Learning to Love Your Broken, Injured Self

Learning to love yourself can be a messy, painful business in general, but even more painful and seemingly impossible if you were abused or neglected as a child.  If you grew up in this way, you grew to believe that certain parts of yourself were unlovable, undesirable, even disgusting or dangerous. When you are raised by parents who are unable to see you and love you, or parents who are abusive, you learn to avoid doing anything that incurs wrath or rejection. You bury the parts of yourself that would do those things. If you learned that being angry is frowned upon, you stuff your anger away. If you learn that speaking your mind is cause for rejection, you bite your tongue. You might have been abused or rejected for being smart, not smart enough, too big, too small, too pretty, not pretty enough, not strong enough, too strong, not enough like your family’s definition of a man or a woman, too wild, not wild enough.  It’s an arbitrary list because actual personality traits or behaviors have nothing to do with your worth, but that is what abuse teaches you to believe.

The simple truth is that you were abused or rejected because your parent(s) were abused or rejected themselves.  The abuse was not your fault, but you had no way of knowing that.  You believed that you caused the abuse by being yourself.  You learned to fear and despise those unique qualities that made you who you were were.  You did what you had to do to survive childhood: you rejected the parts of yourself that you believed caused the abuse.  You put all of your energy into growing the parts of yourself that kept you from being abused.   You learned that only some parts of yourself were desirable and that others were abhorrent; that to be loved, you needed to be a certain way other than just yourself.   This is not love, but how as a child were you supposed to know this?

So, how can you learn to love yourself when you have this deep belief that you or parts of yourself are unlovable, even disgusting?  Before you even try, ask yourself if you are ready to turn your entire life and belief system upside down, if you are ready to feel some incredibly scary feelings that challenge any changes you make.  Are you ready to ditch your old road map that, as messed up as it is, gives your world some feeling of sense and direction?  In order to change your belief system about who you are and what you deserve, you are going to have to go through profound discomfort.  All the parts of your self that helped you survive childhood, the bits that shoved down your essential self, are not going to be happy about the changes you make.  Those parts of you existed entirely for the purpose of keeping you safe from harm in your childhood by shoving down the parts of you that got abused.  Big feelings of danger will be triggered when you change that system.

At this point, you might be wondering why you would bother going through all the pain involved in learning to love yourself.  A friend once shared with me a wonderful quote by Anais Nin: “The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”  At some point, the pain of locking all of your scary parts down outweighs the fear of what might happen if you were to make some sort of change.  A big part of you wants to grow and is pushing against that bud that keeps you closed down inside of yourself.  When you reach that point, you are ready because nothing is more painful than the place you are in right now.  Now is the time to get help.  I can’t tell you what your new road map will look like, or how long it will take for you to get to the place where you trust yourself enough to love yourself.  I can tell you that you do not have to figure this out alone, that there are others just like you who are struggling on the same path hoping to find you by conquering their own self-hatred, that the path is not linear and sometimes the only way to know that you are making progress is when your old self starts to scream in fear because it is losing its hold over you, and lastly but most importantly, all of the pain is worth it.

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