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How to Love Yourself, Even if No One Else Does
First, the second part of that title isn’t true. You either forgot who loves you, or need to find more people who do.
But there may be times where you feel alone and depressed — just about everyone has spells like that, or is strong enough to admit it. It’s not easy to talk about, but loneliness, feeling unwanted, and even self-hate from time to time is extremely common. If your hermiting drags on for weeks, you’ll want the help of healthcare experts, but if it’s not so severe and happens on occasion, here’s some vibrant and practical suggestions for you:
Gather a “praise pile”
Ideally, you’ll want to do this before you’re in a downer — it serves as a life preserver when you’re in the “eye of the storm”.
Compile the love you’ve felt: a handwritten note from your Mom, a photo of you and your best buds at the lake together, and awards you’ve won. They don’t have to be recent — recognition spans your whole life. And they don’t have to be physical, either; I’ve used the Firefox ScrapBook add-on to do what its offline analogue does: clip and save kind words from others. Like my Lifehack comments. ;)
So when I feel like I’m not being cared about, I take a quick look at the “praise pile”, and put what’s happening in perspective: others have cared about me before, and they will again. And perhaps most importantly, by realizing this, I care about myself. This is a process and never happens immediately. One can’t instantly “snap out of it”. It “takes time”, as the trite-but-true saying goes. But oh, how true it is.
According to How to get Rich, Donald Trump keeps a box of mementos much as what I’ve described. He sure seems like he loves himself a lot.
Give up on something worth dropping
Burdens are bedfellows with loneliness. Some people who’d like to have more of a social life are crushed by the rat race, or their own compounded fears which hold them back. By dropping what I often call “slop” (waste unnecessary to your enjoyment of life), it frees you to take on more meaningful things (keep reading!). Less worry means more freedom to self-explore and pursue interests.
Why does this sound so obvious? Because it is. But it may only be during a time of emotional inner turbulence that you can summon the strength to unchain yourself.
Don’t overthink — that makes it worse. If you watched the recent Olympics in Beijing, notice how many top athletes (gymnasts in particular) have such a fluid momentum that you might wonder if they’re thinking consciously at all. As any great performer knows, and as controversial as “muscle memory” may be, repeated practice leads to what’s dubbed “second nature”, or a threshold surpassed in which analyzing evolves to intuition based on past experiences.
When you find yourself especially stressed or anxious, those are otherwise-unpleasant moments you can use to your advantage. Especially if you’re crying and in a lot of anguish, determine in a flash what’s worth keeping, and visualize it like this: you are a burning building. If you could rush into yourself and save only a handful of things to take to a new you, what will they be?
Write them down, and set the list aside until you feel more rational. Then look at it again, and join your thoughts of the now with what you had felt then. This can be a potent truth-revealing exercise and puts you on the right track.
Find something new worth fighting for
By “fight”, I refer not to violence. Rather, I speak of a cause you can champion and stand up for. The “fight” here is versus adversity. Your cause may be a charity that improves others’ lives, or even a campaign to save a TV show. Notice how these purposes require others to get involved — they’re inherently social, and even though you may not think about so much about that (and shouldn’t), they’ll lead to you interacting with others, feeling less lonely.
Being recognized as a maverick and a leader isn’t a deliberate process you need to set up like a goal. Rather, the goals here are more about the innate satisfaction and happiness you’ll feel.
A couple examples from my experiences: when I felt snobs were scaring away novices from enjoying electronic music, I spoke up against them, serving as a pillar of light for new fans. I wrote reviews and guides, increasing techno music’s accessibility. The adulation felt awesome. And more recently in a professional capacity, I’ve connected knowledge resources for the virtual world of Second Life, helping our community to have happier experiences. I began as a fan, and came to love what I do (and myself) so much that I ended up working for the company.
Growth is like that — you may not know where you’ll precisely end up, but you should always be passionate about growth and know where you want to head. Even if it’s not a single direction, mixing disciplines and skillsets will create a unique fusion that no one else has, and that’s a strong reason to love your uniqueness.
Celebrate your similarities AND differences
Too many people make the mistake of singling out what’s common or how they’re different. This is defective, too-filtered thinking, because success is neither wholly familiar or alien: it’s both. All of us are humans and subject to emotions. By consequence, all of us have problems — but some of us deal with them more effectively than others. We are all variations on a common theme.
If you’re concerned about body image, it’s good for all humans to be healthy. But it’s unachievable to duplicate someone else’s figure — Jocelyn Wildenstein taught us that with her approximation of a cat. After perusing existing possibilities, you need to do what’s right for you (including Jocelyn — if she’s happy, that’s what matters) and being inspired by someone isn’t the same as cloning them: it’s taking your hero’s “recipe” and improvising a new mix with it.
