By Tammy T. Stone
Self-love has become a holy-grail buzzword.
We’ve mused, contemplated, read countless articles offering tips for a fulfilling life brimming with self-care and empowerment, but the fact remains: most of us find it so. very. hard.
Isn’t it strange that we have such a difficult relationship with the only self we’ve been? Shouldn’t loving ourselves be the most natural thing in the world, achieved without thinking, the way the sun shines every morning and the stars come out to dance at night?
Instead, we’re living double lives: Facebooking and Instagramming pictures that put a shine on existence, basically inviting everyone to a party that ebbs like a mirage once we come knocking. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with posting happy photos on social media, or even with the lack of context surrounding the (online) lives of others. The biggest issue, it seems to me, will always be about what happens when we unplug and face ourselves.
As much as we fall prey to comparison, it’s always about ourselves.
How much and how well are we navigating uncomfortable feelings as we latch onto “trending” ideas, like that our voice matters and that we should “show up” and “not give” you-know-what’s? How much are we tending to what lies beneath, what might be a stark cry from the image we present to the world, and even to ourselves?
Self-love, bizarrely, is hard work—we want to, yet so often we can’t. How did it get to be such a struggle?
If we can say that liking ourselves involves a healthy amount of self-acceptance, it’s easy to see where things might have gone astray.
Are we truly encouraged to accept and love ourselves when we’re little, so vulnerable and impressionable? Maybe. Every case must be different, and I’m by no means implying that children don’t need to be disciplined and taught. I’m really still trying to work this out myself, by asking some general questions?
- Is our education system designed to encourage us to think for ourselves, express ourselves, or innovate?
- How often are we told (and end up telling ourselves) “Do better” or “Almost there” or “Just a little more…” rather than, “You’re doing great as you are”?
- Are we asked to “play by the rules” or honor our instincts?
- How many ways are we subtly driven to “improve” things about ourselves as we grow up—how we dress, how we do our hair, how we look, which hobbies we choose, how we behave in public, how we learn and process information?
- Are we taught that being kind to our friends is as important as passing a math test?
Are we ever instructed to “do nothing” (rest, be still, go for a walk) the way we’re encouraged to succeed, graduate from university, find a socially acceptable job?
When I look at this list of questions, it makes me sad to think of the almost relentless maneuvering of the evolving self into this or that personal social paradigm, that we are often in a mode of fighting against rather than working with when it comes to ourselves. To be in the box becomes the de facto aim, and in many cases, desired. It takes a brave young maverick, if not a little guru, to understand that being true to oneself, no matter what this entails, is a value worth upholding.
This means that even as we grow into variously functioning adults, we are carrying with us so many stymied instincts, buried dreams, and misunderstood self-perceptions. It can amount to a perpetual, nagging feeling that something doesn’t quite fit, that something magical was lost on the pathway to adulthood. But it’s not just “something.”
It’s our very basic, foundational ability: to simply and happily be as we are.
And so the cycle continues. We learn about practicing wellness, sharing love and kindness, carving our time to self-nurture. But do we really know how to let go of the feeling that we “should” be doing more productive things, achieving more, comparing ourselves to others? Do we ever unplug from the incessant stream of thoughts, doubts, plans and worries parading through our minds?
Part of the issue is that as humans, we all share, and are probably hardwired, to fall prey to our minds’ favourite activity of dwelling on the past and imagining, fearing or worrying about the future. The less we can train our minds to be in the here and now—where comparisons, regret and fear don’t logically have a place—the less we can see ourselves as we are without judgment, and share this non-judgment and compassion with the world. In the past and future, not only are we continuing to (negatively) compare ourselves with others, but with past and future versions of our own selves. That’s a lot of potential for angst!
I don’t think we can fast-forward to a world where people and societies live without power struggles, conflict and self-derision. I also don’t know how effective it is to speak of our “right” to self-acceptance. More than being a right we inevitably have to fight for, maybe it’s about gently submitting to this very moment, scrutinizing what is real and true and what is not, and letting nature take is course as we regard both us and world with a new level of awareness. Maybe, if we trust in the process, we can slowly come to live a peaceful, content and shared existence.
I believe from the bottom of my heart that we can all live in best alignment with ourselves and the universe, and that this is very much worth striving for.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak