As a young woman, I am often told to love myself. Love myself no matter my flaws or my quirks or what today's standard of beauty tells me to be. Love myself so that I may love others.
But loving yourself is hard.
Loving yourself means to admit your mistakes. Loving yourself means to accept your faults. Loving yourself means a constant battle with your ego- your defense mechanism, your protection.
I believe that compassion and altruism can only come from a soul that loves itself. Many people believe that loving yourself means that you'll wake up every day, look in the mirror, declare "I'm beutiful! I'm amazing! I'm totally worth everyone's time!" But that's not realistic. Loving yourself doesn't mean you have to love every part of you every second of the day. It means that you have to recognize your faults and adapt to them. It means you have to recognize when you're wrong, put your ego aside, and apologize. Loving yourself means that you listen to your body and your own personal needs. It means getting a good night's rest. Eating a wonderful meal. Enjoying life and having fun.
I have always struggled with self-love. For years, I found myself stuck in an overwhelming and unbearable self-loathing. From the time I was a child, I suffered from always wanting to change. I wanted to be someone different. I wanted a more exciting life. I wished I was beautiful, thin, likeable, in control. I saw myself as out of control. I saw myself as someone who felt too strongly. As I got older, I found myself falling in love too quickly. I loved hard and got hurt and hated myself for feeling the way I did. I hated every emotion I felt. Exploding out of my body, leaving shrapnel embedded in my skin. I felt I would never be able to control the way I felt. I was embarrassed. It lead to such a deep self-loathing that there was a time when I wasn't sure I was going to be able to climb back out of the grave I had dug for myself. Wanting to change left me feeling unhappy. Wanting to change created someone who I didn't like anymore. I lost my honesty, my integrity, my health, and most importantly, I lost the compassion for others that once fueled the fire inside of me.
I was once given some particularly poignant advice. If I were to look at my own ego as nothing but a human defense mechanism, I could overcome the anxious thoughts in my head that were controlling my negative behavior. Biologically, the human ego serves as the mental "fight or flight" response. When my ego and anxiety come to a particularly horrific head, I ask myself a simple question: Is my life threatened right now? Is my life really, really at risk?
Most of the time, it's not.
Loving yourself doesn't mean that you suddenly accept yourself as a perfect person. Loving yourself means that you allow yourself to make mistakes. Sometimes, you're going to be a bad person. In the heat of the moment, it is completely understandable that you let anger and hurt feelings get the best of you. To love yourself is to eventually put your ego aside, recognize where you went wrong, and apologize for it. Maybe you will never be able to repair the damage. Maybe that will break you. But if you don't show yourself compassion, you are asking the rest of the world to break you, too. Don't let it.
How do we find compassion for ourselves? How do we love ourselves?
I don't have the answer. Everyone has different needs. I found love and acceptance in myself through service. I found that showing compassion to others allowed me to see the compassion within myself. I have learned that no feeling is ever unjustified. You feel what you feel because at that moment, it is truth. Don't deny this truth or try to control it. Feel it. It might hurt, it might be scary, you might be teased for it, but it is valid because it is true. When we try to control our emotions or the feelings of others in our life we begin to feel angry. Many people internalize this anger and punish themselves for it. This turns into self-loathing that can get so out of control that you find yourself alone at the end of the day.
Compassion for others can only be a truth when you feel it for yourself.