Love, love me do

If trash-talking yourself is second nature to you, maybe it’s time to take look in the mirror

Woman&Home, February 2022

If I asked you to go to a mirror right now, look yourself in the eyeballs and say: ‘I love you. I am worthy of love. I am worthy of respect. I am beautiful and loved. I am enough.’ What would your emotional reaction to that be? I’ve spoken to enough women to know how generally difficult this exercise is and how generally similar the response. If you’re even able to bring yourself to do it, I’d hazard a guess that your feelings would run the gamut from awkwardness to shyness to comic or cynical dismissal to rage to outright loathing.

And yet, how much easier would the exercise be if I asked you to list your faults and why you’re failing at whatever it is you feel you should be succeeding at?

It’s perverse how much more emotionally comfortable negative self-talk is, how smoothly it slips into your thoughts: I am so stupid/ugly/weak/incompetent, no wonder I am failing/single/lonely/unsuccessful … Hateful words we’d never utter to our loved ones, we happily shower on ourselves.

I know using the word ‘we’ might be overreach. There are those who can do this exercise wholeheartedly and believe every word, embodying it without judgement and without hiding behind ego. There are those whose confidence and self-love is innate, who were shown they were worthy of existing and wanting the best for themselves from the moment they howled their arrival into the world. And there are those who have worked through their healing to reclaim those parts of themselves that life and circumstance ripped away from them. I can say that after a very committed process I am somewhere in the vicinity of this space of self-love. But not entirely.

Self-dislike or even self-hate is a sticky web to untangle yourself from. While self-love or the lack of it is not a gendered experience, the odds have been stacked against women for millennia.

The ancient subjugation of the female and the feminine in the patriarchal set-up has, in modern times, distilled its toxicity to such a fine art that its poison now feels like fact: how the female body should and shouldn’t look, how a good girl does and doesn’t behave, how a woman should and shouldn’t be treated, what she can and can’t say, what she does and doesn’t deserve, what spaces she may occupy, what words she may utter. How she is worthy, how she is not. Even the ‘Yas Queen’ generation suffers.

The question ‘When did I start believing I wasn’t worthy of love or of loving myself?’ throws a powerful beam of light on the road less travelled.

For most of us, the journey to self-love is a harrowing and difficult one. The question ‘When did I start believing I wasn’t worthy of love or of loving myself?’ throws a powerful beam of light on the road less travelled. It inevitably leads to unpalatable or painful truths in our origin story, it reveals raw and hurtful memories of those impressionable early years of becoming a human in the world. Worse maybe, it forces a reckoning with the choices we make as adults about who and what we allow into our lives.

This is such difficult terrain to venture into that it can feel like the safest step is the one you don’t take at all. Why take a flamethrower to your toxic relationship with self and others when you can take another spa day and call it self-care?

But anyone who has been on the heroine’s journey to integration will tell you that the treasure of healing and self-love lies only on the other side of the dark forest, with its scary trolls to tell off, raging beasts to acknowledge, hungry wolves to appease and dragons of grief to slay.

It’s a journey you undertake by yourself, but you are not alone. There are self-help books, counsellors, free groups and online resources to guide and sustain you. If you’re lucky, you might have loving friends, partners and family who will support you. It’s blood, sweat and tears soul work, but I know this much: there is also laughter, strength, joy, and revelation.

If you want to gift someone something this Valentine’s Day, look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I love you. You are worthy. You are enough.’ – and if you don’t mean it, find out why. Happy travels.

Photo by Gaetano Cessati on Unsplash