“How do I know if I love myself?”
That’s a simple question.
Well, it kinda feels like it should be.
I’ve discovered it’s not. It’s not at all. Like, reeeally not. SO much of a not it’s like someone telling me I’m a man.
Ask it of yourself. What was your answer?
Your REAL answer. Not the one you think you want it to be.
If you received a clear answer that affirms that you do love yourself and you know why and how, then I congratulate you. I’m serious. It’s a beautiful thing to love oneself.
If what you heard in reply was little more murky or you felt like that person who excitedly opens their box of chocolates to find that someone else got there first and all you have is empty wrappers, then I think we should talk.
Firstly, you’re not alone.
I’m there with you, exploring this myself.
Only last week was it the subject of my Barefoot Friday.
Secondly, if this is you too, I have a hunch that you’re probably a woman.
I’m not saying that all men love themselves but talk to a woman and my experience is that pretty much every single one of us has had to navigate a path to loving ourselves.
What does it mean to love yourself?
Given how different we all are, I suggest that there’s probably a million and one ways to interpret that question.
Yet, I think that all these variations come down to three elements:
That’s a lot of ‘self’ in there. And trust me, there needs to be. You got to be selfish for this to work, but more about that in a bit.
So why talk about this in a global context of expat life?
Expats are some of the most confident people who get ‘out there’ aren’t they?
Others, like me, grow and mature as we go. The wild ride of living elsewhere, triggers us to go deep. It forces us to find out what we’re made of and to look in our pockets for the emotional resources we didn’t think were there.
I’m like that soft centred chocolate. Externally, my outer shell holds its own in the variety box. As the orange flavoured chocolate, I know I’m a little rarer than most (we’re the 2% of the world’s population) #proudtobeginger.
But you know the thing with those chocolates?
They’ve also got soft centres.
Me too. I get wounded easily.
And this brings me back navigating the open seas of expat life whilst also learning to love oneself. If you wait until you love yourself, Life presses the PAUSE button. It’s a big button too. Hard to rewind.
There is another option though – find the cassette tape called ‘get out there and stumble through’ and press PLAY. That’s my tactic at least. Decide to do it all despite the self-love and confidence not being balanced.
I’m never going to let that stop me.
Why? Because life is too good not to.
We all have that voice in our head that talks to us. Sometimes she’s your best friend.
Another time? She’s a real bitch. I find her particularly unkind at times, in ways that I wouldn’t dream of being with a friend. She’s so rude. I’m not sure why I’m still friends with her to be honest.
Why do I allow her to speak to me this way?
It comes back to the three Ss, Self-acceptance, Self-respect and Self-confidence.
I can accept myself, but if I am letting that voice have an impact, I’m not allowing space for self-respect – and as a result, my self-confidence plummets. It’s like the three-legged stool. Damage one leg and it’s not going to stay upright for long. We need all three legs to function fully, for the stool to remain stable and to be able to support our weight.
So how do we maintain the balance of a 3 legged stool?
I think it comes down to pleasure.
I know a large proportion of you instantly thought of sex.
Okaaaay… well, that was just me then.
Sex is part of it, but in its broader sense, pleasure is about feeling happy and satisfied on a deep level. It’s everything from passion for your work, reading and cooking to exercise, fashion, sport, music, meditation and pretty much anything else you can think of that makes you feel good in that warm fuzzy way.
I’m currently reading ‘Pleasure activism: The Politics of Feeling Good’ written and gathered by Adrienne Maree Brown. “Pleasure activists assert that we all need and deserve pleasure and that our social structures must reflect this”.
And this is where is gets interesting for expats.
When we exist outside the social structure of the country in which we are living (either through privilege, cultural differences or a feeling of not belonging), I believe that pleasure can be one of the first things to suffer.
Rather than thriving, we may start to feel like we’re surviving. Coping and reacting become our norm and from survival mode, it is an easy slippery slope to experiencing the devastation when self-confidence, self-acceptance and self-respect decide it’s time to take temporary leave.
This was certainly my experience.
I forgot about myself. I didn’t know who I was anymore. In losing myself whilst trying to fit, I also lost my self-confidence. But that’s okay I thought, because I still had self-acceptance and self-respect in the bag. Well, if I’m honest, I’ve always struggled with the self-acceptance side of things.
I realised recently how often I’ve seen myself in relation to others, not me as me, standing there transparently visible and vulnerable. Vulnerability is scary.
This blog kind of throws caution to that wind. I’m hoping that it doesn’t suddenly switch to a gale force 10 and knock me off my feet. But if I don’t step out, I never feel that wind on my face nor feel what it is to be truly embodied and alive.
And so I turn to pleasure as the path back to me.
In practical terms, what does this look like for you?
For me, the exploration of pleasure has included:
*Discovering and celebrating my feminine side
*Making it a priority to connect with my favourite people regularly
*Writing handwritten letters to friends who live abroad
*Running 3-4 times a week
*Saying no to work projects I don’t want to do
So, as I sit here at midnight writing these musings, I’m reminded of a conversation I had this week with my best friend.
We were talking about the value of writing down your achievements and keeping them as a reminder of just how well you’re doing. AND, this is not despite ‘the shit’ of life, but actually because of it.
It is in the shit/the difficult stuff, that I feel most alive. I can’t hide within it. It is truth. It is authentic and it is me warts and all. It’s equally hard as it is enriching and awakening.
And I’m not talking about experiencing a one-off argument at work.
I’m talking about depression, anxiety, panic attacks, family members dying and losing close friends, two spinal surgeries, supporting friends through bereavements, repairing relationships, health scares etc.
And through these experiences, I’ve started 2 businesses which I continue to operate, got my passion project off the ground, published my own book, travelled widely, reinvented myself, gone from couch potato to running 9kms at a time, gained a post graduate diploma, made a life in a foreign country, became a citizen of a new country and I’m currently studying a Masters.
I don’t list these achievements to gloat, but to say that I’ve realised something incredibly exciting.
If I can achieve these things whilst navigating the shit and the tough lessons of loving myself, imagine what I could achieve if I really loved myself 100%?
That is BEYOND exciting!!!
So, it is here that I call for all those who are navigating the journey of self-love.
Make yourself a priority.
In doing so, you’ll find that SELF will start to fight for front position and much to your surprise Respect, Confidence and Acceptance will announce that they’ve change their names by deed poll to SELF- Respect, SELF-Confidence and SELF-Acceptance.
I’m pleased to meet you, my new friends.
Have we met before?