As my depression has lifted over the last couple years, and even with it’s dips every so often, I am learning I have a final hurtle to conquer to really free myself from continually cycling down into depression. For me, it is this: learning to love myself. When I discuss this, I am not only referring to feeling love toward myself, but treating myself with love–or in other words, love as a verb.
It’s difficult for me to share this with the world. It makes me feel vulnerable to lay my private thoughts out for all to see, but I believe in the power that vulnerability gives us to make connections, to help others and to find healing within ourselves. So, here goes.
I am, among other things, a person with high ideals and standards for myself. I believe in the ideal. I strive to work toward it, in my family and personal life. It’s not possible to always reach it, but I have felt blessed by reaching toward it. I would also say that I am a very compassionate person. I will bend over backwards to help someone in need, be it friend or stranger. I give people the benefit of the doubt and see the good in others. I’m not perfect at this, but when I find myself being critical I am able to change course. I don’t hold grudges. The interesting, and sad thing here is that I find it very difficult to extend that same love, compassion and kindness to myself. What comes so naturally in my interactions with others, is absolutely not natural in the thoughts and feelings I have toward me.
I know this is not something unique to me. I know others struggle with this same phenomenon. And so, let me share some insights I have had as I have embarked on this journey of self love.
First, I realized that it is important to notice my own thoughts and feelings as they pertain to myself–this is known as self-talk or one’s inner dialogue. This took me a long time. I actually didn’t even recognize that I had a negative inner dialogue until quite recently. I didn’t realize how poorly I treated myself, because I didn’t take time to really notice my thoughts. When I did notice them, I was surprised at just how hard I tend to be on myself. When I did a task, I would inwardly berate myself for not doing it better. When I interact with someone else, I feel badly about how the exchange went, thinking I should have said something differently, or acted differently. I basically realized, that I did not give myself credit for anything I did, I criticized myself at every turn and put myself down for my perceived shortcomings. In my mind I was never enough and could never measure up. Much of this inner dialogue is automatic and occurs in my sub-conscious thoughts, so it really took some pondering and quiet reflecting to realize just what I was actually doing. But when I did realize, I knew I wanted to change that.
I am a person of faith and believe that I am divine in nature because I am a daughter of God–the Creator of the universe and Father of us all. But my thoughts have not reflected this belief. Nor have they come close. I have been constantly grinding myself into the dust, but no more! So, if step one is to notice your own thoughts, step two would be to combat them. I believe that we can rewire our thought processes and by so doing change how we feel and how we approach life. I have been working on doing just that. So how am I combatting the negative dialogue within me? I have been working on loving myself–and I’m not talking about producing a feeling of love for myself out of nowhere–I am talking about the verb love–love as an action word.
What does love the verb look like to me? It includes being gentle with and kind to others, giving people the benefit of the doubt and not being overly critical. This means when critical thoughts arise about myself, I must be gentle and kind. It might look something like this: “I didn’t finish my to do list today. I barely got anything done.” This is something generic I might typically say to myself. Notice how focused it is on the negative. I am focused here on what I didn’t do. I have learned that to love myself in this type of instance is to change my focus to the positive, or what I did do. “I read books to my son today. I was there for my kids. I exercised today. I cooked for my family, etc.” This sounds so simple! And it is–but it is not easy. Not at first. Not when you have subconsciously been putting yourself down for years. It takes practice, practice, practice. But I can tell you I have already made a lot of progress here and I haven’t been doing it for that long.
Another important aspect of self love is to remember this simple slogan: “Treat yourself the way you would treat someone you love.” Being a mom to 4 special kids, it is easy for me to see how I treat people that I love. I am not perfect, but I try to be gentle with my children by helping them to see all the good they do and all the good they are. Not only this, but I want my children to be happy! I want them to work hard and grow and progress, but I also want them to have joy in life. I want them to do things they enjoy every day.
And this brings me to my next point. I have learned that if I really love myself, not only do I have to change my thoughts, I have to change my habits. In this busy world where we are encouraged to go go go and constantly be connected and be productive, we can be caught in a trap– and that is, a life without joy and happiness. I often get caught in this trap. I want to be productive, I want to get many things accomplished each day. But often I do this at the expense of my well-being. I don’t take breaks, I push myself to work until I am exhausted and at the end of the day, I have not done one thing that I love–not one thing just for my own enjoyment. This is a recipe for unhappiness and does not reflect any self love. Would I encourage someone I love to run themselves into the ground like this? Of course not. So, I have lowered my expectations of what I should accomplish each day–a lot. I have made the to-do list smaller and I have remembered things I enjoy doing. I love to read. I love to be outside. I need quiet time to think and ponder. I am trying to give myself this kind of time every day. My final counsel is to slow down, and get to know you. Find out what you need to do in life to be happy and then do it–every day.
This is my ongoing journey with self love. I am not sure why this has been so hard for me, but I know I am worth loving and so I am trying every day. This is a part of my fight.
And I will keep fighting it.