What holds you back from loving yourself unconditionally? What conditions do you tell yourself you have to meet before you embrace who you are?
For many years I had issues with my body and specifically my weight. I was unaware that these were roadblocks I was using to not accept myself completely.
I am not sure when or how it started exactly but what I do recall is that when I was younger I was constantly compared to my older sisters. There are eight kids in my family and six of my siblings are girls.
Growing up I began to stand out among my family because I had an early growth spurt. Whereas most of my family is less than five feet, I hit five feet in middle school and kept growing for a little bit longer. Now, rather than have you think I am a jolly green giant, I am not. On a good day (read-I wear heels), I may be as tall as five feet, three inches.
I was told that I was much stockier, heavier, taller, etc. than the rest of them. They would say estas gorda, tienes que perder peso, si pierdes peso te vas a ver mas bonita, etc. I was also regularly told that I needed to stop eating so much, eat this and not that; I should try this type of diet or that one.
Although I was doing well academically, was involved in sports activities, and had friends, me not being thin was an issue. My family would concern themselves with how I looked. It took me a long time to appreciate that they meant well and did not have the knowledge or experience to say these things in a more loving way.
While away in college, before heading home for a visit I would work myself up particularly if I had gained weight since the previous visit. I would not focus on what I had been up to or my personal and professional successes. I would worry about the damn number on the scale!
Somehow being thin equated to being happy and successful. I bought into this story too and put conditions around what it would take to love myself—I needed to be as skinny as my sisters, be petite, not stand out, etc. I internalized these things and was carrying them around as a measuring stick of what I needed to do or accomplish before embracing me. For instance, I believed that if I did not lose weight I would never find a partner and would be alone and unhappy. I would tell myself that I had to be thinner before getting in front of an audience to speak and would avoid speaking opportunities partly because of this belief.
Through a series of different events I started to change the image I let others paint of me. The first is when I decided not to return home after college. Not being around my family gave me a chance to focus on other things. I had friends that supported me in different ways. I started to enjoy my own company, to identify interests and hobbies, as well as choosing things that I wanted to do. I began to like me.
Professionally, I was growing and my work was acknowledged through promotions, raises and more responsibilities. On the personal front, I began dating someone that appreciated me for different reasons and did not focus on my weight or my dress size. I learned to appreciate that I had different gifts to offer.
I also learned that being thin does not necessarily make someone healthy or that being heavy makes someone automatically unhealthy. When I realized this it was eye opening and transformative. I even proved it to myself when I completed two marathons because I pushed my body and mind. My idea of wellness changed.
My thoughts shifted more when the body that I saw as imperfect carried both of my children to full term. How could I not feel good about it’s transformation when I was blessed with two healthy babies?
More importantly, I realized that loving yourself is a state of mind. It’s not about looking a certain way, weighing a particular amount, being with a specific someone or how much money you have in the bank. Of course those things don’t hurt and the reality is that you could have all of those pieces and not love yourself.
I have let go of those old beliefs. I embrace myself right now-the grey hair coming in, the new wrinkles that show up, my muffin top. I am confident in my own skin. My weight no longer has the same hold on me. These days, as I make life style changes, it’s so that I can be around longer for my children and to have a better quality of life. The focus is on wellness and being healthier and not how much I weigh.
What I have learned about loving myself:
- Accept the “good, bad, and ugly.” Loving yourself has to do with accepting who you are now, all of you. It’s about recognizing your strengths, being aware of your pitfalls and knowing you have room for growth.
- You decide the meaning you attach. You determine whether you will believe something as the only truth, change it or let it go.
- It takes time to shift your mindset. Our issues don’t take root and grow overnight. Likewise, it will take time and awareness to shift and reframe what you believe about yourself.
- Let go of old pain. Rather than hold onto bitter memories I have decided to focus on what I can learn from my experience and to be different with others.
- Embrace who you are right now. Be present. Don’t focus on the “one-day” mentality because you will keep putting conditions on yourself.
Your turn: What helps you embrace who you are right now?
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