“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving yourself and see what happens.” ~Louise Hay
There is a lot of hype around self-love these days. The media and marketing world often bombard us with messages insinuating that the key to self-love lies in consumerism. For a long time, I bought into this idea.
I would see an advertisement urging me to treat myself to a high-end face cream for a dose of self-care. Or a promotional email landing in my inbox might suggest that a calming lavender bubble bath was just what I needed to boost my self-love. Or I would receive a text notifying me of the latest designer bag on sale—isn’t self-love about indulging in what you fancy?
Despite buying all the things, incorporating self-care routines, and generally doing all the things these mediums recommended for self-love, I still felt unfulfilled.
I questioned why, despite following all the guidelines, something still felt amiss. I felt that emptiness creeping in, even when I had checked all the boxes these commercial messages prescribed.
Through navigating this journey, I’ve come to recognize an overlooked issue that often lurks in the shadows of the pursuit of self-love: low self-worth. The belief that I am not worthy of love, exactly as I am.
For most of my life, I found my self-worth through doing instead of being because this is what I learned from my church and home life. Serve, give, think of others. And I always got affirmation from my parents when I did something that was helpful to them. I don’t recall ever being asked what I wanted to do, and I really had no idea what I needed.
I thought that in order to be worthy of my own approval and love, I had to first receive it from others. I thought that by being the helper, the healer, the giver, I would gain the love of others and then be lovable.
I now realize that developing and believing in my own self-worth and loving myself is an inside job. All the healing, giving, and helping should have started with myself. You know, fill your own cup.
What I learned does not work is seeking something outside of me for approval and validation. You see, we cannot control how others perceive us, or whether they understand us. We cannot control if someone likes the way we look, the art we create, or the words we say. Nor should we allow their opinions to dictate who we are, what actions we take, what we say, or how we feel about ourselves or our lives.
For me, low self-worth showed up in very subtle ways that I am only now starting to see and understand because I now have an awareness of it.
For me, low self-worth showed up as me giving my body to men before I was ready, or not saying anything when they took my body without permission, instead acting as if everything was fine.
It manifested in me working at a job that had unrealistic expectations of me, that did not provide an environment to learn, grow and flourish—constantly giving my all and feeling it was never enough.
Low self-worth meant marrying someone because they loved me, not because I loved them.
It meant silencing my truth, my opinion, my feelings for the sake of not wanting to feel uncomfortable or make anyone else feel uncomfortable.
It meant giving more than I had to give expecting others would do the same.
I now know that my worthiness does not lie in what brand I am wearing, how big my house is, or how much money is in my bank account. And it’s not tied to how much I give or do for others, or whether someone likes me or not.
My worthiness lies in how I feel about myself. It starts with loving and approving of myself.
It was amazing to see the changes that occurred when I began to deem myself worthy for simply existing. Suddenly I found myself less interested in getting drunk to escape myself and the world, and less interested in pleasing people.
I began to ask myself why I was choosing to make a particular decision. Was it because I felt like I should, or was it because I genuinely wanted to? What I found was that many of my choices had a motive—to get approval from others.
As I navigate this space, I give myself permission to change my mind, to cancel plans, to do my best to lean into the discomfort of change.
I validate myself daily through mirror work, affirmations, and making choices that are beneficial for me.
I make an effort to speak kindly to myself and forgive myself for past mistakes, which in turn allows me to forgive others more easily, and to understand that we are all here doing the best we can do, with the awareness that we have.
If you are on this journey of self-love and find that you are not making the progress you would like, ask yourself the following questions:
- Where does my self-worth come from?
- Do I believe that I am worthy of love?
- If not, why? When did I form this belief, and how can I let it go?
- What actions can I start taking to show myself that I love and honor myself?
- What type of thoughts am I thinking about myself?
- What proof can I find that my negative thoughts are actually untrue?
On this journey of discovering my worth and loving myself I’ve had my fair share of tripping, face plants, and “oh NOO, not again” moments. There have been ups and downs, good days and bad days, periods of rapid progress followed by times of stagnation or regression.
This journey will be lifelong for me, but despite the obstacles, I have discovered a deeper sense of peace (at times) than I ever imagined possible, experienced more joy and laughter than I thought could exist, and found more moments filled with gratitude than ever before.
As I choose to uphold the idea of appreciating progress rather than pursuing perfection, I realize that it is all worthwhile.