Graphic by Megan Eloise/The Gazelle

Growing older, growing wiser

Do you like yourself? I didn’t. I haven’t for most of my life. As a child, I suppose I never gave it much thought. I was just who I was. Then I started ...

Dec 5, 2015

Graphic by Megan Eloise/The Gazelle
Do you like yourself?
I didn’t. I haven’t for most of my life. As a child, I suppose I never gave it much thought. I was just who I was. Then I started to grow up, and this silent, creeping dislike began to grow: too chubby, not smart or funny enough and have you seen the size of my cheeks? No wonder everyone thinks I look five years younger than I am.
Trust me, if you’ve thought something bad about me, chances are I’ve already thought it. I dismiss every compliment by pointing out a flaw or negation. Somewhat paradoxically, other people sometimes see this as an admirable trait — the adorable lack of self-confidence becomes an attractive quality. Self-hatred mistakenly dressed up as modesty.
In some ways, it’s a form of protection. You don’t want to be hurt by someone else’s words, so you criticize yourself before they even have a chance to. Constantly self-berating, you find yourself in an endless quest to reach an impossible goal of perfection. When you inevitably fall short, you take it as proof that you were a failure anyway. In this admittedly warped logic, knowing you won’t succeed is easier than hoping that you will.
Yet we all need to be loved and so, in the absence of my own affection, I threw myself into finding it in others. I defined my self-worth by the number of guys flirting with me, the number of dates I’d been asked on. As someone who used to believe she had no friends, a long-term boyfriend was proof that at least one person wanted to spend time with me. I have been in more than one relationship where, if I’m going to be completely honest, I was more in love with the reflection of myself in them than I was with the person. And yes, I understand how terrible that is and I’ve already beaten myself up about it far more than you ever will. Do you see how this works?
But the problem with setting your identity based on someone else’s perception of you is that that image can always change. What happens when the love you saw in their eyes is no longer there? There comes the crushing realization that finally they discovered the truth: that you’re not a loveable person, and so they move on to someone who is, leaving you alone. Even in the relationships where I genuinely loved the other person for who they were, I devoted so much time and energy to them and the relationship that I never bothered to invest in appreciating myself, leaving me heartbroken and empty at the end of it.
We only live with one person our entire lives, and the journey would be so much more enjoyable if we were happy with them.  And so I have started the long and difficult journey of learning to love myself. The road is not smooth, and I confess to still fighting mean thoughts; I suspect I always will. But now I let them pass, and actively search for things I should be proud of. I work hard at being kind to myself and forgiving myself for my flaws. I’ve realized that the more we talk negatively to ourselves, even for the sake of modesty, the more we begin to believe it. But although it’s harder, the reverse is true as well. A friend once challenged me to compliment myself once a day, a genuine compliment with no caveat, and so I do – the irony being that I’ve discovered other people’s criticisms actually hurt less when your own opinion of yourself is higher.
Being at this university is allowing me to build a life I love, and that includes loving myself in it. If you can relate to any of what I have said, I urge you to do the same.
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