Love yourself. That’s a simple statement that can be packed with different emotions for many of us. Some may say “of course I love myself.” Others may think that’s selfish. As I thought about this statement for this blog prompt, I realized I haven’t been very good at loving myself. Yet this is an important aspect of the self-care I’ve been trying to do lately.
As a child, I didn’t feel very lovable. I was well aware that my twin brother was my dad’s favourite child and my younger brother was my mom’s favourite child. I hoped glasses would make me look prettier. I tried to imitate my friends, hoping that if I was just like them, they’d like me better.
When I wasn’t imitating them, I criticized them. I told my best friend once that I didn’t like her jokes and sense of humour. That caused a rift in our friendship for several years (which, thankfully, has since healed).
When all of that didn’t work, I escaped into books (both those I read and those I wrote). There, I created fantasy worlds for myself where I was the likeable, pretty, confident, adventurous girl I wanted to be.
In university, I was still a shy, uncertain girl hoping desperately to make friends. Somehow, I did. Those friends taught me to accept myself. When I was with them, I didn’t have to pretend. We were a diverse group of girls—a wealthy Muslim, a Serbian immigrant, a pastor’s daughter, a city girl, etc. Yet we had fun together.
After our first year of university, three of us went on a trip to Jasper together. We laugh about the mishaps of that trip now, but it was a moment of healing for me. We learned so much about each other and came out of it deeper friends.
Becoming a mother brought up new struggles with loving myself. I thought I was ready to become a mom, but it was so much harder than I expected. And I never expected the mom guilt. I shouldn’t have lost my temper today when she spilled her milk for the third time. I didn’t spend enough time playing with her. I fed them Kraft Dinner again today instead of making a healthier lunch. In my mind, I had this image of a perfect mom—and I could never reach it.
Social media doesn’t help with trying to love yourself. On social media, each of us creates a public persona. We share only the best parts of ourselves, taking pictures of the half of the house that’s cleaning while hiding the mess elsewhere. When I scrolled through my social media feeds, it was easy to feel like I wasn’t as good as anyone else, either as a mom or a wife or a blogger, or even as a Catholic and a person.
Because I don’t love myself, I’ve often doubted the love of those around me, including God. During my summer in Australia in 2005, I was far away from my family and friends. With no one to turn to but God, I realized how much He did love me.
One night in Alice Springs stands out in my memory, as I sat alone in my cold bedroom while verses jumped out of my Bible assuring me of God’s love. He loves me. For once in my life, His love was able to get past my feelings of unworth and wrap itself around me, as real as the blanket tucked around me. He loves me. I laughed, I cried.
And then I kept traveling. The love and acceptance I felt from God and from my university friends helped to heal that unlovable wound within me. Yet it has also been easy to forget those moments. There are so many more moments when I still feel unlovable, when I don’t love myself. Feelings are fickle and can’t be trusted.
On the radio a few days, the DJ shared a quote that had spoken to it. It was something like, “How would I treat my body if it belonged to one of my loved ones?” Lately, as I deal with some personal issues, including depression, I’ve been trying to focus on self-care. Yet I realized that self-care has to come with some measure of self love. If I don’t love myself, then I won’t take care of myself. That quote made me rethink my efforts at self-care.
I insist my girls eat some fruits and veggies every day, instead of just having sandwiches, yet I tend to skip lunch myself or grab something easy (and less healthy). I get them into bed on time despite the usual childhood protests, yet too often I let my own bedtime slide (despite knowing that contributes to my depression the next day). I encourage them to go outside and play, yet I don’t get myself out or get off the couch. I limit their screen time, but justify the time I spend at a computer because “it’s for work.”
Being a mom has taught me another reason that I need to love myself. If I love myself, then I am better able to love my daughters. Jesus tells us, “Love your neighbours as yourself.” Too often we focus on the first part of that command, and forget the second. We can’t love others if we don’t love ourselves (as I realized in my childhood friendships).
If I am being unforgiving and angry and unloving to myself, then I will treat my daughters that way.
If I am loving and gentle and forgiving toward myself, then I will also treat them that way. And hopefully they will learn to treat themselves with love and grace as well.
And so I encourage you to love yourself. Think about the ways in your life when you have and haven’t done this. Think about what it means for you. And think about how you can model loving yourself for your children.
What does the phrase “love yourself” make you think about? How do you love yourself?
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