“Love yourself.”

“Stay positive.”

“Focus on your blessings.”

Sound advice, but easier said than done.

Everyone struggles to love themselves at times. We all have moments of doubt or insecurity. But for some people, self loathing is a deeply lodged automatic default.

Everything is tainted by a lack of confidence. Even when you’re successful and you accomplish something that makes you proud, the slightest setback or mistake sends you tumbling backwards into a pit of self deprecation.

Feelings of shame and worthlessness flood to the surface and berating thoughts loop in your mind. You’re exhausted from being forced to spend every day, every moment with someone you can’t stand. You feel trapped.

Examining feelings of insecurity only makes it worse. All you can see is how much you suck. All you can feel is sadness, shame, and fear. There’s no one to blame but yourself and no escape from yourself.

So you cope in whatever way you can–self harm, substance abuse, sex, food, codependency, isolation— whatever it is, you feel guilty and ashamed about your behavior. Which creates a vicious cycle.

Why does this happen? Why can’t you recognize your own worth? Why is self love SO HARD?

Usually it goes back to early life experiences. In order to love yourself, you have to know yourself. You can’t know yourself if you’re not given the proper tools to build self confidence. As children, we come to understand who we are from our primary caregivers. They model how to behave and they reflect our own worth back to us. If they’re nurturing and loving, we learn this for ourselves.

Neglectful, abusive, or uncommunicative caregiving denies the guidance to build a healthy identity. Feeling isolated, ignored, abandoned, or unloved as a kid can cement the belief that you’re worthless and unlovable as an adult.

Sure, you may recognize that you had a shitty childhood, and consciously understand that you matter. But that doesn’t necessarily undo the automatic default. Your unconscious mind is running the show. Which means that you still get wholloped by self loathing all the time, often without even realizing it. 

So what the hell are you supposed to do to stop this?

First of all, recognize that it takes a lot of intense and targeted work to heal such deep wounds. It’s not fun. But the relief you feel when you make the effort is so worth it. Confronting the pain head on is far easier than burying it and carrying it around for the rest of your life. You have to walk across the coals to get to the other side. There’s no way around it.

Second, recognize that you’re not fucked up or crazy. Your feelings are valid. They’re there for a reason.

Feel and release the anger. Some parents/caregivers suck. Often there’s no accountability or acknowledgment of wrongdoing. As a kid you took this to mean that there was something wrong with you, that their failures were your fault. As an adult, this fuels a rage that bubbles just below the surface. If you don’t give your anger an outlet, it may explode at inappropriate times or be directed at the wrong people. Notice the emotion. Give yourself permission to feel it. Then find a healthy outlet—work out, listen to music, write, make art, talk to a friend, scream, do breath work… Find what works for you (which may take trying different strategies).

Feel and allow the sadness. Underneath the anger is a deep well of sadness. That’s where your inner child is hiding. Let her know you see her. Help her understand that it’s not her fault. Explain that she’s strong and resilient to have endured so long in that dark well. Validate her.

Re-parent yourself with compassion. Let your inner child know that you’re there for her. That you’re going to help her, that you’ll figure it out together. Imagine holding her. Offer her comfort and reassurance. Notice who she is. What does she love? What excites her? When does she feel proud? What does she want to play or do? Imagine enjoying these things with her. Let her guide you to these things—did she love to play outside? Then spend sometime outside! Did she love to color? Then color! Did she love imaginary play? Then engage your imagination! Help this part of yourself feel SEEN.

Be patient. Your default pattern isn’t going to transform overnight. But now that you’re aware of it, you can be more mindful. Simply notice when it wells up. The challenge is an invitation to do your work and move further forward. It may be slow, but you’re making progress. Once you truly step on the path of healing you can’t go back to where you started. It’s only forward from here.

Get help. THERE IS NO SHAME IN SEEKING SUPPORT! Going to counseling doesn’t mean you’re crazy or there’s something wrong with you. It means you’re human and you prioritize your health (mental health counts!) A good therapist doesn’t look down their nose at you and quietly judge your dysfunction. They’re skilled professionals who sincerely care about your well-being. Typically, they do this work because they’ve had to overcome their own emotional pain. Find someone you feel comfortable with and then go to sessions consistently.

Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Communicate your feelings and needs. You’re not wrong to have them! If you try to hide your truth, you’ll only block your healing and invite conflict. Be honest with yourself and loved ones.

Finally, when you’re ready, ease into empathy and forgiveness. Those who failed you didn’t know how to do better. Maybe they couldn’t move past their own pain and suffering. Perhaps they sincerely thought they were making the right choices. Maybe they struggled with legitimate mental health challenges. While this doesn’t excuse their behavior, it may explain it. In the end, releasing resentment and blame is better for you. Which is a huge step toward self love.

Learning to love yourself is often a lifelong endeavor, and that’s ok. Set your intentions and do the work. Try to enjoy the ride along the way. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy and nobody’s life is ever perfect.

With much love and compassion,

Adina Arden Cooper

I'm a healer, a guide, a supportive companion. A storyteller, an artist, an ally and an advocate. I help individuals thrive and communities come together through counseling, coaching, and community building. I believe that shared humanity is a powerful strength and that our stories connect us in beautiful and sacred ways. As I stumble, skip, or soar my way through this life, I invite you to join me on the journey. Likewise, I'm honored to travel with you. In witnessing one another, we find meaning.