Someone dear to me is struggling with emotional problems, self-esteem issues, and past trauma. “Annie” posted a meme on FB of a gorgeous woman in a slinky, dark green evening gown. She stands beside this caption: “In the Era of loving myself more.” Then, Annie added, “It’s not easy, but I’m doing it.”
Dear Annie and anyone struggling to love yourself: Please stop.
Yes, we need to eat right, exercise, look nice, sit up straight and stand tall, you know, take care of ourselves in general. But that is about health and hygiene. Self-love? Maybe. But I wouldn’t call it that. The type of self-love people have been fixated on for the last ten+ years can be a detriment.
Let’s think about the same concept in a different context. How much effort would you devote to trying to love someone? I don’t mean showing respect and caring to a person you already love. I’m talking about working hard to love someone you don’t currently care about. When interacting with others, I hope you give everyone a chance. But if the love (or like) and respect don’t develop naturally, you should walk away. Not everyone will be a fit.
Now, try applying the same principal to self-love. If you don’t, won’t, or can’t love yourself, what then? There is no walking away from yourself. Since we are told that everything hinges on self-love, the pressure to attain this elusive feeling can increase depression.
How about this instead? Let go of the need to feel any way at all about yourself. Just stop. Stop trying so hard to love yourself and start working at loving life.
I understand how people can get pulled into the self-love trend. Everyone these days seems to be chasing that golden goose, confidence. Surely, confident people practice self-love relentlessly! Maybe they do; maybe they don’t. I don’t care and neither should you.
Don’t even wish to be confident. A wish is nothing. Actions are everything. Learn how to play guitar, chess, card games or cornhole, so you can be more social. Learn to write compellingly, converse with eloquence, and tell engaging stories. Learn to dress well, which doesn’t mean expensively. Become a volunteer. Contribute. Pay attention to people and find ways to help them shine. Confidence comes from competence, not delusion.
A super-star student recommended that her peers go on interviews for all kinds of projects, positions, internships, and jobs. It’s better to try out for ten things and be offered one than to try out for one and lose out. Plus, it’s easier to experiment with interview techniques when it isn’t for the most important opportunity. Research interview tips. Film practice sessions. Seeing your attempts will help you iron out the wrinkles. Constant reflection paves the road to skill development and resilience. Maybe, you’ll even discover a surprisingly great fit during one of those lesser interviews.
Don’t waste time on jobs or relationships that aren’t a good fit. I couldn’t successfully interview to be a rocket scientist. Wouldn’t even try. It is, however, good to reach above your skillset sometimes since you will continue to grow through training and experience. Showing genuine enthusiasm can go a long way in an interview.
Unfortunately, self-esteem issues also come from the opinions of others. Roy T. Bennett offered these wise words: “What other people think or say about you is none of your business.” So let it go, unless of course the problem is with a boss, family member, or dear friend. If it’s important, talk it out. If you owe someone an apology, give it with grace.
I realize affirmations work for some people. It might be kinda nice to read complimentary sticky notes on your mirror every day. Nonetheless, allow me to debunk some common ones:
- YOU ARE LOVED: Stop worrying about yourself. There is greater joy in being loving.
- YOU ARE ENOUGH: Maybe. What do you bring to the table?
- YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL: Oh, dear. Put in the effort to look nice and stop obsessing about beauty. Vanity is a waste of time.
- YOU ARE WORTHY: Worth is earned. Skills make you worthy of a job. Being a good friend makes you worthy of having them.
- YOU ARE IRREPLACEABLE: Really? We can hope to be appreciated while we’re here and missed when we’re gone. But everyone gets replaced occasionally.
So don’t waste time with vague and relatively unattainable goals. Take down the sticky notes. Even when dark thoughts of doubt or self-loathing start creeping up on you again, resist the temptation to revert to affirmations. Go for a walk or a run, instead. Watch a movie. Clean the house. Put on some upbeat music and dance, dance, dance! Light up those endorphins. Read an enthralling book. Call friends and ask how they are. Plan a get together. Focus on someone or something else. The world does not revolve around you, which is good. That’s too much pressure for anyone.
Sydney J. Harris uttered this gem: “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” In other words, venture outward, not inward. You will gain experiences and add value to your life. Confidence is simply the natural result of tenaciously pursuing a variety of interests. Be so busy on your journey of learning, giving and enjoying that you don’t have time to care about confidence. Then, ever so slowly but surely, confidence will start tagging along. But don’t celebrate it. Don’t pay any attention to it. Confidence should never have been your goal in the first place.
And now, it’s time to revisit that meme: The fragment “In the Era of loving myself more” is quite telling. And the sentiment is as incomplete as the sentence. Similarly, practicing self-love without putting yourself out in the world builds a fragile foundation, indeed. If you must indulge in self-love, at least complete the regimen by including learning and giving.
I hope Annie and everyone wasting time on chants and empty hopes will start this different approach today. I’m pretty sure that happiness, like confidence, will eventually start tagging along, too.