“Worry about loving yourself instead of loving the idea of other people loving you.” ~Unknown
Body image and self-love have been my biggest struggles. They’ve affected every area of my life, including relationships.
I developed anorexia in high school after experiencing a number of losses in a short period of time.
During my high school years I didn’t date much. I had a few boyfriends, but the relationships never progressed because I was afraid of intimacy, due to the fact that I was uncomfortable in my skin and didn’t like my body.
I had body dysmorphia, thinking I was overweight when I wasn’t.
Shortly after high school, I fell into the cycle of restricting and binge eating and used excessive exercise to purge my binges. I hated my body and was obsessed with making it smaller.
About a year after graduating from high school, I entered a relationship with a guy who was very pushy and persistent.
I now know that I never would have entered that relationship had I loved myself.
I remember thinking he wasn’t my type, because he seemed cocky and consumed with his own looks, which actually made me feel uncomfortable. That turned into a five-year relationship.
I looked to this guy for happiness but never got it. I remember so many days and nights of anger, unhappiness, and complete distress. I ignored my inner voice for a long time. I now know that true happiness comes from within, and no one outside yourself has the power to dictate how you feel.
I remember when I first realized I was still struggling with disordered eating, and that binge eating was something others struggled with too. I started seeing a psychologist and I would lie to her about our relationship, as well.
I stayed for too long because I didn’t have any self-esteem, and didn’t know where I would go or what I could do if I left. I didn’t love him. I don’t feel he loved me either, but I did love the idea of him loving me.
I remember the first point at which I thought maybe I could live without him. From there, it took another year for me to leave.
Once I did leave, I knew that I needed to work on myself before I could even think of entering another relationship. I needed to discover who I was, work on improving my body image, and learn to love myself.
I stayed single for three years, which were filled with ups and downs. I eventually hit rock bottom with my disordered eating. That actually gave me the strength to pull myself out of that vicious cycle and helped me realize I needed to change my thoughts and mindset around my body and food.
Over time, I learned to love and accept myself as I was. I practiced authenticity and vulnerability with others and eventually met the man of my dreams.
You see, to be able to attract another emotionally healthy person, I had to first become emotionally healthy myself.
Lack of self-love doesn’t only show up in people with eating disorders, either. Others may have different unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking, drugs, social media, or a shopping addiction.
The important part to understand is that if you struggle with loving yourself like I was, you won’t be able to have a healthy relationship until you can build one with yourself.
So many people feel as though they are running out of time to meet the “one,” but it’s important to take the time to work on yourself instead of focusing on filling the void with another person. If not, you may fall into the trap of settling for less than you deserve, like I did.
So how can we develop self-love?
First, become aware of the thoughts and words you speak that are demeaning toward yourself.
Next, focus on shifting those negative thoughts to a positive thought you can believe. Affirmations are great, but they won’t help if you don’t actually believe them. You can make the new thoughts progressive if you struggle with believing them.
For example; instead of saying, “I love my body,” say, “I am working toward accepting, loving, and honoring my body.” It’s much easier to believe this when you are in the process of getting there.
(For more helping taming your inner critic, check out this post, Create a Kinder Mind.)
Also, try being vulnerable with others and share your imperfections. You will quickly realize that everyone goes through tough times and you are not alone, so there's nothing to be ashamed of.
Just be careful of sharing with the wrong people. Some people don’t get personal growth, or maybe your particular struggle, and they may say the wrong things or judge you.
If this happens, just understand that they aren’t in the same place as you, and don’t let that stop you from being authentic with others. It will help you connect on a deeper level and find the people you want to surround yourself with in life.
Take the time to figure out what your passions are and what lights you up in life. This will help you realize your worth comes from what’s on the inside, rather than what you look like or how much money you make.
Once you start to change your thoughts, it’s much easier to make healthy lifestyle choices from a place of self-love.
It’s easier to eat in a way that nourishes your body and soul.
It’s easier to want to fit daily movement into your life, because it makes you feel good, not because you hate your body and you’re trying to change it.
It’s easier to get to bed on time and get enough sleep every night.
It’s also easier to choose which relationships benefit you and which ones do not.
Self-love cascades into every area of your life, just like self-hatred does. You can choose which way to live, but I can guarantee the challenge of building self-love is well worth it.