(Self) Love in a Time of Crisis

Hi, I’m Carisa, and I’m addicted to talking about self-love.

I’m also the person who is still really figuring out what that means.

I was the kid who loved herself. I mean, really, really loved herself. I was smart, creative, and had some hella cool, long red hair I could whip in a circle around my head like a Skip-It. (Any other 90’s kids get the reference? No? Okay.)

But like a lot of girls transitioning into that realm of the awkward teenage years, then into adulthood, I lost that sense of self-worth and value. I don’t know if it was after the first time someone called me fat; the first time I got rejected by a boy; the first time I failed a test; the first time I realized I was alone in a world insistent on coupling up and I had no idea why I was left out.

And twined up in all of these life experiences was the understanding that the world around me found it completely unacceptable for me, as a woman, to declare that I loved myself.

And twined up in all of these life experiences was the understanding that the world around me found it completely unacceptable for me, as a woman, to declare that I loved myself.

And so it began.

That cycle of self-hate. You might know the one. The one where you look at yourself, your body, your social skills, your hair, your grades, your clothes, your value to the opposite (or same) sex, and you find everything wanting. And I mean everything. No little self-loathing stone unturned.

(When you get down to critiquing your fingernails and the toe hair you deny you have, you’ve probably gone too far.)

I wasn’t surrounded by people who disliked or criticized me. Quite the opposite, actually: I had and still have a truckload of supportive friends and family. I could count on all my fingers and toes (and probably my cat’s toes too) and still not have enough room to name all of the wonderfully kind people in my life who cheer me on.

The problem was that none of them could overpower the voice inside my head.

I was a champion of telling everyone else how great they were and how proud I was of them. I could bring up a down friend, hug a client, and give rallying speeches about another person’s worth. I baked cookies, I posted encouraging messages on Facebook, helped other people move and reviewed countless resumes.

But me?

I paraded through my teens, early twenties, and well into my mid-to-late twenties hating some of the most essential parts of myself. I thought my laugh was obnoxious; I knew other people made fun of me behind my back. My body was too wide; the friends who insisted I wasn’t fat were lying to make me feel better. I wasn’t smart enough to be in law school; I had to prove I belonged, even when I was in the top 5%. Nothing about me was worthwhile or special.

A part of this, I know now, is related to my unrelenting and, until about a year ago, undiagnosed generalized anxiety disorder (I could write you a whole post about that, but that’s not what today is about). My anxiety disorder has been largely inward pointed, and it affects my worldview.

But a part of it was something that I’m reflecting on even as I write this post:

I put the locus of control on my self-worth externally.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of a locus of control, it’s this. Each of us has a belief system about what causes certain experiences in our lives and what we attribute our own successes and failures to. If you believe that you’re in control of your own destiny (and self-worth), you tend to be less affected by what other people think of you. If you believe that your successes are luck or fate, or have accepted society’s definitions of success, other people’s opinions about your self-worth are going to be what matter.

You see, for years I’ve placed all my value on what other people thought of me. Of what my parents, my friends, the world expected of me. My self-worth and my evaluation of my worthiness of love came from things like my grades, the number of friends I had, my job, whether I was considered attractive by romantic partners.

Even as I’ve written about self-love over the years, it’s been a struggle to have continuity in my feelings of worthiness for said love. Even as I’ve railed about the importance of body confidence, I’ve still had mornings where I woke up hating every inch of my shape. Even as I’ve told others they’re beautiful and worthy of love, I’d doubted it sometimes when it came to myself.

But I’d gotten to a point where there were long strings where I felt good. I’d had a lot of good days, too, where I felt truly into myself. Those days of doubting myself were getting fewer and farther in between.

And then, about a year ago, I started to struggle at work. I won’t get into the gory details of what happened, or why it came about. But feeling like I’d failed deeply in my career; my passion; something I defined my own worthiness by (BIG TIME), led me into a deep and dark place. I struggled to get out of bed; I contemplated taking my own life a few times. I was spiraling, and it was because it turned out for all my thoughts of progress, I still believed I wasn’t worthy of being loved by anyone—especially myself—unless I was succeeding on someone else’s terms.

