For a long time, almost as long as I can remember, I've been so ashamed of myself. At different times, this shame has been caused by various things - my grades, my weight, my inability to finish things, the gap between my two front teeth. But the one constant has always been the incredibly overwhelming feeling that I'm just not good enough, that I have to hide who I really am lest everyone I love (and everyone I don't) rejects me. And some of the time, the person I'm really hiding from is myself.
Social media makes it easier to do this, of course. When I scroll through my own Instagram feed or Facebook timeline, I don't see someone who is scared, lonely, and ashamed of herself. I see a person who seeks beauty and enjoys the everyday experiences of her life. The fact of the matter is that all of those things are parts of me, but the knowledge that I have deep, meaningful flaws has always kept me from truly loving who I am.
I've had my fair share of struggles, but this has been the longest and most difficult for me to overcome. I spend so much time with my shame that I miss out on beautiful opportunities. I know it doesn't make sense to let my vulnerability keep me from being vulnerable, and yet my mind persists in its relentless persecution of my inner self.
But somewhere along the way, a little at a time, the strong, beautiful, loving, kind, compassionate part of who I am found her voice. And that is the part of me that realized that giving in to my insecurities and allowing them to rule my life was a grave mistake, one that was limiting the person I could be if I set myself free from those chains. This isn't an easy journey, but it is an important one.
Ironically, I tend to be very accepting of other people's flaws. Qualities I agonize over in myself seem like no big deal in a friend or family member. The first step to self-acceptance for me has been turning that forgiving instinct back on myself. When I start to criticize myself, I ask how I would react if a close friend had made the same mistake, and I incorporate that dialogue into my inner conversation. It usually feels stilted, forced, and inauthentic, but I know that if I keep practicing it will become second nature, or something like it.
As a result, I frequently find myself correcting bad thoughts. When I say to myself, "That was stupid!" I amend it with "Actually, that was a mistake anyone could have made, and now I just need to fix the problem." Sometimes this makes me feel silly, like a child being chastised for taunting his school friends, but it works. I don't bully myself nearly as much as I used to. Not dwelling on my own failures has freed up energy for me to make real progress in overcoming them.
This kind of positive self-talk has increased my sense of respect for myself. I stand up for myself now, and I am almost always willing to go to bat on my own behalf. This doesn't mean I am unwilling to accept constructive criticism from myself or anyone else; it simply means that I can use that information to improve rather than watching the floor fall out from my thinly-constructed sense of self-worth time and time again. These improvements lead me to respect myself even more, which further solidifies the foundation I am building.
It's taken me a long time to get to this point. I've been working on these steps for years, and I'm still nowhere near perfect. I mess up all the time, but to my own surprise, I always land on my feet (even if I stumble a lot at first). I've learned that it's never too late to do better, and that I can use my failures as lessons - building blocks that help me forge a path to the person I know I can be.
All of this has made me more comfortable with taking risks in my life. Failing so many times, and so often, has taught me what it feels like to fall down. It's a familiar sensation, one that makes the scars from my old wounds throb a little every time it happens. But instead of avoiding the fall, now I feel confident that I will survive it, and that makes me less afraid. Before I started this journey, I was so fearful of revealing my true self and exposing myself as a fraud or a novice or just a failure that I kept safely inside my comfort zone. Learning how to experience my life without judgment helps me grow faster and better than I ever have before. Not everything I try works out, and that means I spend a lot of my time on the ground. But having the courage to get back up and try again means I'm flying a fair amount, too, and the rise is what makes life worth living.
I know this isn't the end of my journey. When I am ready, the next step will reveal itself and I'll keep walking on. But if you're suffering like I have for so many years, I hope you'll put your shoes on and start down this path with me. I want you to realize what a wonderful person you are, how much you have to offer, and how your perception of yourself can limit what you are able to achieve. You have real value, and you are worthy of love and acceptance - especially from yourself. It's a difficult journey, but a meaningful one. And just like most of the best things in life, it all starts with a little bit of kindness.