“We can’t hate ourselves into a version of ourselves we can love.” ~Lori Deschene
I remember the day clearly. It was the beginning of winter in Melbourne, Australia, and the air was cool and dewy in the mornings.
I was running late.
Underslept and hungover, I had dragged myself out of bed and showered – willing the hot water to wake and sober me up in preparation for the day ahead. A day that would be filled with university classes and work and having to pretend that I was strong and competent and able.
And now I was standing at my closet. Still dripping in the towel that was wrapped around me. I felt the familiar grip tightening across my chest. Looking at the drab, torn clothes in front of me, I tried to control my breathing. Padding carefully with wet toes, I crossed to the set of drawers and opened them.
There too, I saw nothing I could wear. Nothing that could hide the hideous flesh I thought resided under my towel. Nothing that could truly cover the expanse of belly that I thought I had created through my own careless actions. Nothing that could make me feel confident. Or sexy. Or enough.
The panic started to rise as I opened the draws one by one. More harshly now. I lost touch with the feel of my feet on the floor as my breath shortened and I felt the familiar surge of anxiety, fear and panic rising into the back of my throat. The dehydration lingering from the night before suddenly became apparent. I panted.
And suddenly the panic attack was upon me. Before I had even had time to consciously ascertain what was happening. I sat back down on the bed, my head was spinning, my breathing becoming constricted now. My chest ached. My brain longed for oxygen.. Tears started streaming down my face – a combination of fear, disappointment and misunderstanding.
Once the panic had subsided and I had managed to get my breathing back under control the familiar post-situation analysis began. Why? Why did this keep happening? Why was my body letting me down? Why was my mind letting me down? What was wrong with me?
And with the questions came more self-hate. More disappointment. More promises to eat better and to sleep more and drink less and stop my ruminating thoughts. I wanted more of everything based on an understanding that I was, in every way, lacking.
The woman standing in front of that closet was me 10 years ago. It was me before I had learned how intimately the way I thought about myself – my body, my mind, my relationships, my work – reflected the reality I found myself in. It was me before I had mastered tools that could calm my nervous system down. It was me before I had learned to sit with my anxiety and fear without needing to ‘fix’ it.
That woman was me – who thought that hating herself would bring about change. That woman was me – who was desperate to be liked, admired, rewarded, loved. That woman was me, too stuck in fear to see that changing the body I so desperately loathed had to come from love, not from hate. That woman was me before I understood that true wellbeing must, must, must be cultivated from the inside out.
That woman resides in many of us. She is certainly still a part of me. She is created, I believe, by messages that are sent and received subliminally from magazines and internet sites and our friends and our lovers and our families from the time we are barely old enough understand. The message? You’re not enough on your own. You need to have a better body. A better job. A better salary. A better partner. A better family.
And we think… ‘maybe I could be better’. If only we could lose the weight, or get nicer clothes, or learn to ski or speak five languages. And so we develop a mentality of lack. Of never feeling enough. And we start to police ourselves as if our lives depended on it.
It’s where the policing of ourselves starts, that we actually move further away from our true goals. We crave unconditional love and yet we impose conditionality on our own self love. We seek healthier bodies and yet we restrict them and push them and hate on them when they don’t abide by our expectations. We idolize beautiful relationships, and yet we choose to ignore the relationship with ourselves.
And inadvertently, all this restriction. All this conditionality. All this keeping ourselves and our lives contained within strict, pre-determined paramaters ends up reinforcing the very messages we are trying to overcome.
Now I work with other women – helping them learn to love themselves so they can create lives that are filled with wellbeing, inspiration, creativity, love…whatever it is they desire. I try and help them to understand not only that self criticism and the stressful environment it creates leads to very real physiological impacts, but that the very energy of criticism is not conducive to helping us move forward.
Practically speaking, this work translates into tangible actions – changing the way we speak about ourselves, understanding when the body is in fear and how to get out of it, reconnecting with our inner desires through journaling and meditation, honouring ourselves through self care, changing our inner beliefs through affirmations and mindfulness and regularly expressing gratitude for all that we already have and all that we are just on our own.
Trust me when I say that I’ve tried this both ways. I’ve tried to hate myself into changing and all it did was make me more sick, tired, disenchanted and disengaged. Now I’m trying to love myself and, although its hard, the rewards are so numerous and multi-faceted I almost need a whole other blog post to talk about them.
True wellbeing must start with love and compassion. It must be fostered from the inside out. Only when we learn to honour ourselves will we truly be driven to create sustainable habits and behaviours that align with the women we want to become. If our inner world feels constricted and small and ashamed, then our outer world will reflect it. And so the logic goes that if we want our outer world to be filled with love and energy and creativity, we must first start with loving our inner world.