“I tend to be most interested in the kinds of people who do not sweeten or dilute themselves for the sake of people’s taste. Who never soften the blow of who they are. Like my coffee, I prefer the people I connect with to be full-strength and searing hot. Those able to rouse my weary, idle heart.”
— Beau Taplin // Black Coffee
Loving myself. What does loving one self really mean?
Self-love may take the form of relaxing hot showers, calming baths, scented candles, enjoying a cup of coffee while reading your favourite book, going for a jog, finding clothes you like, treating yourself to a spa day, and good food.
But self-love isn’t really just about pampering yourself.
Is loving ourselves being able to look in the mirror for once without criticising our own bodies? Is loving ourselves finally feeling content with where you are at in life? Is loving ourselves being able to be happy for both yourself and others when we achieve success? Does loving ourselves involve speaking and thinking kindly of ourselves? Does loving ourselves include listening to our needs and putting ourselves first sometimes?
This is the truth: self-love is not just a pretty physical process. For many of us, we need to learn how to conquer and keep our demons in check. Acceptance of the reality of what we face would be the first step. After acceptance, we then need to tackle both the ups and the downs before we can truly move forward towards change. Trying to suppress what we feel may seem like a solution in the moment — but the problem may grow bigger than what it originally is in the long run if it wasn’t addressed.
Is there a way to really truly love ourselves 100%? Maybe, maybe not. As judgmental as we can be about others, many of us have ourselves as our own worst critic.
BTS artist Suga quoted this in a poem he wrote to his bandmates: “The brighter the light, the darker the shadows.” There is a saying that those who have known what darkness and pain feels like can go either one of two ways: either they dwell in their darkness, or they feel more inclined to spread the light they wished they could have had. I’m going to be honest: I’m still struggling in the process of truly loving myself. There are days where I’m able to genuinely laugh with my friends, while there are also days where I can barely muster a smile. Although I do have moments where I have felt genuinely, it does not discount the weight I feel on my shoulders once I have to face my thoughts. I feel especially bitter and frustrated about the person that I become on the days I feel consumed by my own darkness. In those moments, I question who I am and the parts of me that I have lost.
Have I found a solution for the thoughts and the pit of darkness I find myself in? Not entirely. But I am reminding myself that despite the gruelling process, I have the choice to allow something beautiful to grow from it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow — but I’ll get there one day.
In the meantime, these are some of the ways I’ve been learning how to embrace myself for who I am — as well as being open to change:
- BE UNAFRAID TO EXPRESS YOURSELF
First step: As tempting and as clockwork it feels to use this typical response, stop saying “I’m fine” or “I’m good” when you are clearly not. Although it is understandable that you may not want to dump your problems on an acquaintance or a stranger, you have close friends or family who are happy to be there for you. To be honest, I still struggle with the idea of being open with what I feel because I feared burdening others with my problems. When I tried talking to the people in my life, I realised that the fear I had was in my own head. Yes, they may feel worried about you and wished they could help you get out of whatever you are going through. However the reality is that they won’t be carrying around your problems as their own burden after you confide in them. You have the right to express who you are and how you feel — don’t take that luxury away from yourself.
While I am still trying to be more honest about what I feel, another outlet that has helped me be more expressive has been the creative route. Through writing and doodling, it has helped me to express my emotions freely without talking outloud. Listening and relating to music has also helped me tremendously in lifting my mood and feeling comforted.
All in all, I discovered that being simply honest with your emotions is the most freeing thing a person could ever do for themselves. Allow yourself to embrace it all. Embrace all that you feel. Know that by being open with what you feel, you are being your authentic self
— and that, is just being beautifully human.
- UPLIFT OTHERS
I used to have this back and forth within myself before I write or comfort people in my life: “am I a hypocrite if I were to advise others on things I have not yet been able to achieve 100%?” versus “what if this person just requires a little push, while I still have a long way to go? if i were to speak up, at least one of us will be moving forward.” One day, I came to a realisation: I would never be able to say that I have solved what I was going through 100%. I was always going to be critical about my own progress — and there are things that would take me a whole lifetime to figure out. It was then I decided that I could use my words for the greater good: I could help others while simultaneously helping myself.
