Why is it so hard to love myself?

Alana Helbig2

I remember the first time someone called me fat. I wasn’t more than six or seven years old. At the time I don’t think I really even knew what it meant but I knew it was bad. That I was bad. That I wasn’t good enough.

I remember the first time I went on a diet. I was 15. As the weight dropped off, my apparent love for myself grew exponentially. Then I gained the weight back and I hated myself again. Hated myself into a dark depression

“You’re fat” became the insult of choice. Family members, girls at school, even strangers would use those words to hurt me. And it did. An arrow direct to the bulls-eye of my heart.

I don’t remember a time since when I haven’t been on a diet.

It’s not just the weight though. Over the years I’ve suffered from severe cystic acne followed closely by  adult acne (and the scarring that comes with it), high-school bullying, depression, low self-worth, hormonal hair, weird skin rashes, hyper-emotional sensitivity, confusion about my sexuality, binge eating, ongoing back pain, drug and alcohol abuse,  and a myriad of other stuff I’m not comfortable sharing.

Learning to love myself feels like a bloody big job.

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I know what it’s like to look in the mirror and criticise everything you see.

I know what it’s like to turn your face away from people as you walk past them, ashamed of how you look and afraid they will see your ugliness.

I know what it’s like to look at photos of yourself and feel your heart sink. “Is that really me? Is that really what I look like?”

I know what it’s like to abuse yourself with food. To ban yourself from eating foods you love, only to binge yourself to sickness on those same foods days — sometimes hours — after you put the ban in place.

I know what it’s like to hide huge parts of yourself from the people you love out of fear they will judge you or reject you.

I know what it’s like to cancel on social commitments because you feel too fat or too ugly or too incapable to show your face in public.

I know.

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I started my self- healing journey three years ago but, until now, I’ve only skirted around the edges of self-love.

“Fuck self-love” I’d say to myself.

I’d see the pretty, skinny girls preaching self-love and I’d think: “Well that’s fine for you. Look at you! What’s not to love?”

Or most commonly I’d say to myself: “I don’t know how to love myself. Where would I even start? It’s impossible.” And I’d never begin because it just felt all too big and overwhelming.

Just recently I had a profound realisation. These words here: “I don’t know how. I can’t. It’s too hard.” These words belong to Mr. Resistance and his best bud Fear.

If I really wanted to learn to love myself, I’d find a way. I’d read. I’d get support. I’d research. I’d take action.

If I get really honest with myself, it’s not that I don’t know how, it’s that I’m terrified to start. And I’m terrified to start because what happens if I discover that I’m not lovable? What then?

All this time, I’ve been pretending like it’s all too hard when really I’ve just been afraid.

My underlying motivation for not learning to love myself has been based solely on a  fear that I won’t be able to love myself. At the crux of it,  I am afraid that I am not enough.

I had to sit with this realisation for a few days. Bloody fear. Of course.

Now, if you’ve been hanging around here for a while, you’ll know my attitude towards fear — walk towards it, always. Only good stuff comes from facing your fears (I talk more about facing fears here, here and here).

Discovering that fear is the only thing stopping me, has actually made getting started a little easier. And so, after years of making excuses, my self-love adventure has finally begun. I want to share with you some of the things I’ve been doing. If, like me, you’re struggling with self-love you might find these ideas helpful.

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Alana in forest - self-love

#1: Choose your own self-love adventure!

Learning to love yourself is a very personal journey. We each battle with different inner demons. Nobody else can really show you how to love yourself. They can support you, sure. But ultimately, this journey is one we each have to walk alone.  It makes sense then that what you need are self-love practices that are tailored specifically for you and where you are at.

Taking the first step can be the hardest. There’s so much information on self-love  out there, it’s almost overwhelming. I’m a big fan of writing letters to the Universe whenever I need help or clarification. This is no different.

I wrote: “Dear universe, I want to learn to love myself but I have no idea where to start. Can you please help me?” Then I opened myself to the guidance.

In just a few days, like a flood gate had opened, the right books, podcasts, big epiphanies (like the stuff I’m sharing in this post) and step-by-step action items were given to me. The result: a tailored-made self-love program designed especially for me.

I believe this has fast-tracked my journey because, instead of looking externally and relying on other people to tell me how to love myself, I’ve trusted in my own intuition and internal wisdom to guide the way.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

+ Writing Down Your Soul, Jannet Conner

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#2: Affirm: “I am willing to learn to love myself.”

