“Loving yourself isn’t vanity – it’s sanity…”
I’d always thought of myself as a genuinely optimistic and happy person, until a few years ago when I found myself plumbing depths of depression, pain, anxiety and grief so deep and profound, I wondered if I would ever recover. It all started when what I thought was my perfect marriage imploded so suddenly and brutally, that it felt like I had been blown to pieces. Gluing myself back together hasn’t been an easy task but it has ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. It took my marriage ending in a blaze of shock and heartbreak for me to start this journey of learning to love myself more. I was so broken, ashamed and devastated that I knew if I didn’t make some deep and fundamental changes to my life, I would be unhappy forever. And frankly, I knew that Wagamama’s chocolate cake wasn’t going to keep the tears and self-loathing at bay for too long.
Here are some of the things that my marriage breakdown showed me:
- I wasn’t as happy or healthy as I thought I was or I wouldn’t have attracted such a broken man.
- I have always attracted broken men.
- I have always tried to save broken people – when what I really needed to do was save myself.
- I needed to learn how to love myself in order to heal properly.
Learning to love myself is something I didn’t think I’d be able to do until I was perfect. When I finally had the sculpted body of a yoga-addicted goddess, when I stopped being so lazy, when I finally made a roaring success of my life, when I kicked my Made in Chelsea habit and started watching intelligent documentaries instead, when the dark parts of my soul were healed and clean – that’s when I thought I would finally fall in love with myself. But despite all the things I have always thought were wrong with me and the failure of my marriage, I learned that I could still love myself anyway. What a blinding revelation that was to me. It shouldn’t have been but it really was. I’d been labouring under the mistaken idea that I could only fall in love with myself when I was finally perfect.
Do you love yourself? I mean really love yourself? Do you speak to yourself kindly and with compassion? Can you forgive yourself for all the things you did wrong or think you did wrong? Can you let go of the guilt and shame and trauma that you’re carrying? Do you see the beautiful, shining good in you, like others do? Do you cook yourself good, healthy food? And allow yourself naps? And deep, scented bubble baths? And guilt-free chocolate cake? Can you take some rest when you need it, without telling yourself that you should be doing something more productive? Do you allow yourself the thought that you’re doing your best? Can you look in the mirror without being horrified?
I couldn’t. But I mostly can now.
My life isn't perfect - I still watch Made In Chelsea (don't judge me...), I don't have the body of a yoga-sculpted goddess (yet), I have down days and sometimes I see my Deliveroo driver so often, he feels like a family member, but I'm a million miles from where I was. My baseline happiness levels are higher than they have ever been. I don't wake up in the mornings with my stomach churning in guilt and shame. I forgive myself. I forgive others. I sleep better. I am better. I have mended things within myself that I didn't even know were broken.
So how do you learn to love yourself? I mean really fall deeply and totally head-over-heels in love with your glorious self? (Spoiler alert: you can love somebody who isn't perfect.)
There are almost certainly a thousand different ways to fall in love with yourself but here are some of the things I did, and am still doing:
1. I learned how to heal my deep-rooted trauma. I went to counselling. I cried (a lot.) I talked to friends and people I trusted. I wrote. And the most important thing I learned about healing trauma I got from a really beautiful book called The Tao of Fully Feeling by Pete Walker. The book has one simple premise - to heal, we must sit with our feelings and let them pass through us. I know. It sounds simple and trite and probably blindingly obvious but when I think back to how I have run away from my feelings most of my life - eating them away, smoking them away, shopping them away, internetting them away, even climbing mountains to get away from them - it was obvious that this was a message I really needed to hear. The overall message on this one is that when you refuse to feel your feelings, that's when depression, addiction, anxiety and other problems can stop you in your tracks. If you suppress, or refuse to feel one feeling (say, sadness for example) you suppress them all. OK, you can't feel the sadness but you also can't feel the happiness or tenderness or wonder. And that makes life so grey and joyless. (Please note: if you are dealing with extremely difficult or traumatic feelings, you may need a trained specialist to help you process those emotions.)
2. Speaking kindly to myself. When I realised one day, that I talked to my dog better than I talked to myself, I knew I needed to improve my inner dialogue. Yelling at myself to buck up sounded like a good idea in theory but it ended up making me miserable and insecure overall. There are some brilliant brain hacks you can use to make the human experience easier - one of them being that your brain believes what you tell it, no questions asked, so you may as well tell it things that make you glow from the inside out, instead of hammering home the (untrue) message that you are unloveable and useless. Search YouTube for Marisa Peer if you want to dive a little deeper into this. She's flipping amazing.
3. I learned to meditate. Just fifteen minutes a day of quiet time to journey inside is an absolute game-changer. It makes me feel more peaceful, happier and more in touch with myself. If you don’t meditate but would like to learn more, I’d highly recommend Ruby Wax’s book Frazzled. As soon as I read the chapter about daily meditation permanently changing the hard-wiring of the brain, I was in. And it’s a very funny book.
4. I started to take responsibility for my own poor life choices. It’s been so easy to blame being abandoned by my mother, my permanently absent father, my alcoholic ex-husband, the economy, Love Island and Brexit for where I found myself in life but the stark truth is that I am responsible for my own feelings and life choices. I can’t believe that it took me until I was in my forties to fully understand that I was creating my own reality but it was only until I really understood that concept that I could start creating a better one.
5. I began to forgive others and love them more. As the brilliant inspirational speaker Brene Brown says: “Always assume that others are doing the best they can.” Isn’t that just one of the most heart-meltingly liberating things you’ve ever heard? I’ve made great strides in forgiving my husband for being an addict and abandoning me. What he did didn’t mean I was unlovable and it wasn’t even about me. At all. Like me, he was just doing the best he could, with what he had and what he knew at the time. And yes, of course I was devastated by some of his behaviour but carrying around that hurt and blame was like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning someone else’s behaviour but it does mean you shift a heavy burden from your own shoulders.
6. I’m single. So rather than wait around for someone to come and save me from single life, sometimes I take myself out on dates. Spa days, shopping trips, long, lovely dog walks and cooking myself really nice candle-lit meals. I’m a good date. I get on with me. I make myself laugh. I have the same taste in food. The only thing I need to watch out for is when I try to cop a feel at the end of a date. Self dating – is that a thing? It should so be a thing.
So listen, you – wonderful, glorious you. If you don't already love yourself, why not try seeing yourself the way those who love you see you? You are worth loving. You emit a light so beautiful and powerful and yet you don’t always see it. There’s no need for you to be perfect first - you are perfectly imperfect. Forgive yourself more. See your fabulous self the way others do. Take yourself on an amazing date. Talk nicely to yourself. And for the days when you forget how to love yourself, buy yourself a little reminder.
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What incredible things could happen if you just loved yourself?