“And even when no one is looking, love yourself.” – Alex Elle

I shared this quote on my 21st birthday; I declared that being 21 was going to be about me and loving myself independently of anyone else. And I meant it. It’s difficult to love and care about yourself when you feel like other people don’t feel that way about you. It’s very easy to get caught up in this “why don’t they love me as much as I love them?” way of thinking, and thinking things like that makes it so, so hard to focus on yourself. I struggle because I crave external validation, and as often as I say this jokingly, it’s true. I want people to like me and I spend a lot of time concerned about that. I don’t spend nearly enough time trying to like myself.

Valentine’s Day was this past week, and I approached the day with trepidation: I expected to feel pretty crappy. I’d been feeling depressed the last few weeks as it is, and I really didn’t want a full day devoted to a subject I’m still feeling a bit bitter about. I expected to feel sad for what I’ve lost and jealous of what others have. But, surprisingly, that wasn’t the case. I was in a great mood and I felt genuinely happy and excited about all the love I was feeling: for my friends and family, and for myself.

It sounds like such a simple thing to do: love yourself. And yet, it is one of the most difficult goals I have set for myself this year. And it’s not because I hate myself or think myself a bad person. I just find myself slipping into this negative pattern of thinking where I assume fault for things I have no control over, or I ruminate on past events and try to think of a million different ways I could have handled a certain situation better. Or I focus so much on making sure other people like me that I don’t stop to take care of myself. I am very good at taking care of other people (this is one of my favorite qualities about myself), but I often use that as a distraction or an excuse to stop myself from taking care of me.

It’s a thin line: where does self-love become selfishness? And where does generosity become self-sacrifice? For me, it’s so hard to find that middle ground. And I would rather be perceived as a pushover than as self-absorbed, so I lean far too heavily on the self-sacrificing side of the scale. And I know I do this, I can tell when I am doing this, and I still struggle with stopping myself.

I think I’m learning a lot about myself and those around me as I contemplate these questions every day. I think I’m getting better at loving myself and loving others and balancing the two so that they can coexist without destroying each other. It isn’t easy, but I have really good days (like Valentine’s Day), and that gives me hope that I’ll figure it all out.

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