I was inspired to write this by an old Captain Awkward post about dating. Obviously, from the title, I’m not going to be talking about dating, but the comments section got me thinking. About halfway down a commenter named meerkat asked this question:
What is the difference between loving yourself and being a disgusting egotist?
The discussion didn’t end up convincing them that self-love is a good thing, so I’m going to have a crack at it fully three years later.
First off, I’m not a fan of the term “self love”. It conjures up images of bath bombs and smashing the patriarchy by wearing perfectly winged eyeliner. The word “radical” is often misplaced in front of it. The idea of feeling that warm glowy feeling when you think about yourself is rather mad. So therefore I will be using the term “self-acceptance”, but I realise I’m splitting hairs at this point so if you want to use “self-love” I won’t come into your house in the middle of the night and pour jelly on your head.
(As an aside: I think this comic has the right idea, but it’s about loving your body so not strictly relevant)
And so, without further ado, why accepting yourself does not mean becoming a terrible feelings-trampler and all-round awful person:
Self-acceptance requires self-awareness
At least, if you’re the kind of person who has to learn self-acceptance it does. Have you ever heard your wonderful friend say “I’m the worst” with no trace of irony, often while they are literally serving you a lovely cup of tea at that exact moment? This is what a lack of self-awareness looks like, folks.
Yes, there are people in the world who will say “I’m the best!” without a trace of irony. They’re not the ones reading articles about self-acceptance. They’re the ones in sales jobs making your entire annual salary each week who feel no guilt about seizing land in order to drill for oil under it. If you’re here, you’re probably so far off from that place that worrying about going there is like me worrying that I will end up with weird skin-flaps when I get down to a size 8*
Self-acceptance, at least as I apply it to myself, looks more like: “Well I do spend my entire income each month, but I also listen to my friends when they call me with a problem and knit a mean sock.” Both the positives and negatives are self-aware statements, but the point is that they both exist, and I’m not just dragging myself down.
*Something I do actually worry about because knowing something and believing it are two different things.
You can love other people without them being perfect
Seriously, how many times have you heard “I love him, but I wish he would do his own washing up”? Yeah, exactly.
Self-acceptance makes you infinitely more useful
Do you have any idea how much energy you are using dragging yourself down? There’s a reason one of the side-effects of depression is fatigue, you know. And when I say you, I mean us, because boy am I tired these days.
I don’t know about you, but when I hate myself I am utterly useless. I roll around on my bed declaring myself literally the worst human of all time, wailing about how I can’t even do the washing up because I’m stupid and useless and ignoring my cat because I just can’t deal with another responsibility that I’m definitely going to screw up. But when I’m in a mood like today’s, I can write a blog post and then put all the cups I’ve been collecting in the dishwasher and give my cat a nice scritch behind the ears before actually going outside. Much better.
You can still improve
You can still say “I want to be a more generous person” without beating yourself up for always taking the last biscuit. Again, if someone you love really needs to do their share of the hoovering, you can 100% ask them to do that without automatically hating them. It’s just getting the knack of saying “well I guess I’m a bit rubbish at that” and then deciding whether you want to get better at the thing.
In fact, I think as a society we need to get better at thinking “this thing is flawed, but still good”. Jeremy Corbyn: our lovely socialist granddad, needs to improve on his attendance and maybe stop being friends with extremists. The NHS: a magical place of free X-rays, needs shorter waiting times and no prescription charges. Me: can write a passable blog post but needs to do it more than once in a blue moon. You: have good taste in blogs but should definitely recommend them to more people.
You should definitely start accepting yourself right now. THIS EXACT SECOND. I’m waiting. Think one good thing about yourself and then one thing you need to improve on. Write them down. Make the good one much bigger and do it in sparkly gel pens.
Now I’m off to put those cups in the dishwasher and be late to a social event. Toodle-pip, Readers!