Growing up, I never loved myself. From my earliest memories, I believed (mostly from “friends”) that there was something inherently wrong with me. As a consequence, I spent more than half my life in a gym trying to fix my flaws. I thought if I was skinnier, I would be happier. If I had a flatter stomach, I would love myself more. (Mind you, I have never been larger than a size 2!) If the number on the scale was low enough, then I would show myself some self-love but that didn’t come without extreme dietary restriction and a chronic obsession with exercise.
It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I actually start to like myself. Beating myself up constantly was taking its toll and I grew tired of trying to be perfect. It was exhausting to be 110 pounds all the time. I missed indulging with friends over french fries and beer and envied the freedom that had while enjoying such “bad” and unhealthy treats. I felt like I was trapped in the prison of my self-loathing and I wanted nothing more than freedom.
No matter how successful I became in life, no matter how much people loved and cared for me, it did not fill the void I felt within myself. I spent hours obsessing over the fat on my belly, the small size of my chest, the crookediness of my smile. Despite being fulfilled in my life and career, I still didn’t love me.
Being the kind of person that likes to take responsibility, I decided to make a change. I finally made a conscious effort to shed the feelings of inadequacy, not doing enough, being enough, feeling like I always need to improve and do more. It wasn’t easy; there was no simple fix. It has become a lifelong process and journey. And even now, as I enjoy my early 30’s, there are still moments when I am plagued with deficient levels of self-love. But I am so much more free, filled with a greater sense of peace. I have the tools to help me get out of the self-loathing mentality and shift into a more self-accepting and self-loving state.
So why do I share my story? Because almost everyone I know needs more self-love. We are great at loving others and taking care of our family and friends but usually at the expense of ourselves. Our society doesn’t teach the necessity of self-love but I am here to tell you that can all be changed. You can love yourself the way you need to.
Here are some ways the worked for me to cultivate a self-love practice and helped me to rewire my mind into knowing, trusting and believing that I am worthy of love, especially from myself! I hope some or all of these help you in your journey.
Acknowledgement – The first step I needed to take was to acknowledge that I didn’t love and care for myself the way that I needed. It was a hard truth to face because for so long, I denied it. Although exercise was healthy, I used it as a form of punishment. When I came clean to myself, the burden lifted and I felt more confident and ready to make changes.
Bioenergetic Therapy – Bioenergetic Therapy is different than regular therapy because it starts with the body and its basic functions of mobility and expression. It is a combination of bodily and analytic work that helped me release aggression, anger and rage and develop aliveness, pleasure, joy, love and vibrant health. I did this therapy for about 6 months and it was the key of overcoming my self-limiting and self-sabotaging behaviors.
Yoga – I attribute much of my self-love success from the dedicated practice of yoga. After I retired from boxing, I was drawn to the yoga mat and since then, it has been a part of my daily practice. Through the poses, breathing and surrendering, I have cultivated a larger sense of self-acceptance, inner peace and grace. I have grown to appreciate that I am divine, we are all divine, despite the past, flaws and mistakes.
Conscious Indulgences – For years, I am adamant about denying myself pleasures. I would give myself one cheat meal a week and aside from that, kept an extremely rigid diet. I rarely indulged and whenever I did, I was riddled with guilt, shame and intense fear of being fat. However, throughout my journey, I now find peace with enjoying life (within moderation) and have worked really hard to not deny myself anything. And if I do indulge in a delicious treat, I try not to let myself internally unravel and lose perspective.
Journaling – Writing about my experiences was extremely beneficial in identifying why I developed a lack of self-love, my triggers as well as challenges and triumphs along the way. Before I wrote about it, I tried to figure everything out in my mind and it was making me crazy. The more I wrote, the clearer I got and the better I felt. Sometimes the task of just writing out fears, pains and annoyances creates space for love instead.
Books – I am an avid reader and dedicated many years of my life to self-help/self-love books. It was helpful to learn about different stories and techniques from other people who also felt deficient in self-love. Some of my favorites are: Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser, Happiness is a Choice by Barry Neil Kaufman and Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss.
Affirmations – Learning to love myself required a change in my mentality and thought process and one of the best ways I rewired my brain is through affirmations. I wrote out 5-7 statements, such as “I love me” and posted them next to my bedside and bathroom mirror. Every single day I said them aloud to myself until one day, I believed them. Instead of the old patterns of how I am not good enough, my thinking shifted to “I am enough” and more importantly, “I will always be enough.”
It’s not easy to love ourselves unconditionally but I believe it is a vital key to the success of any person. I really hope this helps and inspires you to take great care of yourself. You deserve it !