The Importance of Self-Love and Overcoming Self-Loathing
For as long as you fail to love and accept yourself, you will judge that you are not beautiful enough, successful enough, rich enough, loved enough, lucky enough, or anything-else enough.
– Robert Holden, PhD., Be Happy
This type of love is often wildly misconstrued as a moral fault, affiliated with vanity, selfishness and greed. True self-love could not be further from this presumption. In 1956, psychologist and social philosopher Erich Fromm determined that ‘loving oneself is different from being arrogant, conceited or egocentric, meaning instead caring about oneself, and taking responsibility for oneself’. It simply boils down to a regard for one’s own wellbeing and happiness. Only once you accept, love and respect yourself can you begin your journey of self-discovery.
The need to learn how to love yourself arises as soon as we leave the innocence and tranquillity of childhood and enter into a world that is constantly judging, belittling and taunting us into unobtainable perfection.
I have two amazing, adorable little nephews, who are such a pleasure to be around. Yes, they whine and cry a little bit but that’s only because that’s the most effective way for them to express their needs. But when they’re fed, have had a good sleep and don’t need to go to the bathroom, watching how immeasurably happy and content they are with the simplest things is truly breathtaking. Give them a cardboard box and they will literally play with it for hours, expressing such grounded pleasure, wanting nothing more; until my sister puts them to bed and then all hell breaks loose.
Obviously, as you grow up your needs change and satisfaction isn’t granted in quite such simple ways as playing with a cardboard box. Nevertheless, to be able to obtain such pure pleasure and joy from something so uncomplicated is sadly a trait that leaves us as soon as we are taught to believe that there are better things out there. In today’s world, where we’re surrounded by technology and the need to constantly communicate and acquire, it is only getting harder for parents to shield their children from undergoing this change earlier and earlier.
This world is a place in which we attempt to satisfy our every whim, a place that is filled with things to keep our minds active for every waking minute. I’m not a parent yet, so maybe my mindset will change when a mini-Timmy appears, but I am utterly shocked by the dependence that some young children have on iPads, televisions and laptops etc. If we take our children’s attention away from the world in which they are living and absorb them into a technological, separate dimension there is little left but blank smiles and distraction in between. It is the opposite of mindfulness, ingrained into children by parents, from a regrettably young age. iPads weren’t around when I was growing up and my parents did a pretty good job, so why should we rely on these things to divert the attention of our children now? Smile at them, laugh with them, play with them.
I get that the world is constantly changing and we need to evolve and include things like these in our lives. The Mental Health Foundation website (www.mentalhealth.org.uk) suggests that the cases of mental illness are rapidly rising as a direct consequence of dependence on this new technological age. I don’t know about you but I can’t see the diagnoses declining any time soon if we continue to teach our children to depend on these devices.
I was only really talking about infants there, too. The children actually growing up just want to play computer games or play on their smartphones instead of building dens and campfires – and now even adults only seem satisfied when they’re fiddling with a phone. I’m as guilty as anyone else when it comes to this but I can definitely see how it is slowly dampening the excitement about anything else in life. How can we expect to develop self-love when there is so much else going on to take our attention away from ourselves and the moment in which we live.
Take Facebook and other forms of social media, for example. I can honestly say that in real life I see about thirty or so of my so-called 1000ish friends. Yet, I too can become obsessed with seeing what people (who I will probably never see again in my life) have to say (on something about which I couldn’t really give a shit). Most of my close friends have actually left Facebook for this very reason. Perhaps it’s time to follow suit if I wasn't trying market my business through it?
And celebrities, oh my goodness – there’s something I will never get. I think before the head injury that I sustained many years ago (which will be talked about in more detail in a later blog) I used to be a little bit celebrity savvy but upon not being able to recognise a large proportion of my friends’ faces after the fall, I gave up caring what people I really didn’t care about looked like, or did. I almost feel a little smug when someone mentions a ‘celebrity’ name and I have no idea who they’re talking about. Yes, if it’s a big news story, I might know what is going on but on some level even following the news is a sure-fire way to bring you down.
