Self-love as a lifelong journey

Originally published February 1, 2019

I’ve written a lot about self-love since I started blogging about five years ago. And I’m still writing about it years later, because I’ve learned the work is never done.

When I was 20 I thought I’d gone through my most difficult period of growth, to get to the point of self-love where I didn’t have to be in a relationship to be happy anymore. For little College Chloe (who had been boy-crazy since elementary school), that was a huge victory in itself.

So it came to my surprise at 25, that I still struggled to love myself. I still had an eating disorder and hated how much weight I had gained recently (at least three pants sizes). I had no energy to exercise after working myself ragged at a high-stress job. My anxiety reached its peak with the scrutiny of my work, too. I was also in a long-term relationship and still hadn’t gotten engaged yet (my ovaries are screaming at me to lock it down so I can reproduce, even though my logical brain knows it’s not an issue).

My weight gain, plus general stress and anxiety, made me unhappy with myself — and made me a worse girlfriend, friend, and family member. On top of all that, I was diagnosed with severe depression.

Hadn’t I already gone through my self-love period already? Hadn’t I already struggled enough with personal growth to be better for the rest of my life? How much more did I have to suffer before I stopped hating things about myself?

It took a lot of painful introspection and work on myself in order to get through this period of self-doubt and into a more positive space in life.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned on self-love, struggling in my mid-20s. College Chloe would’ve given you some bubblegum answers like do a face mask, take yourself out to dinner alone, or treat yourself to your favorite guilty pleasure food. Those are all important too, but Grownup Chloe knows self-love is more about tough love and accepting the hard truths.

I wish I could’ve given this advice to a younger version of myself, but at least I can pass this on to whoever might read it. I’m definitely still not done growing — but small changes in my thought patterns and behavior show me I’ve come a long way. And so can you.

Growth is never done.

Sometimes it scares me to think about how even after all the work I’ve done up to this point to heal, new problems will always come up and make me doubt myself. Even if I’ve learned how to love myself at 25, I’ll still have to learn all over again when I hit my 30s, when my body changes from childbirth, when I age, and so on.

But the most rewarding accomplishments of my life have all been about internal growth — so even though I’ll have challenges to face for the rest of my life, this just means I’ll have more opportunities to become a better version of myself, and feel proud about it. It’s hard work being vulnerable and examining our emotional issues, but it’s also satisfying.

Get your ass to therapy. And actually put to practice what you learn there.

It’s difficult enough to start going to therapy, because you have to admit you have problems and that you need help. And it’s a whole other challenge to take to heart what you discover in therapy.

For weeks, I found myself opening up to my therapist, but still avoiding digging deeper. I didn’t want to talk about my childhood, my parents, or my relationship, but those were all areas that needed examining. The more I became comfortable with sharing with my therapist, and the more I took time to think about what came out during our sessions, the more I healed.

I had to stop allowing myself to fall into negative behavior, like getting upset over little things and taking it out on my boyfriend. I had to open up to him and tell him what was bothering me, and talk through these uncomfortable issues, to find my inner peace and be a better partner. I had to have open conversations with my parents about ways I felt they hurt me, even though it was hard for me to say it because I love them.

I know some friends who also go to therapy but haven’t put in the work of changing their behavior. Everyone goes at their own pace, but if you go to therapy, make sure you try at least a little every day to work on your thought process and behavior. It’s hard, but if you practice a little a day, you’ll eventually start to see positive improvements in yourself. It’s worth it!

Sometimes you are the problem.

The hardest thing to admit is that I am actually my own worst problem. I’ve struggled with having a negative attitude and getting irritated too easily. I used to think everyone was just being annoying or mean to me, but I learned through therapy that I was meaner to myself than anyone else.

Through therapy, I learned that when I don’t feel I’m succeeding in life, I don’t think I deserve love from others. From a young age, I tied success with praise and love — when I did well in school or anything else, my parents would tell me they love me; so I’ve tried to be the best at everything to keep earning praise. So now, when I don’t feel like I’m doing a great job at work, with my projects, or generally in life, I automatically think people are mad at me or don’t love me.

But the truth is, people aren’t usually mad at me — I just don’t think I deserve anyone’s love, so I push everyone away even when they do show me love. Once I realized this, and internalized it, it became easier for me to open up to others to receive love, even when I don’t feel good about myself.

I also started practicing more compassion towards myself, which made me more compassionate towards others because I was finally finding inner peace. This is a lot to digest in one post, but I’ll explore this more in my future writing.

Try your best to give love to others, even when it’s hard.

Yes, giving love to others still helps with self-love! For so many years, I’ve hated on other women because I’m jealous of them, and made myself feel bad comparing myself to them. It’s easy to say “stop comparing yourself to others” or “don’t check Instagram,” but you really have to learn how to look at people with love and admiration rather than looking at their beauty as an absence of your own. To quote one of Franceska’s tweets, “trade jealousy for admiration and watch your life get exponentially better.”

Since we started Maga’håga Rising with the intention of bringing young Pacific women together, my life has changed for the better. Lately I’ve been looking at other women as allies, looking for ways to help them grow and help myself grow, rather than as my competition. The world is big enough for many successful, beautiful, talented, and hard-working women to all win and be happy. I can feel the rising female energy in the air. Let’s turn to sharing our power to lift each other up, rather than wasting our time fighting.

Nobody gives a shit about what you’re doing.

This sounds mean at first, but I promise this will set you free. I’ve spent so much energy worrying about what other people think about me. I set these impossible standards for myself, and feel crushed when I inevitably don’t reach them.

Since I was young, I dreamed of this perfect life I’d have when I grew up: I’d meet the love of my life in college, get married soon after we graduate, get a job I’m passionate about and make a lot of money, buy a house, have kids — all before I turned 30!

Dear young Chloe was so ambitious (and so naive). I’ve checked some boxes off my list, but haven’t been able to get everything else quite right. For the past several years, I’ve worked hard to present a perfect version of my life for social media: here’s my lawyer boyfriend! We live in paradise together! I’m a journalist doing rewarding work in my community! I also have plenty of time to spend lounging on the beach in a bikini in an ab-flattering pose!

After reading this post up to this point, you know none of that is true beyond the surface. Not to sound full of myself, but people do tell me they admire me for my work and want to live a life like mine. People are surprised when they find out I’ve been depressed and struggle from mental health issues. Because really, I don’t present myself as a person who has problems most of the time (beyond my honest Instagram captions, but I decided to share less about myself publicly the more I invested in my professional life).

People will often take at face value what your life looks like on social media, and they’re so worried about looking successful that they won’t dig deep enough to see you’re actually struggling. We’re all so concerned with faking it and impressing each other that we don’t notice nobody else’s lives are perfect either.

So just do your thing, and don’t worry about what people will think. Nobody actually knows your life or your struggles, and they’re too focused on their own problems and failures to even care what you’re up to. Take your time figuring it out, because nobody else even really cares. And relieving yourself of that pressure is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself.

– Chloe

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