NOTE: This article was originally posted to my previous blog, “The Healing Project,” in May 2010.
If someone were to ask you if you love yourself, how many of you would reply with an enthusiastic “Yes”? How about if you were asked if you love your body? I know that for most of my life, I would have found both questions absurd. I definitely and unequivocally did not love myself or my body.
For years, I was my own worst critic. I would unleash a torrent of criticism upon myself on a daily basis that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. In fact, I was my own worst enemy. Nothing I could do was ever good enough for me; my standards were impossibly high and there was no way I could reach them. While my targets for accomplishment and success were virtually unachievable, my standards for my body and physical appearance surpassed them by leaps and bounds.
Specter in the Mirror
I would look in the mirror and pick myself apart mercilessly. My hair was frizzy, my face was blotchy, my nose was too big, my hips were huge, and my thighs were completely unacceptable! These are just a few of the criticisms that would play like a broken record inside my mind. My self-criticism and overall negative attitude toward my body propelled me into a long battle with anorexia and bulimia, a struggle which almost killed me during my teens and twenties. Even after I managed to pull myself out of the depths of that battle, the criticism did not end. I was ruthless in the way that I’d pick myself apart, and all compliments from others would be quickly negated inside my mind. I just wasn’t pretty enough, thin enough, firm enough, or anything enough…
The Toll of Self-Abuse
The years of criticizing my body have taken a toll on my psyche and my health. Although I have become decidedly more kind toward myself and my body in recent months (partly as a result of my healing project), the damage has been done. I am convinced that the laundry list of health issues from which I suffer can be attributed to the years of self-flagellation.
Think about it… How would you respond to a person who continuously berates you? Would you thrive and shine in that person’s presence, or would you wither and fade? The way in which my body has responded to my abuse is no surprise to me. As Louise Hay and other wise spiritual teachers have written, our thoughts create our reality. The reality of my physical body has been shaped by what I have continually thought over the years.
My husband has frequently commented on how mean I was to myself in my words. Sadly, my unkind words paled in comparison to the ferocity of my internal dialogue. I have created my poor health of the present time. I take responsibility for that, as sad and defeated as it makes me feel today.
Learning to Love Myself
I am not an unkind person. In fact, I believe I have a good and kind heart. It is time for me to direct that kindness and compassion toward myself. It is time for me to treat myself the way I would treat a person I deeply love. In truth, I have learned to love myself in recent years. I have learned to appreciate my uniqueness and my good qualities. I am finally able to say – and mean – those simple but difficult words, “I love myself.” I can even speak those words while staring into my own eyes in the mirror, yet tears always well up in those same eyes. Likewise, I find myself becoming tearful as I express these sentiments today…
Ending the War with Self
The tears are for the years of self-hatred, for the wasted time during which I was at war with myself and my body. Although I would love to recapture those lost years and circumvent my current health challenges, I can only live in the moment and move forward. Hopefully, I have many years ahead of me during which I can live peacefully with myself and my miraculous body which has survived despite years and years of punishing abuse.
Responsibility is Powerful
Some of you may identify with what I have written. I know that many people are tremendously hard on themselves and their bodies. We can blame society and the unattainable standards that are set out for us by Hollywood and Madison Avenue. But while society can and does play a role in our self-image and body image struggles, the ultimate responsibility falls upon us. That is good news because it means that we have the power to transform our thoughts and attitudes.
How do we do that? Let’s take some tips from Louise Hay (from “You Can Heal Your Life,” page 23):
“Loving the self, to me, begins with never ever criticizing ourselves for anything. Criticism locks us into the very pattern we are trying to change. Understanding and being gentle with ourselves helps us to move out of it. Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”
I Approve of Myself
I have been repeating the affirmation, “I approve of myself,” over and over inside my head for months now. It is a simple affirmation that I think whenever it comes to mind. I use this affirmation to cancel out self-criticism when I become aware that I am thinking negative thoughts about myself. Although I know it will take time to undo the effects of my many years of self-abuse, affirming approval of myself is starting to have a positive effect on me. I am beginning to notice my negative thoughts more readily and can more easily release them and replace them with more beneficial thoughts. It is becoming easier for me to think kind and loving thoughts about myself. I am experiencing small but noticeable “pockets” of inner peace in my days, and that gives me hope for the future.
Hope to Soldier On
The journey to heal my health and my life is a challenging and tumultuous road with many twists and turns. I am humbled on a regular basis by the ebb and flow of my numerous health issues which only seem to crop up again just when I feel they may finally be behind me. Yet I have hope and that allows me to soldier on with my healing project.
I believe that the key to healing is in self-acceptance. In the spirit of hope, I close this post with another quote from Louise Hay, one which provides hope for us all for a peaceful and powerful future:
“I find that when we really love and accept and APPROVE OF OURSELVES EXACTLY AS WE ARE, then everything in life works. It’s as if little miracles are everywhere. Our health improves, we attract more money, our relationships become more fulfilling, and we begin to express ourselves in creatively fulfilling ways. All this seems to happen without even trying.”