The first time I started to actively and consciously make an effort to love myself was when I was eighteen. It was not necessarily out of choice, more out of necessity. It was as though I had lost the foundation of home within me, all those years of making myself small had led up to something I guess you could call a mental breakdown. At that time I did not know what was happening and why it was happening. I was having mild panic attacks nearly every day for a few weeks and that whole period was one big fog, I had lost contact with reality. It was terrifying.
Now, the reason why this happened is so clear to me. I did not prioritize self-love at all. This showed itself in various ways: overachieving, excessive worrying, putting too much pressure on myself, not taking time to rest, focussing more on other people’s needs rather than my own. My body was protesting.
I started going to therapy, reading a lot of books to adopt new ways of thinking. I was finding my way back to myself. This period was the beginning of big changes in my life. I slowly started to let go of beliefs, food, habits, and relationships that are not good for my health. This process never stops, and that is what I love about it. As I keep evolving, the process will keep evolving.
At that time, my mental breakdown seemed like the worst thing that could have happened to me. Now I see it was not happening to me, it was happening for me. After this period, I have felt feelings of happiness, gratitude, love, and self-empowerment deeper than ever before. There’s not a feeling in the world more empowering than finding back your inner spark after having hit rock bottom, and knowing that you did all the work to get back up.
Sometimes I return to those dark places. But I am no longer afraid of them. I know they are there to teach me something, so I simply listen to what my body is trying to tell me. That’s why I actually don’t like calling them dark places, but rather opportunities for growth. I know now that a bunch of self-love is the best medicine that will get you through anything.
The Importance of Self-love
Loving yourself is the one skill that will make every aspect of your life significantly better, for how you love yourself is where your beliefs about yourself start. Gandhi once said: ‘‘Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habit, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny’’. Since how you see the world is a reflection of yourself, having a good relationship with yourself should be our top priority if we want to live happier lives. In fact, it is so important that I don’t understand why this is not something we learn at school. Loving yourself, it sounds so obvious right? But it’s not. In fact, it takes time and practice. Just like we have to actively keep watering our relationships with our loved ones in order to grow, we also have to actively keep watering our relationship with ourselves.
Self-love is not about always feeling good. It is about believing you’re worthy of love even when you don’t feel good, and acting accordingly. Self-love is not only about loving the parts you like about yourself, it’s also about radical acceptance of the parts you don’t like about yourself and finding ways to love them, too.
‘’Even our broken and dark parts deserve light. Despite the damage, every ounce of who we are makes us whole. Choosing to exist loudly is a radical act of self-love.’’-Alexandra Elle
I see self-love not only as showing yourself compassion, but going beyond. You cannot have self-love without self-awareness, because how can you love someone you don’t know? You cannot have self-love without self-acceptance, because how can you love someone you don’t accept? They complete each other. Being aware of your actions, habits, and beliefs becomes less scary when you have compassion for yourself. It allows you to recognize your flaws, accept them, allow yourself to feel whatever you feel, and to love yourself through that whole process.
How you treat yourself is how you teach others to treat you. The degree to which you believe in yourself will determine the degree to which you will dare to go after your dreams. How you speak to yourself is how you speak to others. Loving yourself is the greatest gift you can give yourself, and the greatest gift you can give the world, for the love you give to yourself is the love you will put into the world. I would like to end this article by quoting my favourite writer Yung Pueblo, who has been a great inspiration for me lately.
“If you truly love yourself, it opens the door to loving others, as this expansion continues it elevates your compassion to a boundless level. When you take love and uplift it from the interpersonal into the societal level, what you get is a way of thinking that seeks to create structural compassion -- building a world where all people can live materially well without directly or indirectly harming each other or the earth.’’
By: Kimberley van Schagen
Kimberley is a Mexican/Dutch student of International Public Management. In her free time, she enjoys learning about psychology and making art. She wants to contribute to transforming society into a more peaceful one, but believes that can only be done through transforming oneself. This is why she aims to inspire people on their journey of personal growth. Not only to gain greater personal fulfilment, but also to let their light shine on the world.