02/06/2015 10:20 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Do We Learn Self-Love?


Happy February and happy celebration of self-love!

Last night, someone asked me how do we move from self-hate to self-love?

Here is my answer:

Well, many of us have the self-hate, or at the very least a strong case of contempt for ourselves, so in many ways there is nowhere to go but towards self-like at the very least, and self-love.
For me, learning to like myself more and love myself more started out of necessity. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired of hating myself and the self-destructive behaviors that accompanied it. Especially, when it came to acting out my self-hatred in food by either starving or stuffing my feelings away.

I started questioning "Why do I hate myself ? Who said I am not enough? Where did I get the message I am not enough? Is it true ? Would it be a lie to pretend I am something I am not? For example, to pretend I accomplished more than I have, and if so, wouldn't it be a lie to pretend I have accomplished less than I have ? Am I lying to myself and others when I tell myself I am not enough, and why ? How would I treat myself if I started to believe I was enough and I was worthy of my own time and consideration ? What would feeling like enough feel like, sound like? What if I could know that the essence of who I am, the essence I was born with as a child was worthy, valuable, good enough, for just having been born into this world, regardless of what I do or don't do?"

The answers did not come overnight but they did come, and they are still coming. The truth was I learned to hate myself because as a child, when I was dependent on my parents, it felt safer to believe something was wrong with me than the very parents I was depending on for survival. It felt easier to focus on there being something wrong with me and it gave me a sense of control; instead of telling the truth, that my parents were completely out of control.

I started to believe all of the following: If I could just be thin enough, smart enough, good enough, do enough, if I could be perfect, just maybe they would stop fighting, being depressed, being mentally ill, being a violent alcoholic.

Of course, my beliefs were flawed, no matter who I was or what I did, my parents would be who they were. I could not fix my parents and should not have felt like I had to. Moreover, I was being raised by parents who hated themselves. How could they possibly teach me about self-love if they did not know how to love themselves?

Maybe we have heard this before, but until we really know it in our hearts, until we take it in emotionally, we will be caught up in re-enacting self-hate on ourselves. The self-hate has become a way of existing, of trying to protect ourselves from the parents who could not be there for us, most likely simply because they did not know how to be there for themselves or us, for whatever reasons. The self-hate has become a way of protecting ourselves from rejection. You can't leave me or hate me, because I hate myself and disconnect from the good inside me all of the time. Hah!

When I started to realize that just maybe, this self-hating thing was a learned behavior passed on in my family like a legacy, the same way grandma passes on her best china, I thought maybe I can walk away from this legacy of pain. Maybe, just maybe I am worth loving. I started seeing myself as more than my body size, more than the size of my career, more than the size of my bank account. I started seeing myself as more than the weight of my skin and bones, and started seeing myself as a whole person with blood flowing through my body, with a mind full of ideas and thoughts, and with a heart full of feelings. I started caring about what I thought, what my feelings were and are.

I started allowing myself to see my good character traits and to see my accomplishments, especially my being a survivor of my childhood home, of my mother's mental illness, of my father's violent alcoholism and my eating disorder, which I developed to cope with my childhood home. Every time it was hard to switch from hating myself to finding the good in myself, after all old habits die hard, I reminded myself that I needed to tell the truth about the good, it was living a lie to only see and believe what I perceived as the bad in myself.

Little by little, I eliminated negative talk such as "I'm fat, I'm ugly, I'm not smart enough, I don't do anything right, I will never do it right, and so on and so on." Eliminating this negative self-talk, is a huge part of the journey towards self-like and self-love, because if we keep berating ourselves and talking to ourselves worse than we would ever talk to anyone else, how can we do anything but believe our own negative messages? Talking to ourselves without the negative way we have verbally abused ourselves in the past, is how self-love sounds. Talking to myself in a kinder, gentler compassionate way, the way I would talk to a friend is what self-love sounds like.

The more I did this, the easier it became to start treating myself better, to value my body, my feelings and my self. I started taking better care of myself little by little. Making time for what I needed, whether it was rest, exercise, seeing a funny movie, writing in my journal, writing a book to own my voice, and/or whatever else felt as if it feed me in a way food never could. The more I treated and treat myself as if I matter, the more I believe I matter.

We can learn, read and talk about self-love 24/7, but it is when we start choosing self-love in the small ways we think of ourselves, talk to ourselves and treat ourselves every day, that we start to feel the love. I had to be open to the idea of accepting myself completely, eating disorder and all. I had to learn and I am still learning to accept all of my feelings, even the ones that are uncomfortable and feel trite, silly or scary.

I am still on a journey of self-love, just when I think I am on firm ground with loving myself, alleged mistakes and all, some new feeling or situation challenges me, and I have to remind myself that self-love is loving myself unconditionally and I can get through whatever feeling or situation comes my way, because I am worth it, I am a survivor. My being born into this world as the unique individual that I am makes me enough and it makes you enough also. We are enough and we deserve our own respect, self-like and self-love. Have a large-sized day!