It's not All Hashtags and Tote Bags
Updated: Jan 26
I never thought I had a problem with self-love. I've suffered with mental health problems throughout my life but where some afflicted might experience feelings of self-criticism, doubt or low self-esteem, that never rung true for me. I said loudly and confidently that I love myself and believe that I am deserving of kindness and assistance. I talk to myself kindly on a daily basis, I root for myself, I cheer myself on.
But just like no relationship with another human is perfect, nobody has a perfect relationship with themselves either. I arrived at the flat of my best friend in the world a few weeks ago, sat down on her sofa, and cried for about an hour. I had just kissed somebody who was in a long term relationship with somebody that was not me, and it brought back for me the times in my own life when I have been in relationships and have been unfaithful. Yes, I'm not proud of it, but I have a serious problem with infidelity.
My best friend quite rightly sees me cheating on people or crossing boundaries I know in my heart I ought not cross, and pulls me up on how cruel it is. In no other area of my life am I cruel. In fact, when other people are in pain it causes me so much pain that there could be no possible benefit. And it isn't just that I am an impulsive person with a high libido who makes mistakes after too many drinks. Sure, there's a bit of that, but that isn't the full story. So, why do I really cheat?
Well, my best friend suggested that I am perhaps not as deeply, truly, madly in love with myself as I pretend to be. I shook my head violently when she said that because it didn't feel right. No. You're wrong. I understand why you might think that, but you've got it wrong. I really do love myself, I said... I just don't expect anybody else to. The truth is that I've known all along the reason why I kiss people who are not my boyfriend or sleep with people who are not my boyfriend or, just as bad, flirt with people who are not my boyfriend. It's because I never really believe that anything I do could hurt them, because I never really believe that they care about me at all.
That might sound like somebody trying to worm themselves out of being the bad guy, I get that, and maybe to some extent it is, but I'm not interested in bad guys and good guys right now. I'm interested in who I am and who I could be to make my life and the lives of the people around me better. The truth that I am finally admitting to myself is that I cheat in monogamous relationships to see if it will break their heart, to finally get the confirmation that I never felt like I had that they actually loved me. And then it's too late. It transpires that they did love me, and I've ruined it, I've broken their hearts and their trust. Then I have to start all again with somebody else who will say 'I love you' a thousand times to deaf ears as I play this cruel game with them and with myself, all the while just desperately wanting to feel the love that was right there in front of me.
So, my best friend asked me, 'Can you really say you love yourself, if you so vehemently believe that nobody else will?'. There's no logical contradiction there, and up until now I have held that that is exactly the case. That I love me but nobody else does and that's a shame but that's just how it is. But isn't it almost certainly the case that some people will and some people won't love me, so the fact that I seem so blind to any love being offered to me does support the theory that maybe, beneath all the bravado, that message of self love hasn't fully sunk in.
So, the next stage is this: How do I now reach that level of self-love that I already thought I had attained. Self-love isn't something that happens overnight. You don't just wake up some day and decide to love yourself and Alok Vaid-Menon pops out of your closet, waves their magic wand and poof! Sure, there's an element of 'fake it till you make it', but I think a lot of us are so good at the 'faking it' part that we have even fooled ourselves. So this is what I have decided to do:
I am imagining that I am in a relationship with myself, and for some reason, even though Emi is telling me she loves me, I'm not hearing it. Well, what advice would I give myself then? I'd say that it's not enough to know that Emi loves you, you have to feel it...
A good place to start with expressing and interpreting love are the 5 love languages that we all love to re-tweet!
Acts of Service: What have I done for myself this week? Maybe I am serving myself by giving the house a spring clean, doing some yoga, cooking a healthy meal or having an early night.
Gifts: What have I given myself lately? I deserve a postcard from the holiday I just went on to let myself know I was thinking of me. Or maybe it's time I bought that jumper I keep taking in and out of my basket.
Words: When was the last time I told myself I am beautiful, that I am doing so well and that I am proud of me.
Affection: How about self soothing, holding my hand, stroking my own hair, kissing the bits of me that I can reach!
Quality Time: It's great to binge box-sets when you're mind needs a rest, but that time spent with a partner wouldn't be enough to sustain a relationship, so its not enough to sustain your relationship with you. You need to go for a walk, introspect, meditate or take yourself out for dinner.
So today I am finally realizing that I do not love myself perfectly, that nobody does. But like all things important to me I am ready to put in the time and graft for it. And if you're reading this like a bitter old married couple thinking 'yeah, whatever, that doesn't apply to us, we are fine,' - It applies to everybody. We could all love ourselves, or at least show that love, a little better. Be brave enough to admit that you don't love yourself as much as you could, and you will open yourself up to deepening that relationship.