We circulate memes and hashtags shouting its concept. We advise our friends to practice it in the midst of stormy breakups and career setbacks. Its mantra appears on candles, totes and t-shirts—oftentimes landing like manufactured self-help hoopla. Such a fundamental concept is loving oneself, perhaps, but oftentimes so furiously misunderstood. We may preach the art of it to each other, but do we know where the truth of it exists?
We’re told to dip our flesh into a relaxing bath. To curl up with a romantic comedy that will pitch us a dream of a happier tomorrow. We do the yoga poses, and buy the rose quartz, and fill our bedside tables with self-help books that promise to hold the answers. We boast about falling in love with the sound of our heels walking away from the things that no longer serve us. While those are action steps often born from showing love to oneself, none of them hold the key to unlocking its beginning. And though a lack of self-love often manifests across a spectrum of self-sabotaging behaviors—from slave-driving perfectionism to dangerous addictions, it’s mostly all the same on the inside. It’s the hope that something external will fill a well that only one can fill themselves.
Imagine having lost your car keys inside of your home somewhere, yet you can’t stop hoping that they’ll turn up on your lawn. You shiver at the thought of disrupting the piles of junk in your bedroom or closet. Those rooms offer chilling evidence of past experiences you’re not yet brave enough to scrape through. So you distract yourself by embarking on an external search mission, subconsciously knowing it will render you fruitless. Still, you hope you’ll eventually find what you’re looking for. But this never works for long, if at all.
So, then, where does the realization of self-love begin?
It starts with honoring your role as a worthy participant in this life. It’s about not allowing that toxic person’s episode of self-projection to shrink you or trigger you—because you’re stronger in what you know about yourself than what others may think they know about you. It’s living from a core belief that you are deserving of compassion, of growing wildly through your mistakes, of confidently sharing your gifts with the world. This includes the parts of yourself that house the skeletons you’re still working through.
Ahead are 12 clues that you need to do exactly that—by yourself and for yourself.
#1 When someone seems cold toward you or angry with you, you worry feverishly about how to remedy it. This occurs even when you believe you did nothing wrong. Your stomach feels sick, you are desperate to fix it, and often martyr yourself in an effort to get back into their good graces.
#2 You change who you are to match a love interest. Whether taking on their musical taste, language, style, or political views, you morph yourself into a model of your partner. This means you betray the truth of yourself in hopes of the possibility of being accepted and loved.
#3 You withhold something that gnaws at you or hurts you, even though you’re dying to have a conversation about it. You fear rattling the cage of a person who is easily angered or offended.
#4 Abusers, con artists and narcissists are drawn to you like a gravitational pull. These people either mangle your heart before running away with it, or wish to take possession over you. Regardless, they always seem to smother or spit upon your sense of self. They are masterful at findings ways to manipulate, punish or villainize you, and you keep letting them do it.
#5 You don’t dare make decisions alone because you don’t trust yourself. That little black dress for your birthday party? Text all of your girlfriends and gather their opinions. That draft of a response to your crush’s text message? You wouldn’t dare send it without a confidant’s approval. The email from a potential new employer? Roll out the polls yet again! “What should I do?”—that is the proverbial question, because you shiver within your own lonesome knowingness.
#6 You sabotage things for your future self, or are dishonoring of who you’re trying to become. This could mean chronically procrastinating on the big opportunity that you’ll eventually have to live with the regret of abandoning, or starting emotional firestorms that will burn you days, weeks or months into the future.
#7 If your internal dialogue were given a megaphone, others would be mortified by what they heard. You may say scathing things about your own reflection. You may beat yourself up for that typo you made in a company email, or the joke you tried to deliver flawlessly, but that bombed horribly.
#8 You’re addicted to validation. Confidence only finds you when others are noticing you, complimenting you and showering you with praise. You may feel depressed, invisible or worthless when they fail to.
#9 You’re arrogant and boastful—constantly trying to sell yourself to others. In reality, you’re just trying to convince yourself of your own awesomeness. This is because arrogance is confidence’s opponent; it derives from a place of fear that hisses at you to be more and prove more.
#10 Another person’s criticism of you lands like a shot straight in the heart. You allow others to define who you are by their measly, and oftentimes inaccurate, opinion of you.
#11 It feels like you’re never attractive enough, cool enough, or talented enough to reach for the things you badly want. This causes you to not reach for many of them at all. You may suffer from imposter syndrome in nearly every area of your life—always worrying that, no matter how hard you studied for that exam, or advanced in your skill level, you’re still a fraud.
#12 Every rejection follows you around like a phantom. Whether it’s landing the role or being offered the job, you can’t handle not batting 1,000. It may haunt you for days or weeks—into your brain chatter, into the shower, into your dreams.