You can obviously still learn to self-love and own a smart phone, a tablet, or whatever other tech wizardry there might be, but you mustn’t let it take over your life. I very rarely go on the London underground, because I love walking or cycling everywhere but the last time I subjected myself to it, I properly focused my attention on everyone else on the carriage. I think the London underground is maybe a poor example, because everyone acts in a very ‘get in, get out’ fashion, but I noticed that well over half of the commuters were staring mindlessly into their phones. Nobody was talking to one another and there was not one smile. It was truly dispiriting. I know people aren’t expected to socialise on a morning commute to work but imagine if we couldn’t hide behind these devices. If people did socialise, think how much happier we all would be. And with happiness comes a true sense of self-worth, which consequently develops into self-love.
As it happens, there is a delightfully cheesy urban anecdote about the London underground, which some of you may have heard before but I want to share it with you anyway. So, if you will indulge me in a little bit of story-telling... are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin...
It must have been during the day, because there were a few seats available. A young chap boarded the train and seated himself next to a beautiful girl, who was hunched over, scribbling notes in her diary.
As the train moved from the platform and into the tunnel, the window opposite them became mirrored with the dark background, allowing the boy to see who he was sitting next to, without breaking tube etiquette and actually looking around him. On seeing her reflection, he realized he was alongside the girl of his dreams.
He turned to make a move but noticed that she was wearing headphones, so didn’t want to disturb her from listening. The train drew into the next station and she stayed seated, as did he. When it set off again, he was once again able to see her reflection.
He was genuinely smitten with this girl’s looks and knew he couldn’t risk her getting off the train before he had the chance to say something. She was still busy writing, though, and listening to her music.
He suddenly had an idea. He reached over and tapped her diary. She glanced up at him, whereupon he politely gestured to borrow her pen, moving his hand in a writing motion. She handed it over and leaned back in her seat, expecting him to turn away and make his own note. He didn’t move away, though, instead motioning to jot something on her diary.
Just before he made a mark, he looked at her, as if to ask if it was okay to write something, to which she nodded in bemusement and then watched him write:
‘Hi, I know this is a bit unusual but I noticed you are listening to music, so I don’t want to disturb you from that.’ He paused and then began again. ‘You are the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t let you get off without telling you that.’ Her face automatically lit up and she smiled the biggest smile she had ever smiled.
I have no idea how the conversation went after that but the story goes that they both missed their stops and ended up going on a date a few days later, eventually marrying.
You can be forgiven for questioning why I included such an unlikely story. The point is that tales like this would never happen if the protagonist didn’t love and care for himself enough to a), put himself in her position, not disturbing her from the music; b), make such a romantic gesture by writing in her diary; and c), wait and not rush the first date. Loving yourself is about seeing the good you can get out of every situation and how to diligently go about it. So if you want the Richard Curtis ending, follow my lead and see where it can take you. Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed...
Splendid, I thought. Before I tell you the techniques I used to learn to love myself again, I just want to go over a few things that restricted my self-loving development. At the time I just presumed that these are the sorts of things that everybody believes but only since researching the detrimental effects of loathing oneself, which is what I probably did, have I come to realise the resounding benefits of self-love.
Every time I walked with a group of three or more friends, I would always be walking behind everyone and not contributing to the conversation. I noticed it every time it happened and yet always shrugged it off because I felt that they probably had more important things to talk about. They weren’t deliberately excluding me from the conversations, I just wasn’t sure enough of myself to bring anything to the table, so to speak. I could have talked about anything, because that’s what friends do, but I had so little belief in my conversation that I just let them do all the talking. It seems fairly insignificant but I only noticed it because it became a recurring situation which slowly started to impact on me.
My business at the time was not receiving the success it deserved based on the amount of time I was spending on it. Alongside this, virtually all of my friends were getting married and having children. As a result of these combined factors, I found myself constantly comparing myself to all them. It wasn’t just about the money and relationship aspect, it was about their whole lives. I remember going to a wedding a few years ago and speaking to Lels, the wife of my friend, Freddie. I was a little drunk, so I said what I had been thinking.
‘I’m so envious of your life’, I stumbled. ‘You guys have such amazing jobs, which you both love, you live in such an incredible house, and are always so happy’.
Lels was a little taken aback by my presumptions of such perfection.”
'I promise you, Timmy, yes, we love each other dearly and, yes, we’ve got well-paid jobs, but that doesn’t come without arguments and sleepless nights’. I was a little astounded. ‘We’re not perfect but we work at it; these are the parts you don’t see’.