At this present time, saying “I love you, Alana” sends my body into a state of stress. That’s too much for me right now and I will not force this.

On the contrary, “I am willing to learn to love myself” feels soft and gentle yet expansive. It opens my awareness to the opportunities, resources and people that can help me progress on this self-love path. I hope in a short while “I love you, Alana” will become easier to say. But for now having a willingness to learn to love is enough.

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#3: Hand-over-heart check-in

Each morning when I wake,  I place my hands over my heart and I ask “What do you need from me today, beautiful?” And then I wait.

Sometimes the answer is quick and simple. Other times I hear nothing and have to come back later in the day. Sometimes unprocessed anger, sadness or other emotions will bubble up and I know I need to sit with those. Each day is different.

Over time and with daily practice, I hope to strengthen this communication pathway so that there comes a point when I can check-in with my heart at any given moment and know, almost instantly, what is true and right for me.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

+ Awaken Radio Podcast: #15 – Practising self-love with Marie Michelle McGrath

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#4: You always have a choice

I see that I  can choose to either spend my time hating on myself or I can practice self-acceptance.

Self-acceptance requires me to look critically at my thought patterns. It requires me to question society’s values and pressures. It suggests that perhaps it’s not me that’s flawed but rather my individual — and the collective’s — belief systems. Self-loathing, on the other hand, requires nothing of me. No growth, no exploration. It keeps me stuck in my self-made prison of self-hatred and torture, forever an obedient, conforming member of society.

In some ways, even though I don’t want to admit it, I’m addicted to the self-hatred. It’s all I’ve ever known. It’s comfortable. It’s easy. It’s safe. To break out of this struggle cycle, I have to change and change feels scary. My ego says “Don’t change. It’s safe and warm and fine just the way we are.” To break out of this struggle cycle, I also have to go against societal obsessions and conformity. The primitive part of my mind says “Conform, conform, conform. Or you’ll be kicked out of the pack and eaten by wolves.”

There are layers and layers of fear here. But that’s okay, we know what to do with fear now.

I’ve started bringing awareness to my thoughts. I notice how they make me feel and behave. I ask myself “What is hating this part of me really achieving? How does it make me feel? How does it make me behave?” The response is: I feel heavy, drained, sad, angry. I want to hideaway, cry, and — on rare occasions — I’ve even considered not wanting to live anymore. I then ask “What would accepting this part of me achieve? How would that feel? How would I behave?” The response is: I feel light, happy, confident. I want to smile, laugh, jump around.

Just like in any relationship, some days this is easier than others. And some parts of myself are much easier to accept than other parts. I just work with that. Approaching this process with curiosity and ending with compassion. Always meeting myself where I’m at.

I’m careful not to make this process heavy. It doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming (if it feels that way, that’s resistance sneaking in again). This practice is simple and takes two seconds, almost as quick as the thought itself.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

+ The Happiness Trap, Russ Harris
+ When loving yourself feels hard, try this instead, Connie Chapman

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#5: Your external world is a thermometer for your internal world

Not so long ago, I lived continuously with a wailing heart. A heart that was crying out for love. With my limited knowledge of how the world worked, I searched externally for something to soothe my heart. I did anything, traded anything, for a scrap, a tiny morsel of love from anyone. No matter how pathetic I became. No matter how wrong that person was for me. No matter how shallow or how short-lived that love was. No matter how terribly that person treated me. And, man, I got treated like shit.

These days I understand that the extent to which I search for love and acceptance externally is inversely proportional to how much I love and accept myself internally.

If I’m going all crazy looking for approval from an external source, I use this as an indicator that something is not right on the inside. If I’m craving approval, love or acceptance from anyone or anything outside of me, I know it’s time to turn inwards, hand over heart and ask: “What is it you need, beautiful?

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Self-love with Jade Egg - nicole mathieson

[Image source: Nicole Mathieson]

#6: Self-pleasure as an act of self-love

Many years of falling into bed with the wrong types of men, the guilt and pressure when I’ve chosen not to have sex with someone, and the fear around standing in the fullness of my own sexuality means that my vagina has suffered probably more so than any other part of my body.

As a single lady it’s pretty easy for me to just ignore my sexual needs. But just like any other part of my body — thighs, stomach, face, breasts — the way that I treat my vagina and think about my vagina, influences how I show up in the world. It influences my confidence. It influences the value I place on this sacred area of my body and thereby the choices I make around sex and being sexual.

