The quote above is beautiful and important: “Stop telling people then no one will love them until they love themselves. Stop planting the idea in people’s brains that they are unworthy of love because of their own struggle.”
At the darkest, most painful times in my life, I did not feel simply unloved. I felt unlovable. I felt myself to be so toxic, so poisonous, so broken that no one could love me. That was not a place where I could begin to love myself.
Loving myself has been a process, and I’m years behind where I’d like to be. I’m almost up to liking myself at age 17, but the years between then and 33 remain to be worked through. It is not easy.
I was taught that to love myself was a sin. Self-esteem was openly mocked by the cult leader who raised me, and any shooting buds of self worth were cut down with lectures on the evils of pride.
I was not allowed to have a self, to be a whole person. My leader used my talents and skills for her purposes, but when she wasn’t using me she expected me to sit quietly on my shelf like a doll. I was assigned roles and tasks, but I was not permitted to have my own desires or needs.
I think of the short lived series Dollhouse, where certain “doll” characters have had their personalities forcibly wiped from their brains, leaving them in a compliment child-like state. The protagonist doll Echo tries to build her self from the fragments left behind each time they play with her mind. That’s what leaving the cult you were born into is like.
The only thing that has consistently enabled me to love myself, such as I can, is loving others who love me. I don’t blame other cult survivors for getting sucked in, and that helps me forgive myself. I don’t blame other domestic violence victims, and that helps me not blame myself. And they don’t blame me, which helps us all to love ourselves.
I’m a harsher critic of myself than anyone else I judge. The friends who love me are not so harsh, and their gentleness helps me believe I deserve softness. They enable me to love myself, by loving me when I can’t seem to do it. Not wanting to disappoint them can give me the push I need to care for a self I don’t like at the moment, because I know they do.
Sometimes the only way to love yourself is to surround yourself with loving people. They can love you when you’re not up to it, and help you nurture a relationship with yourself that is respectful, gentle, and kind. Treating yourself as friends would, or as you would treat your friends, means loving yourself when you’re imperfect. Even if it doesn’t feel like love at the time.