Letting Go of Self-Loathing and Learning to Love Instead

May 17, 2018

For most of my life, I’ve had a pretty poor relationship with someone I really ought to be getting along with: myself.

When I was 25, I was dealing with an overwhelming amount of self-loathing. I loved almost nothing about myself and was unreasonably harsh and hard on everything I did (or failed to do).

I suffered from depression and became increasingly anxious. I lashed out at the people closest to me and simultaneously withdrew from most of the rest of the world.

I was, in a word, very unhappy. That unhappiness stemmed from a lack of love for myself, an inability to get grounded in who I was, and living an inauthentic life.

Needless to say, there was a lot I needed to work though — and I finally started that work shortly after I turned 25 (thanks, in large part, to Eric’s presence, example, support, and encouragement).

I made progress in leaps and bounds in some areas. But in other ways, I struggled more than ever… especially when it came to not just accepting myself for who I was, but fully embracing me and genuinely loving myself.

A Mountain of Insecurities, Eroding a Pebble at a Time

I have a mountain of insecurities, worries, and self-sabotaging beliefs that, for the longest time, held me back and caused me to miss opportunities, lose chances, and play small in my life.

Over the past 3 years, I’ve slowly chipped away at that mountain. Slowly, little by little, I’ve been able to go to work on that mountain like a stream running downhill.

You wouldn’t know it day-to-day, but sure enough, that stream is constantly eroding that mountain, pebble by pebble.

The thing I struggled with most, and still fight with even as I sit here typing this, is probably the thing that, in the long run, matters least: my looks.

Where a Lack of Self Love Gets You

For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated how I looked. I remember learning about nose jobs in elementary school and immediately getting so excited, thinking that when I grew up that was the first thing I was going to do.

I constantly and desperately wished I could change the way my face looked; the way my body was shaped. I felt physically sick or would literally cringe when I saw a picture of myself or caught my reflection in the mirror. I hated going to social events (and to some extent, still do), because then people would have to look at me and then surely they would think, “ugh, what an ugly girl.”

I spent an extraordinary amount of time wishing I could be anyone but me.

And my complete lack of self-confidence, worth, and esteem made me an easy target for other girls who had their own fears, insecurities, and hurts they soothed by seeking to hurt others. Bad experiences with groups of people I trusted and counted as friends in high school and college left me even more anxious and nervous.

With horses, you refer to the flighty, high-strung, nervous ones as “easily spooked.” Anything can set them off. It’s not that they’re scared, exactly, but they’re just wound too tight. They overreact.

That was increasingly how I was, through my childhood and into my 20s. Easily spooked, wound tighter and tighter in a snare of anxiety, worry, and fear.

And at the center of it all was how I looked. I was convinced that if only I was prettier, cooler, more desirable, more “normal,” more outgoing, nothing and nobody would have ever tormented me like it dogged me back then.

The Last (and Biggest) Obstacle Standing Between Me and Who I Really Am

This was the tangled, painful mess I started working on in my mid-20s. I wouldn’t say I’m a different person today — but I am different.

I didn’t change, but rather, I gradually chipped away at the layers that covered up who I truly was, and that person was there all along. She was just buried by those insecurities and fears.

Until very, very recently — as in, maybe the last few months — the biggest layer that still obscured my true self too frequently was the insecurity and negative obsession over how I looked.

While I worked hard on personal development and self improvement in all other areas of my life, I kind of just ignored the issue I had with my physical appearance because I found it too painful to deal with. I still felt waves of disgust wash over me when I looked in the mirror.

This is the last big, heavy layer that prevents my true, wonderful self from shining through, that stops me from being fully grounded and just owning who I am — and it is the biggest, worst waste of time I can think of.

Not only is it selfish and superficial to be so obsessed over physical appearance — even in a negative way — but it doesn’t even matter. Logically, I know this.

And that’s part of what made my struggle with this particular insecurity so frustrating: I knew this. I know this.

But for the longest time, there I was. Still clinging to the fear, the self-sabotaging belief that there was something wrong with me and that something was that I was painfully, embarrassingly ugly.

I’ve talked before about not necessarily having lightbulb moments where you go “aha!” and everything just falls into place… but I do have little flashes of insight over time that collectively add up to big realizations. The first little flash of insight for me was in reading a review of the movie Ladybird.

Your Negative Self-Talk and Perception Doesn’t Just Hurt You

The thing that stopped me in my tracks was the reviewer’s note about how, in the movie, the mother’s own self-loathing and inability to love herself got in the way of her ability to express love for and to her daughter — and how there were little signs that her daughter inherited her sense of self-shame, judgment, and doubt.