Self-pleasure is an act of self-love. One which I have been ignoring for a very long time.

I’ve recently purchased a Jade egg, which I’ve been using on a regular basis. The shame, guilt and resistance that has come up for me as I work with my Jade egg — engaging in an act that is actually really enjoyable and takes no time at all — is a sure sign that this is one area I need to explore further.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

+ The jade egg – a woman’s best friend, Nicole Mathieson
+ Have you abandoned your yoni?, Rosie Rees
+ Using pleasure as a portal to deep transformation with Nicole Mathieson

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#7: When food is love

Me and food… hmmmm. We don’t have such a great relationship. Fifteen years of deprivation, starvation, bingeing and dieting will do that.

Interestingly, two days after I asked the Universe for help in the self-love department, my girlfriend found Geneen Roth’s “When Food is Love” in an op shop and bought it for me. Geneen explores the link between childhood trauma and binge eating. She suggests that compulsive eating is a form of protection against becoming intimate with ourselves and others.

Geneen says: “Rather than experience the loss of control that loving brings, many of us choose to feel out of control about something that is within our control: the food we eat — or don’t eat… When we allow our bodies or our weight to interfere with the quality of intimacy in our lives, when we feel too fat to have our thighs or bellies stroked, when we feel to ugly to be seen with the lights on, we are trying to protect ourselves from being hurt. Again. But the hurt we are protecting ourselves from is not in the present. Nor is it in the future. We are trying to protect ourselves from feeling a hurt that has nothing to do with our lives now; over and over, for the rest of our lives, we try to protect ourselves from feeling our past, and in doing so we never allow ourselves to claim the present.”

Never have I heard anyone speak so clearly on emotional eating. Finally someone who understands what I’ve been struggling with for so many years of my life. As I read this book, I felt an instant shift, which I can only put down to finally seeing the truth of why I eat the way that I do and, in doing so, I now feel compassion for myself, rather than self-loathing and disgust.

I still have a long way to go with this part of the journey, but I’m moving forward now. And that’s a good thing.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

+ When Food Is Love, Geneen Roth
Breaking Free from Emotional Eating, Geneen Roth

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#8: The beauty of balance (and having fun!)

It’s funny how life goes. I’ve been working on this post for quite a while, getting it ready to go out this week. Then, on Friday night, I found myself out at a bar, unconsciously chugging back glasses of wine and even smoking a cigarette!

In the morning I woke up with a hellish hangover and thought to myself: “What the hell, Alana? You’re a fraud!” And I seriously thought about not hitting publish on this. Instead, I decided to explore what this all means.

Self-love is about balance, gentleness and adapting to what is right for us from moment to moment. When we place too many restrictions around what we can and cannot do, eat, drink, say, be, then we are no longer practicing self-love, instead we have moved into martyrdom territory.

I know over the last year, practices that, for me, were originally all about being kind to myself — meditation every day, a strict vegan diet, no alcohol — became less and less enjoyable because I was doing them out of desire to ‘be perfect’ rather than consciously checking in with myself in each moment and asking “What is it you need right now?”

I’d placed so much pressure on myself and, as a result, I ended up wanting to break out and rebel — hence the binge drinking, binge eating and cigarette smoking. Now, I’m not promoting getting drunk or smoking cigarettes, but what I am saying is that our needs and desires change from moment to moment. What worked last year, last month, last week might not necessarily work today and that’s why we need to regularly check-in with ourselves and choose balance over perfectionism.

It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking that, because loving yourself feels like such an overwhelming task, the solution needs to be just as monumental, burdensome and heavy. But this is simply not true. Falling in love with yourself should be a gentle process of allowing, with a good dose of pleasure and fun thrown in. Just like any other act of falling in love.

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Share with me in the comments, where are you on your self-love journey and what self-love practices are working for you right now?

Alana

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21 Responses to Why is it so hard to love myself?

