Like many things that seem like a good idea at the time, the self-esteem movement has officially reached its expiration date. The idea that you need to love yourself before you can love somebody else has become as redundant as assuming you know a person’s gender or sexuality just by looking at them. So good news – you can hate yourself and still find love with a person of any gender or no gender at all (and maybe also, without them!)
Some hot longhaired guy with sandals once said “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” and everyone continues to marvel at his simple hipster wisdom. If only Jesus had been alive at the same time as memes. Also, he probably didn’t have neighbors that barbecued on the adjoining apartment balcony.
Yet for those of us who can be kind to anyone but ourselves, the whole love thy neighbor shtick has proved an untenable idea. Even the barbecuing neighbors will be treated better than ourselves, we who have to spend time daily in a hair shirt, with or without the Catholicism.
The flawed logic of waiting until you are “no longer broken” before you can be loved is this: not only do you get punished for not loving yourself by having to live with a person that doesn’t love you, you are then told that other-people-love is not for you either. If you don’t love yourself, the maxim implies, you are not lovable enough to be loved. You just get to hang out with that miserable best friend called you for eternity.
A long time ago, during the free-form section of my wedding vows, I used the phrase “I just hope one day I can learn to love myself, as much as I love you.” I blubbered at the time, as well I should have. Would I go back and tell that 26 year-old girl-bride that she may not be ready to get married because she hadn’t reached perfect self-acceptance? Of course not. (Though I might tell her a few other things…)
In fact I was loved and loved another for almost a decade and half, and it wasn’t even the Pesky Recurring Self-Loathing that proved the death of us. I was also able somehow to love my children in moments when I couldn’t stand myself. How can this be?
When it comes to self-love, I have adjusted my expectations somewhat, and suggest you do the same. Rather than despairing that you still don’t love yourself, why why why after all these years don’t I wildly adore every cell of my being at every moment? I recommend a more neutral “I only mildly dislike myself today.” That way you are still free to love and adore someone else, and be loved and adored, and can behave in ways that increase your self-respect, upgrading to a “Wow, I’m really not even so bad you guys.”
You do not have to be so thrilled with yourself that you expect everyone on earth to fall into line adoring you. We are not talking about narcissism here, just a little compassion for your weary carcass replenishes your energy so that you are more able to care for others. When you consistently refuse to meet your own needs, it doesn’t make you selfless, more likely it engenders martyrdom and self-pity.
You wouldn’t allow someone to abuse you if you were at a base level just okay with yourself. You would still make sure your basic needs were met because you’re a human being under the Geneva Convention for crying out loud. Just because you loathe yourself that’s no excuse for low self-esteem.
It’s also no reason to deny yourself pleasure. I refer, of course, to masturbation, because how could any self-love article [I write] be complete without it? I have siphoned as much self-love from this activity as all the modalities of therapy combined. I have found that when I steal the time to show myself some physical love, the mental and energetic can follow suit. Let the metaphor spread through your whole being, and feel the you that is loving you, as well as the you that is being loved. (Did someone say Nirvana?)
I haven’t met many penis-havers that weren’t enamored of their dick-pieces, yet so many women are afraid of their vaginas, some so unfamiliar with the equipment they wouldn’t be able to pick her out of a line up. So today, maybe ditch the Yet-Another-Quasi-Buddhist-Yogic-Tantra-Listicle on how to achieve perfect harmony with the self, and instead spend a little time with your messiest and most private part. Because sometimes Grasshopper, ya gotta get a little undignified to find the dignity you seek. Namaste, you filthy, beautiful soul…