You DON'T want to live like this.
Grace sat in my office one evening, tearful and sinking heavily into the sofa. She was a twenty-something bright, young woman yet there weren't many words with Grace. Mostly a sad presence sat in the room as she talked around her depression and anxiety.
"It's just so hard," she kept saying. "Depression and anxiety are just so hard."
I nodded, agreeing with her, depression and anxiety are so, so hard. But as we talked, Grace and I began to unveil a deeper sense of loneliness and despair that was a constant, even when she wasn't feeling "depressed" or "anxious." It didn't take long for our conversation to role into a discovery of the lack of deep relationships and unconditional love in Graces' life.
Digging a little deeper, we discovered that not only did Grace not open up to her close friends, she couldn't find a way to love herself for her imperfections — which, in turn, pushed others away.
Brené Brown, Ph.D, author of "Daring Greatly, The Gifts of Imperfection, Rising Strong," and TEDxHouston speaker, says it best: "We either own our story, or we stand behind it hustling for our worthiness."
Loving ourselves is the process of becoming aware of, and honoring our story, what we like, need, want, believe, crave, how we love, how we think, learn and what fills us up. And until we learn how to really honor who we are, you can expect a number of unfortunates:
1. Depression and anxiety are likely to become a constant backdrop in your life.
Learning to love yourself and honor who you are at its greatest potential is about acceptance. However, living in a world of avoiding yourself, distraction from who you are and comparison not only keeps you from a closeness with yourself, but it may even drive you further away from the person you really want to become.
When we avoid acceptance of who we are, including our struggles, there's a gap that happens for us internally, and when we're continuously unaware of that gap, we can very easily get stuck in the murky waters of depression (living in the past), and anxiety (living in the future, or living in anticipation of something).
Acceptance isn't a one-stop, overnight cure-all though. There's a difference between acceptance and allowance.
Acceptance is honoring who you are to the core, living within your integrity and within your moral compass. Most importantly, it does not come without effort. Allowance is what happens when we're accepting something without effort. Note the difference and be careful not to fall into that confusion.
2. You will constantly long for deeper, more authentic relationships.
Authentic, connected relationships with other people cannot happen if we're not being honest, raw, and true to who we are. And guess what? We need people because we need connection.
The stories that our minds are capable of creating in isolation can be detrimental to our mental health. Plenty of us are really good at making psuedo-connections with others. We're great at posting on social media and allowing others to see the cropped, edited versions of ourselves. But that's just not enough fuel for a lasting, connected-ship, and it'll only take us so far.
Having a really bad day, going through a divorce, losing a baby — suffering is universal, but not if we can't honor and share our truths, joy and pain. If we can only take enough time to notice, love and honor ourselves for our strengths, happy moments and accomplishments, than we're missing the wholehearted connection of what happens when we share our falls as well.
Without connection, there's not just loneliness, but disconnection, which is toxic for our relationships.
3. You won't be able to show someone how much you care about THEM, either.
If you're not really loving yourself, your message then isn't just "I don't love me" — it's "I don't love me for my strengths and weaknesses, and I don't love you for yours either." Try having a long-lasting friendship, let alone an honest marriage or raising healthy, mindful, happy children, and spreading joy if that's the message you're sending.
People are truly mirrors for ourselves and our identities, with or without knowing it. What we find as faults in ourselves is way easier directed as we're blaming other people for their shitty behavior. If I don't love myself, then I'm not just continuously disappointed in my own let-downs, but I'm also raising a ton of hell at you for not living up to my expectations too (even if I'm not saying it aloud).
Passing that message along is one of those things that try as we might not, becomes our meta-message, the message that's more than what we say and show to other people. It becomes unsafe for other people to be honest around you for fear of judgment and misjudgment, and because you've really raised the bar on expectations for others that can't realistically ever be met, everyone around you becomes a disappointment, including those you love the most.
Be curious when feelings of disappointment arise about others and check in with your expectations often.
4. It will become difficult, if not impossible, to trust the people who love you.
How do we trust others with who they really are, and their intentions, when we can't even trust ourselves? Self-doubt and anxiety over relationships and experiences can be contagious. Where there is a lack of self-love, there's also an assumption of being unlovable, not at the surface, but to the core.
Doubting others' love for us lends itself to lingering questioning the depth and truth of others' love. It also has us in a constant state of just how much more everyone else has. More love, more friends, more truth.
5. You will never feel like you're good enough.
Not loving yourself will lend you to constant self-doubt, uncertainty and comparison about how much you want to lend, offer and gift to the world. Whether or not you're "good" enough, "worthy" enough or even "smart" enough are conversations you'll have often with yourself — and the further you get away from honoring you, the louder those may become. No one can withstand a lifelong conversation of that magnitude without burnout.
Constant questioning of you, your self-worth, and your gifts is a loud cue to check in and begin offering self-compassion and kindness starting with yourself. Gift yourself with the words and forgiveness you're eager to offer others.
Lisa Pisha is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, parent instructor and owner of GROW. She'll work with you to strengthen relationships through some of life’s challenges and transitions and believes that we all have the potential to grow.