I was talking to a friend the other day who is having some struggles in a newer relationship. And even though they don’t help, all of the little pithy pieces of advice came to mind anyway (I didn’t say them).
It’s really easy to take a look at someone and see exactly what the issue is, and recommend a solution. Go to therapy. Bring the focus back to yourself and not so much on the other person. Do things for you. Love yourself.
“Love yourself” is the one that really gets to me, because in my experience, you can do things to build self esteem, but not necessarily self love. If you were in an “I Am Legend” situation, you might have plenty of self esteem. “I kill zombies and am able to survive all by myself!” But would you have self love? I don’t think so, but I don’t know.
Sometimes, the only way to cultivate self love is to understand that you are lovable. And the only way to do that is to be loved. By other people.
I’ve told this story a hundred times, but in my teens and twenties, I was a selfish train wreck. Destructive, suuuuper self-absorbed, a terrible friend, and a liar. But I started hanging out with D, who would end up being my best friend for over a decade to come. And for some reason (I never figured it out), she loved me, and thought it was cute that I was a bad driver, and didn’t mind if I didn’t call back when I said I would, and always dropped everything when I was in crisis, which I almost never did for her.
She loved me, and it took a long time, but through her love I eventually began to see little bits of things that were, just maybe, a little bit lovable in myself.
It occurred to me, one day, that I wanted to be a better friend, because I didn’t deserve her love. I wanted to become someone who would be deserving of her friendship. I don’t know if I’m there yet, but I never stopped working on it.
When your people are in crisis, the best thing to do is what my grandmother always told my dad to do with his children:
“Tell them they’re lovable, and capable.”
Sometimes instead of reading a dozen books on how to love yourself, you just have to do the work of letting yourself be loved. Not answering with why you’re unlovable, or going to bed counting all the ways you’ve let people down in the past. Not smiling when they compliment you but really imagining the myriad of ways they’re going to leave and reject you.
One day, you might actually let enough love in and decide you want to do the work of deserving it.
From there, you can begin the lifelong process of loving and accepting yourself, just as you are. It’s from there that you can build yourself up and create actual change.
It might seem backwards – many would argue that you have to decide to change yourself first, and then you’ll be lovable, but I challenge that. I think letting them love you – the fucked up, lying, cheating you – leads to the eventual facing yourself in the mirror.
And really, my dear, that’s where absolutely everything begins.