  1. Jaye September 20, 2015 at 9:15 pm #

    Alana I love you.
    This could have be written from my heart.
    Thank you for being so brave and sharing your truth with us as well as your remedies to work through the pain. It’s not easy but it gives me a shiny space of peace to know that I’m not ‘defective’ or alone in these destructive thoughts and feelings.
    Sending you my love, (because I can’t send it to myself!) you brave wonderful woman. You are changing the world. Xxxx

    • Alana September 24, 2015 at 12:27 pm #

      Jaye! You are most certainly NOT defective or alone in these feelings at all. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to share this post. I think there’s a tendency for the online world to only talk about stuff once we’ve got it “all figured out” instead of sharing our journey as it’s happening. There’s nothing wrong with this really except that for those who are “in the thick of the process” we feel separate and alone, like everyone else has got it figured out and that there’s something wrong with us. So here’s me, someone who certainly does not have it figured out… yet :-). Sending my love back to you xx

  2. Che // Life With Che September 21, 2015 at 1:18 am #

    Oh Alana. What a brave woman you are. Thank you for being so open and honest. This too is something I’m feeling challenged by at the moment and I thank you, from the bottom of my heart for sharing your experience and these amazing resources. I heart you. X

    • Alana September 24, 2015 at 12:14 pm #

      My pleasure, babe. I totally heart you, too. x

  3. Jen McDonald September 21, 2015 at 7:10 am #

    This is a beautifully expressed, deeply moving post, Alana. Thank you for your courage. As a breast cancer survivor, I’m now one breast down and a lot heavier than I used to be thanks to all the drugs. Self-love is a daily challenge but I know it is essential to my healing. Lack of self love probably contributed to my getting cancer in the first place so what you’re writing about here is actually life-saving advice. Keep going, girlfriend. You’re doing great!

    • Alana September 24, 2015 at 12:14 pm #

      Oh Jen! You brave woman! What self-awareness you have to consider how your own beliefs about yourself might also be impacting your health. I had not thought of this as life-saving advice but, like you, I believe that our thoughts can negatively or positively impact our body and our health. So thank you for pointing this out to me. Sending loads of healing vibes to you. xx

  4. Anika September 21, 2015 at 8:43 am #

    Alana, I LOVE you. This is an excellent piece. So open, vulnerable, real, and so darn raw. I resonate 100%. I too am a struggler in the self love department. And to be honest I’m still sitting the whole process in the too hard basket. But, I will take on board a lot of what you have said. Thank you Alana, you are so wonderful and definitely loveable!! xxx

    • Alana September 24, 2015 at 12:12 pm #

      Thank you, honey! I hope some of what I’ve said here helps. xx

  5. Rhea February 28, 2016 at 10:45 pm #

    Hi Alana,

    When I read your blog it was looking into a mirror. I decided today that I need to do something about loving myself. That is when I found your blog. Thank you.

    • Alana March 4, 2016 at 11:34 am #

      Hi beautiful Rhea. I’m so glad you found us! I LOVE the synchronicity. You are beautiful and you deserve your love. I’d love to know how you go with journey. Reach out if you need some support. xx

  6. ChrisB1986 May 2, 2016 at 10:26 am #

    As a young man i don’t see myself as lovable though everyone i know truthfully knows says im attractive & can be with anyone i want. however i see no need to, it’s like sometimes i wonder why do i even care. As a bisexual young man with Aspergers i see that there are few who’ll ever truly understand the struggles i’ve had to truly go through. People aren’t easy and as it is. I just don’t wanna be hurt anymore.I know how humans are and they aren’t so angelic like many try to seem. Love sounds so easy yet I just don’t know anymore.

  7. Keeley June 25, 2016 at 12:00 pm #

    Something about this blog has resonated with today. I feel a profound sort of confidence peeking through my chest excitedly, eager to begin a journey. I believe that may have been the spark I was looking for. You have no idea how important this is for me. I may finally be able to stop abusing myself.

    Thank you, Alana.

  8. Corinne July 5, 2016 at 2:41 pm #

    I’ve never really felt much love. I live in a abusive environment. My mom will criticize me a few times one day, and my Dad the next. It was all about things in my personality I can’t change. I get the same responses from others at school (Your so shy, your weird, you take everything too seriously . . .). The girls and guys avoid me because I’m shy and im kinda a old soul so I’m not into partying or getting laid. I know I’m a good person, but I hope someday I’ll be able to accept that I’m a sensitive, kind, creative, and strong person! (I tell myself these things a lot but it never seems to sink in.

  9. SHELBY GONZALES November 16, 2016 at 4:11 pm #

    This is the first thing that has even remotely given me any hope that self-love is possible. Thank you.

  10. Savannah February 14, 2017 at 6:02 pm #

    Thank you, this came to me at the right time and everything you wrote is a mirror image of everything I’ve thought but never admitted. Thank you for being so open.
    In my darkest hour when I am failing in all areas of life and seeking refuge from the pain I know in my heart the only answer is finding a way to love myself. I am scared and never felt more alone, but your article gave me a glimmer of hope because it was relatable and from that hope I will breed courage to start this journey myself.

