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After 40 Years Of Self-Hate, How I Finally Conquered Self-Love

As I learn to be gentler with myself, here's what I vow to do.

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illustration of women holding hands wearing identical outfits indicating self love
marina munn
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I went to the gym recently for the first time in years. In the last two years, I have gained about 20 pounds and lost all motivation to exercise or eat well. So when my sister invited me along to her favorite boxing class, I said why not, threw on my sports bra, and laced up those rusty sneakers. The class was invigorating. The music was loud, the male instructor was easy on the eyes, and the workout was intense. I was kind of keeping up, too. Sure, my mind was racing with four-letter words directed at the hot instructor as my gluts burned, but I was having fun, too — in a painful way, you could say.

When it came time to sit on our benches and do some weight lifting, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My mood quickly changed from hell yeah, I can do this to OMG I hate the way I look; this is useless. I studied the rolls on my stomach and took note of how hard it was to do the reps because my stomach kept getting in the way. That is disgusting, I thought about my own body. You are so lazy and fat. You have no will power. How did you let this happen? These are the words I spoke to the girl in the mirror. These are not unusual thoughts for me, either. As I glanced around the room, I took note of the other bodies in the room. Strong women and men of all shapes and sizes. Everyone was pushing themselves to be healthy and strong and a better version of themselves. I saw them through different eyes than I saw myself. My thoughts for my classmates were all positive; I admired everyone in the room regardless of weight, body or looks. Why didn’t I admire myself?

As my eyes came back to the girl in the room, I decided it was time to change the narrative in my own mind. I looked in the mirror and I looked at my rolls, and I thought damn right, I have rolls. My rolls have meaning and history. My rolls came from birthing three beautiful, healthy children who bring joy and meaning to my life every day. These rolls hold memories of trips to the local ice cream shop with my kids and Friday night pizza parties. The rolls live on because as a single mom I just can’t get to the gym very often. But there I was — squeezing it in, trying my best. It was time I changed the voice in my own head to be more compassionate, more loving, and more forgiving to myself. And so, I am embarking on a journey to challenge myself to a higher standard of self-compassion. As I learn to be gentler with myself, I vow to do the following:

Talk about myself in the third person

I need to treat myself with as much love, respect and kindness as I treat others. So from now on, when I look in the mirror and start to talk to myself, I will use the word she, not you or I. She. It is as if I am asking myself, would you talk this way about your friend, your mom or your sister?  Looking in the mirror and saying she makes it just a bit more uncomfortable to voice negative thoughts, and it offers a buffer between the thoughts that have become so second nature to me and the pain they cause.

Remember that self-love does not equal arrogance

Somewhere in my life, I was conditioned to believe that identifying my own strengths or beauty was arrogant; and because I did not want to be arrogant, I never acknowledged anything positive about myself. Me, pretty? No way. Me, funny? Uh, nope. Me, strong? Wrong person. After years and years and years of not believing anything positive about myself, I am trying to practice positive self-talk. At first, it felt arrogant. Now I’m trying to embrace the fact that I need to love myself and to acknowledge that I do have some good qualities, and that just because this feels arrogant doesn’t mean it is so.

Not tolerate negative self-talk

I’ve been writing down the horrible things I say about myself. I wonder what I would do if someone else spoke those same words to me. More often than not, it is clear to me that I would cut that person out of my life. If I had a friend or boyfriend who said these things — “You are so fat” or “When are you going to get your sh*t together and pay your bills?” — I would distance myself from that person. It is not OK to speak abusively to myself. So I must check myself. I must check my own words, and I must put a stop to any thought, no matter how fleeting, that is abusive in nature. Once I notice a negative thought and stop it, I do my best to turn it into a positive one or a thought of gratitude.

Honor my mission statement

I wrote myself a mission statement for this journey to self-love: Today I will treat myself with love, compassion and kindness. I will stay in gratitude and I will not tolerate thoughts about myself that are abusive in nature. I must love myself so that I am able to be a source of light and love to others.  I read it every morning and refer to it throughout the day. I am slowly training my brain to think more positively about myself.

Conquering self-love is no easy feat, but like everything, it will get better with practice and awareness. Self-love is one of the best gifts I can give myself after 40 years of self-hate. In just a few weeks of trying to be kinder to myself, I’ve noticed a change, and I am hopeful that in time the negative thoughts will stop entirely. In the words of Maya Angelou, “The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself.”