, or linear. Think about how long it takes to really fall in love with another person, and it will probably take at least five times that long to really fall in love with yourself. Plus, loving yourself isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, either. You can love yourself and still have moments when you’re mad at yourself or don’t like the way you look or feel shitty for no reason. Loving yourself doesn’t make you perfect or invincible. Things will still hurt. And yet there is something so appealing and empowering in the idea of self-love, something that seems to transcend everything else and launch us into a higher state of being. We yearn to love ourselves. But how?
Start by hating yourself.
Isn’t this where we all start? Finding those little things about the way we look or the way we think and attacking them with a fine-toothed comb? Deciding that if we could just fix this or that or the other thing we’d be better off? More worthwhile? Deserve more good things?
It’s okay to hate yourself. As long as you don’t intend to keep it that way. It’s part of getting to know yourself. You can’t love someone you don’t know. And you can’t know someone without facing the parts of them you aren’t so fond of. Face them. Hate them. And then let them go.
It may take years, even decades to get past this stage. For all intents and purposes, I’m still in it. And I could easily decide to stay in it. But I won’t. Nobody deserves to live their life there, not even me.
And that’s step two. Realize that you’re not special. Realize that if you wouldn’t treat your worst enemy the way you treat yourself, there’s a disconnect. You don’t expect perfection from anyone else. You don’t hold anyone else to your highly critical standards. You’re not the exception to the rule.
Realize that treating yourself like the worst person in existence is just as narcissistic as treating yourself like the best. You are human, for better or for worse. You’re not special.
That’s hard to hear. But it’s the truth. And once you realize that, you’re ready for the third step.
Love yourself a little bit more every day.
You aren’t going to wake up one day and suddenly feel like God’s greatest gift to the world. You’re going to wake up with regrets and insecurities sometimes, and that’s never going to go away. But that doesn’t mean you can’t love yourself. It’s a process. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not a destination.
There are millions of little ways to love yourself. There are some really stupid ones. Like this. Look at yourself in the mirror first thing every morning and compliment yourself. Out loud. Say it. Even better, write it down. Glue it to the mirror so you see it every time you walk by.
Or how about this one? Take yourself on a date. Put on your favorite outfit and wear your favorite shoes and treat yourself to dinner and a movie. Even if it’s just making yourself chicken parmesan and watching “Clueless” on Netflix. Forget about what you “should” be doing and just do what you want. Give yourself two hours of blissful ignorance of the rest of the world.
Loving yourself isn’t a passive state that you can achieve. It’s as active as any relationship you will ever be a part of, if not more. Would you stay with a lover who incessantly pointed out your flaws? Who denied you food or enjoyment? Who you couldn’t trust to be there for you at the end of the day?
Be that person for yourself. At least try. You won’t be perfect, certainly, but you will start to love yourself. Little by little. Slowly but surely.
Along the way, you will see the ways that other people can love you. You will notice that your parents are obnoxious not for the sake of obnoxiousness, but because they care. You will learn to take compliments because you can recognize honesty. You will watch your friends appreciate your weird idiosyncrasies. You will see someone’s face light up when they look at you, because they have fallen completely in love with you.
Realize that you deserve every piece of that love. That these people around you aren’t obligated to love you, they just do. They love the way you smile and the way you tell stupid jokes and the way you internalize your ambitions. Someone else loves you, and you deserve it. You are just as deserving of your own love.
Nine months ago, compliments were triggering. I viciously pushed away everyone who was trying to love me. I nitpicked and doled out punishments and literally starved myself – not just of food, but of everything I needed and wanted. So today I say only this: I love myself more than I did. I love myself more today than I did yesterday. I will love myself even more tomorrow. And that is enough.
Realize that is enough.
That is how you love yourself, and that is enough.