There is a misconception that we should be firm and cutthroat to get to the top, but is that really the truth? As people — whether it being a student to a Minister — we should exist to uplift those around us rather than tearing them down. Take that step to tell the people in your life about how you appreciate them and are able to resonate with them. Be real. Let’s help each other feel seen and heard!
- KEEP FIGHTING
I know — it hurts. There are many days where you are unable to shut out your thoughts. There are days when being able to say you survived is an achievement in itself. There are nights when it all gets too much and you’re frustrated at how you’re unable to explain what is going on within yourself. There are moments when you know you’re still chained by the things in your past and you hate yourself for still being affected by it all.
I know. I see you, I hear you, and what you are feeling is valid. In fact, take the time you need to deal with it. Take that day off or go on a day out if you are unable to muster the strength to go on.
But don’t give up entirely. As difficult as things may be, know that you have the power to work through it — or around it at least. There may be events in our lives that have shaped who we are, to a point that we are unable to detach ourselves from what has happened. Here’s the truth: you can either wallow in the weight of your depression, or you can fight for your life and make it a good story. Take it step by step, day by day.
- BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE
“Accountability feels like an attack when you’re not ready to acknowledge your toxic behavior.”
Ask the people in your life to keep you accountable of your progress. We’re often scared of being completely truthful about the depths of what we feel because we’re subconsciously afraid of judgment. Be mindful of who you’re comfortable telling and the people you choose to confide in.
I often joke that my best friend is my “human diary” as I have (thankfully) been able to be mostly transparent about what I feel when I confide in her, despite how ugly it may be. In some sense, accountability also works as ‘external pressure’ — an extra motivation to become better versions of us. This could be progress in the way we think of ourselves, being disciplined in our gym routine, or tracking our mental health.
- BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF
We seem to set much higher standards for ourselves in comparison to the standards we hold others to. We often beat ourselves up for not being able to achieve something by this age, not being able to secure that win, not being able to top the class, not being able to get that job or internship — we can go on forever when it comes to criticising ourselves.
Darling, be more gentle with yourself. Forgive yourself for not knowing better at the time. Forgive yourself for not being able to muster the strength during that time. Forgive yourself for what you have done in the past. Forgive yourself for the survival patterns and traits you picked up while enduring trauma. Forgive yourself — but be open to change the traits that have been toxic to both others and you.
- HAVE AN AIM TO CHANGE RATHER THAN STAYING BROKEN
Story time! For awhile, my family had a distorted mirror in our bathroom. If I’m not mistaken, we probably bought it because the design around it was unique. Unfortunately, we were distracted from the mirror itself. It was only when we starting using it that we realised it was completely distorted. In the beginning, our eyes would hurt a little whenever we tried to used the mirror. After a while, we found ways to work around the mirror: either going super up-close to look at our reflection or squint our eyes a certain way to use a part of the mirror that wasn’t wonky. Despite our knowledge of its distortion (to be fair, we rarely used it), we allowed the mirror to be there for about a year before finally taking it down.
The point of this story is this: most of us find it easier to stay broken rather than driving towards change. In really tackling our mental health, many have shared that there is a struggle to take the effort to make changes — for change requires greater effort in comparison to festering in the problem. It was easier to just adapt around the mirror because we already bought it, rather than needing to buy another mirror and admitting we screwed up with our purchase.
Sometimes what doesn’t kill you gives you a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms and a really dark sense of humour. However, you are only stuck in that version of you if you allow yourself to be. Yes, you are used to act or be a certain way because these have helped you in the past. But the reason why you find yourself being unable to move forward is because you keep applying the same old formula to a new level in your life. Be unafraid to change this formula from your past to get you a different result in the future.
One day I hope you will be able to love yourself for who you are and that you are proud of the progress that you have made.
That one point in your life when you felt shrouded by the darkness? Guess what? You learned to light your own flame. Who knows, you may become a guiding light for many others going through their own dark tunnels too.
And I’m proud of you. God, I’m so proud of you.