Updated: Dec 6, 2020
Michelle sat back in her chair with her eyes downcast and a despondent look on her face. “I just feel so lonely,” she shared. “Even when I am in a room full of people, I feel so different and alone.”
Michelle yearned to connect with others, to feel wanted, loved, and accepted. These are basic desires; in fact, love and belonging are a part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which reflects the universal needs of society.
From infancy forward, humans take in messages from those around us, our caregivers, loved ones, peers, acquaintances. The responses we receive are accepted as messages reflecting our self-worth, value, and how we perceive ourselves as individuals.
Exploring Michelle’s history revealed a picture many may be familiar with.
“I was always trying to do things that would please my mom. If I watched the baby, she asked why the dishes weren’t done. If I made my bed, she asked why the laundry wasn’t put away. I felt that nothing I did was good enough.”
Michelle was ‘the good girl’, or ‘the caretaker’, there to solve and fix family emotions problems, but her own needs were rarely, if ever, addressed.
To feel safe, Michelle engaged in habits to try and stay in the family’s good graces. “I was constantly helping, acting kind and cheerful even when I felt sad or depleted. I could never say how I was really feeling”.
As she got older, Michelle felt a general sense of dissatisfaction. She described feeling ‘different’ than others, and suffered from a lack of self esteem. Her relationships were not as deep and satisfying as she wished for them to be. Michelle felt that she needed to please others constantly and was not being seen for herself as an individual.
Feeling lonely and unworthy, as well as fears of being accepted, loved and valued for oneself, is a common feeling. Constantly being inundated with glamorous and glitzy social media posts, or comparing oneself to others in any way, only reinforces negative self thoughts about being the only one struggling with these feelings and fears.
The reality is that we hold the keys to our influence on ourselves, inside of ourselves. A good portion of the healing work comes from recognizing fears that contribute to a negative internal narrative. Using the powerful tool of self-love can move one towards the coveted healthy self esteem and relationships.
Self love is recognizing that one has inherent value and worthiness that is not dependent on any specific type of action or behavior. The journey begins with self awareness, eventually getting to a place of self acceptance, and culminates in self love. It is truly a process and for many, a struggle. It is not easy to undertake the process of rewiring internal dialogue. A supportive friend, family member, or therapist can be a valuable resource while working towards self love.
There are several layers within Michelle’s story that would be beneficial to process within a therapeutic setting. As she began her healing process, Michelle learned about and discovered her inherent value. She worked hard at making it a practice to speak kindly to herself and banish her inner critique. Michelle was inspired to be encouraging and forgiving and accepting towards herself. She found ways to nourish herself and gave herself permission to enjoy having fun, relaxing and cultivating hobbies, without feeling guilty or unworthy. Working with a trusted therapist gave Michelle the tools she needed to uncover, accept, and appreciate her own innate value.
There are moments, or days, when it may seem that it is impossible to love oneself. As a therapist, I often remind my clients that growth is not linear. It is expected that there will be ups and downs. This doesn’t mean that growth and healing isn’t happening; it is simply a normal part of changing a long ingrained habit or way of thinking. Self love is an ongoing process; it takes constant practice to stay in a state of wellness, but as with all positive change, it is well worth the effort.