There is a popular saying that you cannot love others until you love yourself.
In the 35 years of existence, I never outright disliked myself. I have had occasions when I wasn’t too happy with myself – with how I behaved, or what I spoke, or how I reacted to something – but I didn’t hate myself for it. Growing up, I had moments of self-doubt and at times lacked confidence in myself, but I still liked myself. I have faced my share of trials and tribulations in the different chapters of my life, but I made it through.
I realized early on that there is a fine line between being thoroughly disappointed with yourself and actually disliking yourself for those very disappointments. Somehow, no matter how bad things got, I couldn’t bring myself to hate myself. I was able to separate my not-the-best decisions and reactions from the core of who I saw myself as; the things that went wrong in my life, perhaps as a result of my choices or someone else’s actions, never defined the person I was, am, and will be. I didn’t allow the situations to label me. Because I learned, very early on, that the permanent core of me is very different from the transient happenings of everyday life. And that meant I could dislike (even hate) the things that were happening in and around me, to me, and to others, but all without disliking myself because of it.
This strong sense of self permeated the way I lived my life, and continues to do so, giving me the courage and validation to love myself.
It is sometimes surprising to me that I have never ceased loving myself, every bit of who I was (and still am), during all chapters of my girlhood, my adolescence, my coming-into-a-woman, and now, as a mother and a maturing woman in my own right. Sometimes I look back at photos taken during my childhood days and, on a superficial level, I can’t help but wonder how I didn’t have many self-pitying thoughts about myself. To put it nicely, I was awkwardly shy, undeniably plump, and never seen without my awfully nerdy glasses. I was also dark-skinned in a world that consistently favored the fairer bird. But I studied well, had a small intimate group of friends, and loved spending time at home with my family. I was happy. In college, I didn’t fit the hot-bombshell stereotype, the academically-intellectual prototype, or even the mildly cool off-beat type. I still had some extra pounds on me (though I was in much better shape than before, thankfully!), I still wore glasses (okay, well, just at nights), and I knew I was nowhere near the other college girls in the looks department. But I still had a blast during my college days. I studied hard, had some amazing friends, and played harder. I was happy.
I think this is what it came down to: during the sensitive growing-up years and the exciting (yet confusing) twenties, I managed to evade any self-pity parties… because I was secure with myself and where I was headed, even within the storms. Despite not being your cookie-cutter beauty, I was comfortable in my skin. I was not the typical straight-A Indian student, but I was content with my academic acumen. I was not the constant center of attention at social gatherings, but I was secure in my own circle. I didn’t have a few thousand acquaintances, but I had a few close friends and they meant the world to me. I wasn’t the leader of any school organization or the star of any sporting team, but I was okay with not wearing any crown on my head. As I stepped into my working-woman shoes, I did so with muted excitement and silent applause. I didn’t win any awards at work, and I wasn’t singled out for an outstanding performance, but I worked diligently, responsibly, and gained everybody’s appreciation and admiration by my hard work and humility. I then acquired the titles of Wife and Mother in the next few years, and suddenly everything changed. What was once up was now down, and what was once left was now right. I saw sides of myself I never knew existed. I developed new facets to my personality with daily experiences, propelling through the steep learning curve whether I wanted to or not. I felt like my life was hurtling out of control during the second half of my twenties and the beginnings of my thirties.
It would seem natural to get down on oneself during times of high stress, but I didn’t. Yes, I was indeed frustrated and worried during particularly stressful times, but I never once sat down and told myself I hated who I was amidst all of the chaos. I didn’t get down on myself for things that were happening on the outside, things that were entirely out of my control. I didn’t whine to myself, I didn’t seek pity from anyone, and I did my best to convert the negative experiences into positive energies. I didn’t give up on myself. I couldn’t. I loved myself too much to do that!
Now, as a single mother and working woman standing back up on my feet, I’m happy, and not surprisingly, I still love myself.
Owning a limitless amount of self-love might seem like a haughty dose of a big ego, but it’s far from wrong to love oneself. There is so much good that comes out of loving oneself. Everything about us and our lives begins from the self, so why isn’t loving ourselves our number one priority? We have boundless love to give others, yes, but if we don’t start with loving ourselves the type of love we give others will be conditional, temporary, and entirely without depth or clarity. If we don’t like who we are, we will inevitably project our self-loathing attitude onto otherwise healthy relationships. We will eye others with the same self-doubt that we view ourselves and our world. We will mistrust others, because we don’t trust ourselves. We will harbor a whole host of negative emotions and attitudes towards the ones we love, just because we aren’t able to slice off those very feelings towards ourselves. Our inability to embrace ourselves ends up diminishing the quality of our relationships and the purity of the love we share with ourselves. And that, to me, is a real pity.
True love emanates from within; it starts with you. When you direct your energies towards loving yourself, you open the door to the type of personal growth that is forever. There is an infallible synergy that surrounds you, boosting your self-confidence, self-respect, and most importantly, self-love. You become the instant ruler of your own kingdom. Your self-love guides you, teaches you, and protects you. It enables you to stand up for yourself, possessing the strength to take on the world and its many challenges with an unshakeable sense of purpose and an unbreakable amount of faith. Your self-love becomes the antidote to everything.
When you love yourself, you don’t need somebody else’s love to validate who you are. Your existence matters, regardless of what somebody else thinks or feels… because you matter to yourself.
I have the faith to cross unruly seas for one simple reason: I love myself enough to keep trying, to keep persisting, to keep fighting for what feels right and true to me. I trust myself, I respect myself, and above all, I love myself.
It is the intrinsic secret of my happiness. I love me, too.