Valentine’s Day is nearly here. A day to show that special someone in your life how much you love them. Or, if you are cynical like me, a day to eye-roll at the print-a-sentiment cards, overpriced chocolates and booked-up restaurants. Despite my cold-heartedness, the day does remind me how important it is to now and then show the people I love how much they mean to me. This got me thinking. What if we had a date where we were supposed to show some love to ourselves? It would inevitably be hijacked by businesses (I Will Always Love Me – Whitney Houston remix, anyone?) but would we start to value how we feel about ourselves more if it was a more public, outward thing?
Self-esteem is tricky. It’s something I’ve struggled with nearly all my life. Since the age of about 6, my dad has sat me down at least once a year to give me the “you need a bit of self-belief” lecture pep talk over schools, exams, relationships, hobbies, jobs- pretty much everything I can think I can fail at. A lot of it is down to self-imposed perfectionism, fuelled in part by the pressures of the world. As Matt Haig writes in Notes on a Nervous Planet, “happiness is not good for the economy. We are encouraged, continually, to be a little bit dissatisfied with ourselves.” Whether its hang ups about our looks, doubts that we are working hard enough, fears that we aren’t being the best partner/child/parent/sibling/friend we could be, there’s always a reason why we need to be striving to be more than we already are. I don’t think it’s always a bad thing to want to be the best version of yourself if it drives you to positive changes. But if it makes you see your current self as overall worthless or inferior, it is time to change the thought pattern.
Your relationship with yourself is the most important you will ever have. You are who you wake up with every morning, and dream with every night. You are the one who has achieved the highs, fought through the lows, and who you ultimately need to answer to. Just like you’d work at a relationship with another person, you’ve got to invest time and effort with yourself (not like that… although maybe like that!).
It’s not easy to do. Psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote that “the most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” Saying you love yourself feels ridiculous when you’ve spent years beating yourself down. It seems egotistical, arrogant, cocky. But it’s not about thinking you’re the bee’s knees at everything. It’s about accepting- hell, liking- who you are, flaws and all. It isn’t going to happen overnight. It takes time and patience. But if anyone’s worth working hard for, it’s yourself, right?
There’s lots of little things you can do to start to build yourself up.
Believe in Yourself
For me, finding a little bit of self-belief started with looking at how far I’d come and what I had already achieved. I gave myself permission to be proud of myself, initially for obvious things like my degree or positive feedback at work. Then I started finding little things that I could feel positive about: cheering up a friend, making my boyfriend laugh after a stressful day, or even just making a perfect cup of tea. I stopped diminishing my successes, thinking that they were silly or not that good, and just focused on the joy I felt in the moment and tried to learn what actually makes me happy and what I really value in life, not what I thought should.
Comparison is the thief of joy
Comparing yourself to others is a guaranteed way to make you feel crap, especially if you are doing it whilst look through the Vaseline-covered lens of social media. Focus on yourself, your achievements and desires for the future. Base your self-esteem on things that are useful and helpful to you and remember that someone else’s success doesn’t mean the absence of yours. Life isn’t a race or a checklist, it’s life and its yours. You do you!
Piss off, Perfectionism
Things don’t always go the way you hoped or expected. It’s easy in these moments to put yourself down and blame yourself. “Things wouldn’t have gone wrong if I had only tried harder/said this/ done that/was more like this”. But life isn’t perfect, and neither are you. And that’s okay, perfection is a myth, a construct. Making mistakes is how we learn and, as long as we are always trying our best, no one can ask us to do more.
It’s really important to try to accept these thoughts for what they are (just thoughts) and not give the self-negativity much air time. I personally really struggle with challenging negative thoughts about myself because I am quite good at convincing myself I am wrong. So, instead I try to refocus my attention to things I am good at. Some people say they repeat positive affirmations out loud in the mirror every morning, but I find this feels a bit weird (also my boyfriend thinks I am talking to him and is confused why I am being nice in the morning). So, I just make sure to acknowledge moments when my self confidence has dipped and think “you’ve dealt with and conquered more, you got this”. It’s a bit cheesy, it’s making me cringe to read it back, but it’s often the pep talk I need!
And start accepting compliments! I totally get it, people saying nice things about me to me used to make my toes curl. But genuinely, if people didn’t think it, they wouldn’t say it. They’d just say nothing. Also, how can they be wrong when it’s their personal view of you? Take it graciously and remember it for times you feel low.
Find your Passion
Starting to think positively about myself has helped me to recognise the things I am good at, and give me some ammo for when the self-doubts start creeping in. Doing something you enjoy and are good at can really boost our self-esteem, whether it’s a sport, writing, cooking, or even cleaning! Do it for the sake of just enjoying it and remove any expectations to achieve anything. For example, I love drawing and painting, and I’m not too bad at it either. But the thought of doing it without an aim felt pointless or a waste of time, rather than just exploring and experimenting. So, I am challenging myself to draw something once a week and keep it, no matter how rubbish I think it is.
Love and Be Loved
All this self-positivity will naturally start to feed into external relationships you have too. I find I have less time for people who don’t make me feel good about myself or don’t respect my opinions and needs, and communicate more openly with those that do (mainly because I’m not plagued with the idea that they think I’m a dick!).
One relationship it’s had a real impact on is with my boyfriend. We have always had great relationship. One that flowed simply and easily, and allowed us to be the strong-minded, independent people we are. But, because it was so good, I was constantly waiting for something to go wrong. I would distance myself when things got a bit rocky and used to tell him constantly that he could do better, find someone more fun and less emotionally erratic. Bit of a downer on date night! However, as I’ve begun to get more confident, I have started to understand (and listen to my boyfriend when he says) that I play an important role in what makes our relationship work and I do deserve to be loved like this.
In the words of RuPaul, “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”
CAN I GET AN AMEN? 😉