I think that was the first time my naïve little mind got a glimpse of real life. Lels could have easily just thanked me for being so complimentary, which would have left me to commend and applaud the next of my friend’s lives, but she didn’t, and her frank honesty was a stepping stone for me to stop comparing my life to others’. It was quite an eye opener for me to be told that even the most ‘perfect’ of my friend’s lives wasn’t all that I believed it was. There are so many variables that we don’t see, in each and every life, and by comparing your life to that of anyone else, without knowing the full story, will lead to harsh self-judgement. Even if you do know the variables, comparing your life to that of anyone else is a blatant sign that you are not happy with yours and therefore not experiencing self-love.
The Dalai Lama says that, ‘Love brings self-confidence, anger brings fear’. How very true that statement is. If I had had enough affection and love for myself at the time of speaking to Lels, I would have never expressed my jealousy of her ‘perfect life’. As it was, however, I was just angry at myself for not making the business I was working on at the time a success and consequently fearful of how my life was, supposedly, compared to those of all my friends.
Another trait of ‘self-loathing’ that I regularly allowed to dominate was that of constantly seeking the approval of others. Although I was running my business and doing my own thing, making my career path hard to compare with all my other friends’ jobs, I was in constant need of reassurance from my peers that I was doing well in life.
Work aside, I got massively into cycling, every day, and if it wasn’t for their approval, I genuinely think I would have stopped doing it. Luckily for me, however, there was no criticism and I have only stoped cycling so fanatically since becoming a runner.
I am regularly coming up with new business ideas. A few years ago I came up with the idea of the mindful baker, to revolutionise the way professionals can look after their mental health. I told all my friends who, or so I thought at the time, said it was a great idea. I started researching and scoping ways to get it started. It was only a few months later that one of them took me aside and basically told me to stop wasting my life because it was a crap idea and they were all just humouring me because they didn’t think I’d take it any further. I was genuinely quite shocked by their brutal honesty but because I was after their approval and because I wasn’t going to get it from setting up this new business, I put the idea to bed for a while. Look at me now, though, I wholeheartedly believe it will be a great success but only now do I trust and love myself enough to make a go of it. Remember: love brings self-confidence.
There were also two other reasons why I didn’t pursue the mindful baker back then, and both are intrinsically linked to not loving myself. The first is that I constantly doubted myself. I didn’t have the approval of my friends but I also didn’t believe enough in my own ability, which boils down to not loving myself. Here’s a scenario: let’s imagine a couple who’ve been together for a long time. Now imagine that they are a team, trying to achieve a specific goal. If they know deep down that the goal is achievable, they will put in everything they have to make it work, and each half of the couple will do the same. If, however, one thinks that it’s too much work and isn’t realistically viable, they will encroach on the idea and put it to bed. That’s not a great way to support a partner, and shows a distinct lack of love. Transfer the same situation onto doubting yourself and you can straightaway see how it illustrates your own lack of self-love. Again, love brings confidence.
The second reason for holding back on launching the mindful baker is that I kept reliving my past failure with my previous business. In my mind, if I couldn’t make that work, then there was no way that I would have been able to get any other business to work. What a negative and downward way to look at things. Since learning to love myself, I have actually begun to see the demise of my first business as a positive and now think of it as a massive lesson that I needed to learn and understand, before moving forwards.
The final symptom of lacking compassion for myself was how overly critical I was about everything I did. Revert back to the couple situation that I just mentioned. Imagine how you would feel if your other half constantly criticized you for everything you did. It’s easy, you wouldn’t put up with it, you’d argue and fight back, so why on earth did I tolerate my own constant negative influence on everything that I did? My first business failed, you’re a loser, give up. You’ll never get a girlfriend, you’re too ugly. You flunked school, you didn’t get a great grade for your degree, you’re so stupid. Your friends laugh at you. You’re a waste of space. I genuinely listened to these thoughts in my head every single day and yet I did nothing about it. I just thought that that was my draw and I had to deal with it. Oh, how wrong I was. I am writing this blog to let people know that anything is possible and you just need to open your eyes to the certainties in life that so many people miss.
The next blog will go into techniques and ways to regain the self-love that you once had as a child.
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