I had a lot of amazing people around me, telling me my job wasn’t the only thing good about me; that I was a good person in a bad situation. But I couldn’t see it. I could only see how this one thing was the only thing good about me; the only thing that made it worthwhile to allow me to love myself.

It was a terrifying place to be.

I think back on that period of my life—a very dark, horrible eight months of my life—and sometimes wonder how I made it out.

I think the answer is that I was forced by my circumstances to look inside to find one thing of value to keep me alive, both physically and emotionally.

I started seeing a therapist I really loved, and for the first time really got who I was. She helped me to rediscover my good qualities—how smart I was for having graduated law school and passed the bar; how funny I was in telling anecdotes to her about friends and work and my ever-failing love life. How good I was at small things, like being on time to appointments and picking out cute clothes.

I was reminded that it was my job to find the good things about me—not to let other people tell me what those good things were.

I started refocusing my priorities. Remembering the things I loved and why I loved them. Realizing it was okay to love those things, even if other people found them silly, because I loved them, and I was a worthy enough person to decide what I loved for myself.

Realizing it was okay to love those things, even if other people found them silly, because I loved them, and I was a worthy enough person to decide what I loved for myself.

I made promises to myself (and kept them!) to see the world, because it was what my dream, and not focus on the things that other people would deem successful or worthwhile, like obsessing about getting married or finding a higher-paying job. Because it was okay to pick travel over a partner or more money, only because I said so.

I realized that loving myself was choosing my dreams, my hopes, my passions over what other people expected me to do. And that loving myself that way wasn’t selfish—it was the only way to live, and to live in a way that was healthy for me.

And here I am, a year after that struggle began, still alive and on that path of not only accepting myself for who I am, but loving myself for it.

I still struggle with this. I’m not perfect. And I know it.

But here’s what else I know:

I love Harry Potter fan fiction, and I have no problem reading it instead of War & Peace.

I love wearing sneakers, even though I’ve always been pushed to wear high heels due to my height. Guess what? I’m short, and it’s cute.

I love my cat, and I have zero shame in the fact that I got “meow” tattooed on my wrist, even if some people laugh about it.

I suck at cooking, and that’s okay, because I love that I can bake killer cinnamon rolls.

I watch the same shows on rerun a hundred times, because the same places still make me cry and I love that sometimes I know I need it.

I am, and will always be, me. I just turned 31 a month ago, and even today, I’m still learning who I am.

And I love that more than anything.

 

 

Carisa Hatfield is the founder and editor-in-chief of OK with Imperfect. When she’s not writing, she works as a family law attorney in Rockville, Maryland so her cat can have a good life. Many thanks to all the supportive people supporting this endeavor! Find her on Instagram at @okwithimperfect or at her personal account @carisahatfield, on Twitter @okwithimperfect, and on Facebook at OK with Imperfect. 

5 Comments

  1. Carisa – I love this post. I can relate to so much of what you wrote. I’m on a similar journey of finding self-love after years of negative self-talk. I am worthy, you are worthy – and we are all a work in progress. Thanks for this, I really needed to read this, especially today.

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  2. It makes me so happy that you can see all of the hundreds of little things that we LOVE about you! True friends are always looking to celebrate the good, nor to seek out the bad, and there is so much to celebrate about YOU – both in your high moments and in the low moments. You’re very brave to put your thoughts and feelings in the public domain to help others and show that they aren’t alone ❤️💛💜💚💙

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  3. Wow, thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I love the theme of your blog! Self-love is a really difficult thing but I am glad you moving in that direction. Wish you all the best – speak766

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  4. I love you. I just LOVE you!! I am incredibly proud of you for taking the steps you know you needed, and that you have learned and continue to learn to love yourself 💕 Thank you for sharing this with the world. For those of us still struggling, knowing that we aren’t alone can make a huge difference. You truly make this world a better place, and I am blessed to be even a tiny part of it.

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