We learn a lot from our parents; early in life we learn everything we know from them. Of course we’re bound to pick up on their bad habits as much as we benefit from the good, positive things they teach us. Of course we’re bound to learn and inherit some of their personal struggles as our own.

Realizing this made me realize I needed to truly tackle this thing I had around my appearance, because it wasn’t just a tremendous waste of my own time and energy to obsess over this.

It was something I felt I would inevitably pass on to my own kids, my own daughters, if I never dealt with it in myself. The thought of that was heartbreaking… but it also served as a serious wake-up call.

Hanging on to this thing, this harmful, made-up belief about myself, wasn’t just hurting me. It could potentially hurt another generation of women who could grow up with the same thoughts that filled my head for years and years:

Not pretty enough, not strong enough, not slim enough, not sexy enough, not cute enough, not athletic enough, not feminine enough.

Never enough.

If nothing else, I wanted to work on this insecurity and resolve it so that I would inadvertently saddle any children that I have with the same brand of self-loathing that dogged me for so, so long.

As sad as all this is to look back on when I dig into my own memories and old emotions, it’s even more upsetting to know that almost every woman I have ever met as some sort of similar memory or is dealing with the same thing right now.

We’re All Facing Some Degree of Insecurity or Sense of Shame Over Our Looks — and It Has to Stop

Your memories or your insecurities might not be as extreme as what I dealt with; it might not be as dramatic or insidious or crippling.

Maybe you just deal with a whisper from that nasty voice in the back of your head that occasionally says shitty things to you (whereas I dealt with a whole dang stadium full of awful little voices shouting at me about how I was unlovable, unlikable, undesirable).

I don’t know one woman who can’t relate to the general thought of “I don’t like how [some part of physical appearance] looks. I am ashamed of it; I hate it; I feel disgusted by this part of me.”

Wherever you fall on the spectrum, the point is the spectrum exists at all. For all of us. And I’m ready to find a way to burn the whole thing down so we can all strip away the insecurities we have around our looks and let who we really are shine, inside and out.

You and I deserve better. We deserve to love ourselves and feel joy when we think about every part of ourselves.

We can stop this cycle of self-loathing. We can raise daughters who look in the mirror and don’t feel ashamed of what they see at all, but rather, feel an abundance of self-love, acceptance, and excitement around the fact that they are who they are.

But we have to get there first. I have to get there first. And knowing that gave me the final push of inspiration and motivation I needed to kick this awful, soul-, time-, and energy-sucking obsession over what I do or do not look like out of my life.

Some days are better than others. But confidence, self-esteem, self-love and self-worth — they’re all practices. Meaning, they are meant to be actively practiced.

There is no finish line, only daily practice. I’ve begun mine and if you haven’t started yours yet, I’d welcome you to join me.

“Are You a Human Being? Then You’re Beautiful.”

I want to leave you with one last thing about this, especially if you’re like me and struggle big time with loving the way you look.

One of my other little experiences that helped lead me to this revelation that (A) I am wonderful as I am and so are you, and (B) who even cares what you look like, anyway? There is so much more to life that we’re missing out on if we obsess, positively or negatively, over our looks — came from my favorite artist and writer, Nick Offerman (who you might otherwise know by his most famous character, Ron Swanson).

In Paddle Your Own Canoe and in his Netflix special, American Ham, Offerman offers some seriously amazing tips for living well. One of them is to “avoid the mirror.”

“The mirror should be a maintenance tool,” he says. “The mirror should for checking to see if you have shit on your face… but it has become so much more. It’s even more evil than that bitch in Snow White or that even more evil bitch in The Chronicles of Narnia, because the mirror is a conduit.”

Offerman goes on to explain (with plenty of colorful language, so be forewarned):

We’ve all been programmed for decades with this barrage of messaging, so that when you look in the mirror, you don’t just see [your face]. You see [your face], but you also see what you’ve been taught to compare it to.

And you get stressed out that you don’t look like the people on magazines. You get upset.

What’s the matter with you? Are you a human being? Then you’re beautiful. Do you have one of these? [Gestures to his face]Then you’re fucking beautiful.

If you go out and collect one leaf from every deciduous tree and one needle or pinecone from every conifer, take them all and lay them out in a vast array and then go through them one by one, you will not find one that’s not fucking gorgeous. There are some that are super fucked up compared to that other one, but those trees aren’t worrying about it. It’s all beautiful.

It’s all beautiful.

Now if that isn’t the fucking point, I don’t know what is.

Keep up with the conversation as it unfolds.

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