It’s that time of year when we celebrate our love for the special people in our lives.
But how about you? Do you love yourself? How much or how little?
It’s a sensitive and personal matter we don’t really talk about or perhaps even think about. But it’s a question that impacts all of us, whether single or taken, since we have to live with ourselves every moment of every day. And if we don’t like ourselves very much, life would be miserable.
It’s easy to say that all you need is a clear sense of self-worth to love yourself. But none of us is born with that kind of clarity and conviction about ourselves. It often takes a long and hard process.
There are certain human, psychological, and sociocultural factors that can make it challenging to love yourself, and none of them has to do with you being a worthless, unlovable creature.
1. Having to accept the things we don’t like about ourselves
They say loving your enemy is the hardest thing to do. And often, we are our worst enemy. We bash ourselves for our inadequacies, beat ourselves up over our failures, and blame ourselves for some of our awful experiences in life.
We all have our sterling qualities and achievements, but we are more concerned about what we don’t like about ourselves, some of which are not even flaws. Psychologists attribute this to our brain’s negativity bias which makes us more sensitive to what is unpleasant. It’s just our brain’s way of protecting us from what is perceived as unfavorable or harmful. But as an effect, we obsess over our imperfections and painful memories.
It can be easier to love others because we don’t have to deal with their deepest, darkest personal issues the way we have to deal with ours. We are only privy to what other people choose to share with us or what we discover about them. We, on the other hand, have to face the full magnitude of all our failings, our fears and insecurities, and our disappointments.
The reality is there will always be things you don’t like about yourself just as there are things you don’t like about other people, no matter how much you love or like them. You just learn to accept others because you know that they are way more than just their shortcomings. And the same is true about all of us.
2. The effect of other people’s hurtful words and actions
Living and interacting with human beings can be enriching. But it also means being exposed to criticisms, judgement, or personal attacks, some of which can hurt your ego and shake your self-confidence. Other people can also treat you in a way that can put you down or make you feel bad about yourself.
No matter how hard we try not to be affected by the way people treat us or talk about us, we are all susceptible to words and actions especially when they touch on our insecurities and sensitivities.
The brain’s negativity bias can explain why people sometimes pay more attention to your deficiencies than your virtues. We are all guilty of that to some degree because perhaps on some human level, we also find relief in knowing that we are not the only ones who make mistakes. That other people are just as flawed as we are. That like us, others are also vulnerable. That really, we are not alone in being human.
3. Standards set by society, media and our environment
Practically every day, society, media, and our environment bombard us with “shoulds.”
What we should do, how we should behave, how we should think, what we should have, how we should look. And if you can’t keep up, it can create a feeling of dissatisfaction.
When it comes to social behavior and decisions, it can be tough for us Filipinos to ignore standards and expectations set by our environment. Our collectivist culture compels us to adhere to the dictates of family, community, or society as a whole because their interests are considered more important than ours. This mentality can pressure us into complying in certain situations for the sake of group solidarity and a sense of belonging. As a consequence, we are hesitant to act on our own terms or we become critical of those who have the courage and truthfulness to do so.
Loving yourself means being true to yourself and setting your own standards based on your personal needs and preferences. Whatever the world around you suggests or imposes, in the end, only you can determine what truly matters to you and what works best for you.
4. Too busy getting to know others to really get to know ourselves
A healthy self-love entails knowing and understanding yourself. Through self-reflection, you learn to appreciate your strengths, make peace with your defects, forgive yourself for your mistakes, and make sense of your difficult experiences. With a clear sense of self, you are able to set your own standards and you also become less vulnerable to personal attacks.
The problem is we spend most of our lives trying to get to know others because much of surviving life isabout getting along well with fellow human beings. At home, we try to get along with members of our family because we care about them and we want to avoid conflicts. We try to get along with people we work with because we all know life would be hell if we didn’t. We try to get along with our partner or our friends to maintain a stable relationship. We are too busy getting to know others that we spend so little time getting to know who we are so we can get along with our self.
The truth is we care deeply about our personal issues because we care about our well-being. We are affected by personal attacks because we are protective of our self-esteem. We consider the standards set by society and people because we want to belong. And we try to get along with others because we want to have meaningful relations. All of which point to the fact that we do love ourselves no matter what.
But knowing that we are not alone in this harrowing process of self-awareness and acceptance, perhaps we can be a little more compassionate and a little less mean to one another, and also to ourselves.
So this Valentine’s season, by all means make it about the people you love. Remind them of how lovable they are. But after that, how about you also “heart” yourself. Come on. This is the time when we honor LOVE, and that should include love for yourself too.
The author is a journalist and copywriter currently based in Belgium.