What I’ve learnt about love (or, why I look in the mirror and tell myself I look great)

I’m currently reading Becoming by Laura Jane Williams and would definitely recommend it. She writes with such intelligence, self-awareness and grace about her journey to where she is today. There have been so many moments in it that ring so true for me, I have to pause and let them sink in a little bit.

This one in particular stood out because it was about something that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. I just didn’t know where to start, so let’s start with what Laura has to say.

I wanted love to wash over me and heal me and be me and become me.
 I wanted to love myself.
 That was it.
 A voice raged inside me as the thought wandered across my mind.
 YES! She screamed, uncompromising and forcefully. YES, YOU DO! THAT IS WHAT YOU WANT!
 I let that sit with me. I wanted to love myself. I didn’t know how to get there, to that. How it looked. But I knew how it would feel.
 It would feel like enough. And I — I desperately wanted to feel like enough.

As people, and especially as woman, we are not very good at loving ourselves. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up about this. For the most part our culture is set up to make us feel bad about ourselves, so we might buy all the things to make us feel better, to keep the economy going and make sure everyone has a job (which they need to make sure they can buy the things that probably won’t make them happy).

The thing is, I’m starting to believe more and more than loving ourselves might be the thing that helps us most in our lives. I don’t want this to be the answer. Firstly, because it sounds really trite, and secondly, because it’s a lot more effort than buying a new dress. But boy does it work.

My husband and I have an open relationship. (I’m not saying that so I can go on to justify it. I don’t need to — it’s consensual, makes us happy, and beyond that is none of your business. I’m just setting the context for what comes next.)

For a while, I used to feel awful while he was out on dates, or staying with a girlfriend. As much as I was intellectually on board with ethical non-monogamy, as much as I knew it was the right lifestyle for me… I couldn’t help but feel sick to my stomach when I was left alone. I would contrive some reason to text him, and have an anxiety attack waiting for him to reply. I would become mopey and needy and couldn’t concentrate on anything other than watching the clock and waiting for him to return. The next morning I would feel completely fine about him being out on a date, genuinely interested in how it went for him, and embarressed by any text messages I had sent the night before.

I was talking about how much I hated myself doing this to a coach, and she said: “You can get trapped in a cycle of needing other people’s reassurance that they love you. But you’ll never be satisfied by this. You need to learn to give yourself the love that you need.” This changed my life. (Side note: Sas is brilliant! You should all hire her)

Before, I was relying on other people to give me a sense of self worth. I was not in control. But once I chose to love myself, it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I don’t have to try so hard to get others to like me! I can be happy just as I am!

So for me at least, the answer to feeling secure in a relationship has not been to forbid him from seeing anybody else, but to love myself.

It also keeps cropping up in other areas of my life.

In my first session of CBT, the practitioner identified my depression and anxiety as being down to the bad thoughts I was having about myself. I realised that I had let this whole self love thing slide since I finished my coaching sessions. Now I remind myself that I’m great every day, and it’s working. I’ve found that merely telling myself “You’re an awesome person, you’ve got this” can stop my agitation over something from turning into an anxiety attack.

We’re told that we shouldn’t do this. That people who do are too “full of themselves” and that modesty is to be celebrated. Well, you don’t have to do it aloud. Although I wouldn’t judge you if you did. To me, stepping up from the feeling that low self-esteem is cool, and full on claiming how awesome you are is a sign of having grown up.

Of course it’s difficult, and at first it feels kind of awkward and embarrassing and wrong. But now I don’t have any shame in admitting that I love myself, and I don’t think you should too.

Originally published at kateevans.co on June 23, 2016.

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