“You yourself, as much as anyone in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~Buddha
I was tortured by self-hatred for most of my life.
There were aspects of myself that I had a hard time loving. I didn’t like that I am competitive, that I was not a blonde with blue eyes, that I am not good at math or managing money.
I did everything I could to hide these things. I was over-caring, over-helping, and over-accommodating others.
I think I did a pretty good job of not being myself. This created additional psychic pain in me. I felt like Picasso who was not allowed to paint or Mozart who was banned from approaching another musical instrument again.
The funny thing is, I was the one doing it to myself. I was no longer a child under the mercy of my critical, perfectionist parents (who were in pain and unconscious themselves). I had become my parents! I had become my worst critic.
I wondered, “Why am I so mean to myself? What could I have done in a past life or in this lifetime that could warrant such self-torture?”
Interestingly enough, even when I tried to conjure up the filthiest, sickest scenario, I had a hard time hating that imaginary person doing the crime.
I had worked with criminals in a prison. I knew their stories and what they went through. It doesn’t condone their behavior, but I could see the chain of pain and lack of love that was passed on to them, and then from them. I just couldn’t hate them.
If I couldn’t hate these criminals, why did I hate myself so much? It seemed so illogical.
Then I remembered reading about the inner critic. I looked into it further and started getting to know this beast. In addition to my inner critic, there were many parts of myself that had helped me survive.
I had an inner protector, a hermit, a social butterfly, a flirt, and many other parts that served a purpose.
For example, “The Flirt” was helping me make friends and gain clients and extract the juice out of my relationships by being playful. “The Hermit” knew when I needed to recharge my mental, emotional, and physical bodies. “The Social Butterfly” helped me find and attract communities that met my different needs.
They all had a job to do, but they needed to be in balance.
Some of these selves were created out of necessity when I was young and didn’t have enough safety and kindness in my life. But I was no longer that little girl. Some of these selves were such loyal servants that they never left me all my life. I recognized this with gratitude that came out of nowhere.
Suddenly, instead of hating my inner critic, I felt a sense of compassion for how hard she had been working to keep me safe from rejection, ridicule, abandonment, and many other rational and irrational fears. I decided that I didn’t want her to work so hard anymore. She had done a great job.
Maybe I was selfish, lazy, negative, arrogant, and bitter. So what? Aren’t all these parts of me and personality traits so human? How many people do I know and love who have some unpleasant or unbalanced qualities or habits? Many. Their qualities do not make me not love them. Those are their quirks.
So then came the self-inventory.
Do I make a genuine effort to call myself out on my stuff when I am conscious enough to see it? Yes.
Do I make an effort to make amends with people I have hurt? Yes.
Am I someone who genuinely wants to be a balanced individual who serves others? Yes.
Then what is the problem?
Does this mean that I was going to let it all go and be a mean, bitter, selfish, codependent woman?
How about if I cut myself some slack? How about I practice being gentle with myself and give this poor inner critic a break?
“I no longer need to torture myself to grow.”
Oh, that felt good to say it to myself. I took another deep breath to let this new reality/belief set in. I felt freer, and more loving toward all of life.
I knew that I had to work at sustaining and integrating this new belief. I had, in the past, had big revelations but had taken the wisdom for granted. Then I would slip back to my old behavioral and thought patterns.
Back then I didn’t understand that our brain needs to integrate new concepts in the same way we learn a new language.
So I immediately made a plan. It didn’t have to be a perfect plan, but had to be something I could stick to, since I knew that our brain learns by repetition.
I wrote down affirmations that felt right to my heart. I started a running “What I love about myself” list. I started writing down things I was even shy about. “I love my hair. I love my toes. I love my sense of humor. I love my fragile, sensitive heart.”
I was finally on paper. And it didn’t look so bad. I started reading it out loud to myself every day, and adding to it.
My neediness toward people started decreasing. When I made plans to hang out with them, I noticed that my secret need was no longer to be comforted, approved, or supported by them. I was just open to every encounter for what the exchange would bring for everyone involved.
The shift wasn’t overnight, but I kept at it. The more love I felt for myself and the less I gave my full attention to my inner critic, the happier I became.
My energy shifted. People were attracted to me as clients and friends. After three months of isolation, I was being invited to parties, camping trips, and concerts. I picked where I wanted to be and who I wanted to be around. I listened to my inner child and followed her nudges.
These are the steps I followed in learning to love myself:
1. Get to know your inner critic, its voice, and its intentions.
Activate your observer self and listen to what it is saying as if you are hearing it on the radio. Recognize that this is an old tape repeating the criticism of society and the people who raised you to ensure your emotional and physical safety. It is running on autopilot.
2. Take some time to yourself; go deep inside.
Explore what you could have done to deserve this much self-hate/criticism. Look for an example of a person or situation where you can’t hate someone who’s made a mistake, even if you wanted to.
Let your brain help you find proof that you don’t deserve your self-criticism. When you find it, you will create a crack in that thought pattern. But that alone is not enough to break it open and get it to release.
3. Make a realistic plan.
List three things you can do to raise your self-esteem. These can be as simple as: “I will say ‘I love you’ to myself ten times a day,” or “I will look at myself in the mirror and identify things I like about myself every morning before leaving the house.”
The trick is that they need to feel doable to you. This is your plan. You are in charge of what you want to do. Make it a joyful and fun one.
4. Stick with the program.
I find that I get the best results when I keep track of it. Seeing a day or two of missing my exercises or meditation bothers me and motivates me to get back into it.
5. Start hanging out with people who make you feel good.
These are the people who see and experience you as who you really are. Let people who love you reflect the real you back to you. Start hanging out with people who could use cheering up. Reflect back to them how you see them. Practice the balance of receiving and giving.
6. Know that you have the power to take the reins from this inner critic.
It has been doing a great job, but it doesn’t need to drive the car anymore. Once you decide this, the rest is pretty much practice and patience.
My inner critic was so harsh that it was hard for friends to watch me hurt myself that way, but I’ve learned to love myself. You can do it too.
Photo by MrVertrau