Learning to love yourself when your brain doesn’t want you to

One of the most painful memories of my life is when I asked my mum, aged nineteen or twenty, if I would ever like myself. Her reaction to my question was the first time I realised that my self hate was painful for those who loved me to witness.

Four years of therapy later, building my self esteem remains an ongoing journey, and though I have made tonnes of progress, I am still not where I would ultimately like to be. I have still learnt, however, a lot about why loving yourself is often the final challenge to crack and why there are so many people whose deeply rooted negative opinions of themselves affect their quality of life and the way they see the world around them.

I wanted to share a few thoughts in this post for anyone who is on a similar journey.

Ok… but define loving yourself

No one wants to be a complete arsehole (excuse my language) who literally thinks they are the best human ever created and that they can do no wrong. The fear of becoming someone like that is one reason why self esteem is so hard to obtain.

To me, loving yourself is actually about having a core feeling in your heart that you are a good person who tries your best and, despite any flaws you may have, you deserve good things and good people in your life.

The consequences of not loving yourself include a tendency to hold on to people who do not care about you or treat you with the respect you deserve, and a habit of creating self-destructive situations which perpetuate a cycle of self-loathing. For example, “I hate myself so i’m going to get drunk tonight” *drinks too much, does something regrettable*, “Why do I do this to myself? I’m an embarrassment, I hate myself.” *travels on self-loathing train back to square one and cycle begins again* Most of us have probably been in our own cycle at some point.

Why is it so hard?!

One reason I mentioned earlier is the fear of going over the top with your self esteem to the point of becoming arrogant and unlikeable. Often, people with low self-esteem already think they are unlikeable, and so fear becoming even more so.

Another reason is that our memories and the voices in our head which twist the meaning of them can be overpowering.

No one is born hating themselves. I believe it’s a process that is learnt either through the actions or words of others or born out of a traumatic or upsetting event.

If someone is cruel to you, or something bad happens to you, it hurts. And as humans, we want to fix our pain. We can’t understand why a bad thing happened to us, and not someone else. Why we were singled out for a certain horrible thing to happen, or why someone was cruel to us and not to Bill down the road. So we ask questions. Over and over, why me? And the easiest and most harmful answer is that it must be because we are different. Because we deserved it. Because something is probably wrong with us. And then we search for the thing that might have been wrong with us, and we latch onto it. And that becomes our source of self hate.

I hated myself because people were cruel to me, and something bad happened to me. A glorious double whammy. The cruelty part came from school, where I was told every day that I was ugly and tiny and anorexic. The bad thing that happened to me was my illness. The more I looked in the mirror and questioned why people were calling me ugly when I didn’t think I was, the more I began to believe that I was probably mistaken and that if so many other people thought I was ugly, they must be in the right. The more stress and pain my illness caused for my family, the more I began to feel ashamed and guilty for being ill. As though somehow, I might have been able to stop it or pretend I was ok. These core sources of self hate snowballed, and before I knew it, I began to think that I didn’t deserve happiness. I thought of myself as a tragic, damaged shell of a human being who was destined to be screwed over by everyone and everything.

As you can imagine, that’s all taking a long time to unravel. But believe it or not, i’m getting there.

How and where are you supposed to start?

It’s one thing to say, objectively, that you’re probably not a wa**er. But it’s another to truly believe that.

For me, the starting point was to pinpoint the reasons why I had low self esteem and when I first started developing those negative feelings, and to challenge them. One of the biggest steps I made, for example, was to accept that my illness wasn’t my fault. It was simply bad luck. Another challenge I am still working on is developing the ability to feel beautiful without the worry of my feeling being shared by others or the need for my feeling to be validated.

Throughout this process, I have begun to realise that even those with the lowest self-esteem still have love for themselves deep down. For example, if you have even the faintest desire to succeed or live a happy life, then subconsciously, you want these things because you feel that you deserve them. If you are studying, working or even simply staying alive each day, you are doing this because you feel that you are human being who deserves to be on this earth and therefore you value yourself. All you need to do is build on that.

I won’t pretend that on any quest to develop self love that you won’t occasionally press the self destruct button, or sit crying on the floor with a packet of bourbon biscuits now and then (totally not based on personal experiences). This stuff is hard, and there are so many people in this world that I wish I could just pour enough love from my heart into their hearts to heal them, but the key is in the word self. We can benefit from the help, love and support of others, but only we can truly heal ourselves. This is a tough journey, and one I hope one day I can finish and provide more helpful advice on. I don’t ever want to come across as though I consider myself an authoritative voice on anything - im not, im just an idiot with a blog muddling through life. I write these blog posts because there are sometimes things that I have learnt that I want to share to help others, or things I would have really benefitted from reading when I was super ill. If anything I ever write could make just one person smile or feel slightly better about themselves, it would mean the world.

Until then, this is all I know so far and wanted to say for now on this Saturday evening. If you are reading this, then you are incredible and loved and not even 0.000001% as bad of a person that you think you are. One day, we will all get there!