    • Alana February 22, 2017 at 10:04 am #

      Hi Savannah, I know this exact feeling that you are describing. I have felt it many times myself. I’m so glad you found this helpful. sending you loads of love xxx

  11. Vera February 23, 2017 at 3:45 am #

    Thank you for the great article. I found a lot in common (15 year long weight loss battle, hormonal hair, acne, high school bullying) and I just recently started my self-love journey. In my case, it is about perfectionism and conditional happiness. I have this (partially justified) idea that in order to be loved and considered attractive in the eyes of men I find attractive (conventionally attractive not overweight and decent men), I need to be slim. It comes from my past experiences, what I see in the world around me and the idea that matching the standards I set for other people is only fair and logical. So if I’m not ready to settle for the men that are attracted to me now, the only thing I can do is to get on the level of men I want to choose from.

    So, I have some improvements as in generally, I know now that there are many more things I like about myself than I dislike and that for the most part, I do like my body and my figure and it’s not all that bad, but there are some things I’d like to change (e.g. having a smaller belly). And I kind of struggle with grasping the idea that I read everywhere about self-love and weight loss: if you love yourself, you will want to treat yourself with healthy food and exercise. The way I see it now is that If I truly love and accept myself as is, why would I want to change and where would the motivation for weight loss even come from?

    I had an insight earlier today that maybe part of the issue is that I always think of change, especially about weight loss as the process of “fixing” myself. So if I love myself and accept that I am good enough, then that would mean that I don’t need any fixing thus my motivation for weight loss will be gone. And I don’t want that to happen and I don’t think that the point of self-love is never improving anything about oneself.

    But how then do I go about still wanting to improve from the place of self-love if the idea of changing something about myself is almost synonymous with “fixing”? I mean how can someone be happy with themselves and still have motivation to change and improve?

    Also, how do you find weight loss motivation within yourself and not from external things liek to get more attention from men or to fit in clothes you like? For the past few weeks I’ve been struggling to answer the question: why would I want to lose weight for myself?

    Sorry for so many letters and looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

  12. Kyria May 29, 2017 at 11:24 am #

    I cried reading this because I can’t find how I love myself. Hell I’ve done the conforming the resticting the punishment. The conformity is a great way to receive praise when you get praise you feel loved accepted. But then I fell in love and he left me because I needed his love too much. Because he actually loved me and I have never loved me so to have him highlighted really all my problems.
    I just tried to tell myself I’m beautiful I think it would take an eternity for me to believe that.

  13. Adam July 25, 2017 at 2:29 pm #

    Alana,

    I just want to say thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    I find, as a young man, it’s very difficult to find answers from other men about emotional problems. It seems to be almost taboo, in male circles, to even begin expressing emotions or emotional distress. Which, for lack of a better word, is bullshit.

    Your post has resonated with me so much. It’s actually shook the foundations of the problems I “thought” I had because I pretty much wasn’t looking at it correctly at all.

    I realize, now, that I don’t love myself. And haven’t loved myself at all in the past either.

    I crave love. Yes, I know everyone wants to be loved, but for me it was incessant. I did NOT feel complete without love. And it didn’t matter what kind of love it was, albeit all of it was meaningless and harmful in the long run.

    It didn’t matter if it was a relationship that lasted 6 months, a few weeks, or a one night stand… I only felt complete when I felt some form of love from these women. And when it was gone, I was a shell. I was nothing without their love.

    This is a self revelation that has slowly been happening over the last few months for me. That I am not complete without another’s love.

    It is only now, reading your post, that I realize that it’s because I don’t know how to love myself, love who I am. How can I expect to love someone if I can’t even love myself?

    And you’re right, I fear to love myself. It terrifies me. I guess that’s why I let so many of the people that I’ve been with walk all over me because I was afraid to lose their love, the love that was keeping me whole.

    Anyway, I’m obviously only on the edge of the journey I now know I need to take. It scares me. But having a path rather than stumbling around in the dark fills me with hope.

    Thank you, Alana, with all my heart.

    Xxx

  14. heyyouuu August 1, 2017 at 8:46 pm #

    This is amazing 🙂 I know it seems like every article I read is going to transform me but this one is just amazing. It’s really the only thing I need, to love me. I hope I can and inside i really really do know I can. And I hope it will be fun XD thank-you for writing this and it must feel nice knowing that it’s helping people years later 🙂

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