Be brave about what you really like
I used to get dirty faces when I opined how much I liked Britney Spears’ song, “Toxic“. I’m fond of the slick music video coupled with the angular strings and slammin’ beats. Britney’s voice wasn’t bad, either. I don’t approve of her recent lifestyle choices, but true to my heart, that song was a masterpiece!
Many people have secret “guilty pleasures”, be they pop songs or other recreational activities. If it does no harm to your health and well-being, why must it be guilty? Strip away the “layers of mindfat” and be earnest. This prepares you to meet other likeminds (as opposed to “lowminds”, who don’t contribute to your interests).
Here’s the problem: so many of us, even those who are no longer teens or in college, live under the specter of “peer pressure”. We’re afraid we “won’t fit in” if we speak to the contrary. And especially if we dig something that’s popular, we’ll be subjected to redundant reminders like “Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s good”.
You need not get into wasteful wordwars and endless debates about the merits of something. If you feel a certain other person or group repeatedly opposes what you care about and that’s regularly getting you down, then spend more time with people who do share your appreciation. The Internet is laden with all manner of subcultures and microcliques, so even if you’re geographically-challenged, it’s possible to find others you connect with.
We infact live in an era of social networking saturation, so I approve of trying various tools and simply sticking with what you use regularly — doing reveals being, and you may just clowning around… but hey! you’re in this together.
Furthermore, some minor threads expand grossly when more people speak up about how much they like ’em, e.g., how Gaia Online and deviantART have expanded from tiny niches to nourish vast anime communities. Investing in your happiness is like playing the stock market: subject to fluctuation, but hopeful for long-term growth.
Be a little more selfish
Selfishness is always bad, right? Of course not! (What’s up with these lame generalizations?) Some people are prone to giving too much to others and not feeding themselves, so if this is you, you need to adjust. My wife once shared her meat story with me, which is a delicious, terse tale about feeding yourself, and being careful who you give your “meat” (yourself, essentially) to.
You need to be strong before you can strengthen others. It’s true that in giving to others, you may experience a positive feedback loop of joy, but you need something to start that off.
Feeling your own dreams are denied because you’re always supporting others? Let them know what you want to pursue, and if they’re quality people, they should come to collaborate on yours in-kind.
Love flows both ways in the best relationships.
Adapt, evolve, iterate
A single word, and a powerful one, with linked notions like “evolve” and “iterate”! I’m a genre geek, so I’ve got to mention the beast who killed Superman, Doomsday. If you’re not familiar with his backstory, he was an alien creature who was subject to repeated death, reincarnated repeatedly to adapt to harsher conditions (and more death). He evolved to a level where he could, well, murder Supes. Less-gruesome variations on this theme can be found in Stargate SG-1‘s Replicators and The Incredibles‘ Omnidroid.
For some reason, I can’t think of any heroic examples at the moment, so you’ll want to be the opposite of the aforementioned: emotions come in cycles, and each time you go through feeling unloved, benefit from it. Go deep inside your head and familiarize yourself with why you feel this way, what triggers it, and when this is most likely to happen. By learning you, you’ll have better control over the cause-and-effect of your unhappiness. Extreme cases require medical treatment, but in the vast majority of instances, you have, or will adapt to have the power to do something substantial.
Write a guide helping others
Here we are — the self-referential part! Yet, sharing experiences is valuable. If you have a blog, or even make a comment on someone else’s blog, you may help others. And they may let you know — I hope so!
Save that feedback in your “praise pile”. You’ll need it for a rainy day, to remind you of the good you’ve done.
Don’t ever think “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t know enough”. Having struggled with pain, you’re good enough. Having experienced suffering, you know all about it.
With all the talk about “believing in yourself”, that should never be taken in a vacuum. Each one of us is influenced in positive and negative ways by external forces, and our lives are never static. The balance is dynamic, our moods shifting by day, or even by hours. What we choose to expose ourselves to and participate in is a large deterministic factor on our world outlook, and this is especially true in an age where more people choose what news they’ll watch, not because it reports with objectivity, but because it tells them what they want to hear. (A topic I may expand on later.)
Writing a guide — even if it’s a few self-confessional paragraphs — provides self-validation, too. Simply “getting it out” makes you feel better, and based on what I said above, don’t waste attention on those who don’t appreciate your bravery. Gravitate to those who do.
Ultimately, it’s initially hard to “pull yourself out” when you’re feeling kicked like a stray dog. But this is why I shared the above — there’ve been times where I was sure everyone hated me, but then I realized (with increasing strength over the years) that this was just a temporal lie, my fallible emotions playing a nasty trick.
I rode through the proverbial storm with “praise pile” in hand, discovered new things about myself along the way, and went through that cycle enough times to arrive where I’m at today. That’s why I’m sharing this with you.
How do you love yourself? Let me know in the comments!
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