I recently started rereading The Art of Extreme Self-care by Cheryl Richardson. I originally bought it a couple of years ago. I read it cover to cover, took notes, highlighted various passages, and implemented nothing. Change is hard and positive change can be particularly challenging to implement. We cling to our default settings with our dying grasp, even when they’re doing us harm.
Still, I’ve been dissatisfied with the hows and whys of my life of late. I’m frustrated; I feel in need of a kick-start change. I scanned the self-help titles that litter my bookshelves for inspiration; that one, in particular, seemed to be calling, so I pulled it out to read again with an idea that perhaps this time, I’d adopt some of the recommendations.
One of the first challenges involves developing self-acceptance and self-love. That was less than thrilling; I’d hoped to start with something smaller and easier. In the book, Ms. Richardson suggests that we don’t really love ourselves and it’s something we need to fix. A good exercise for building self-love, she says, is to tell yourself that you love yourself every day. Reading that sentence made me cringe. Loving myself is not my default setting. The exercise she suggests is simple. Stand in front of the mirror and say “I love you, Em (feel free to insert your own name here).” Do it every time you catch your reflection throughout the day.
Though I felt extremely resistant and remarkably stupid, I decided to give it a go. Perhaps not the most positive attitude to hold while approaching change, but whatever. After all, beyond making me feel foolish, how hard could it be?
It turns out telling yourself “I love you” is very difficult indeed.
I faced the mirror, looked myself in the eye (you can’t look at yourself in both eyes, which is an interesting piece of trivia), and said the words. I felt awkward, self-conscious, and very much the liar.
The mirror part of the challenge was particularly hard. It occurred to me as I stood there, absorbing my response to my expression of self-affection, that notwithstanding all the work I’ve done in recovery, I still don’t look at myself very much. I glance, sure, but only long enough to check if I have visible facial imperfections (pimples) or if I’ve gotten fat. That’s still what mirrors are to me; an eating disorder verification system. Usually, they tell me things I don’t want to hear – that I’m fat, ugly, and a waste of space. I’ve never really looked at myself while being kind, supportive, and loving. I’d definitely never said, “I love you.”
Doing it felt utterly wrong.
Which made me utterly sad and not just for myself; I’m reasonably certain that in this, I’m not unique.
How awful is it that so many of us don’t love ourselves? We don’t even like ourselves, a lot of the time. We neither give ourselves props nor prop ourselves up. The lucky among us tolerate themselves. Even that’s not good enough.
Why isn’t the art of loving ourselves taught to us along the way? Why isn’t there a “Like Yourself” guide or scout merit badge? Why don’t they cover it in school?
Nevertheless, in the spirit of Elizabeth Warren and despite the general feeling of ickiness, I persisted.
I hate it when people are right. It’s perverse, I know, but part of me would really like it if the dark, dreary, and negative voices were correct. It’d be nice to be right about something, even if it’s about the wrong thing.
I persisted and it turns out, Ms. Richardson was correct. It does get easier. I started to feel less ridiculous and less stupid as I continued to step up to the mirror and say the words. Hearing myself speak them has started to make me smile. I can feel a slight easing in my chest. I’m nowhere near ready to look at photos of myself, but I’m starting to really see a person when I look in the mirror, and I’m now capable of saying “I love you” without curling my lip. I don’t mean it yet, not really, and I slipped up and didn’t do it at all yesterday, so the behaviour is nowhere near entrenched, but it’s doing something positive.
I don’t mean it yet, but I also don’t not mean it.
It takes ten seconds so it’s not hugely time consuming; it’s something worth trying on for a while.
After all, what’s the worst that could happen?