During our bouts with depression I am sure many of us have heard lots of advice from well meaning friends and family. We have all been told to "Just snap out of it" or pick ourselves up from our bootstraps. My response to such platitudes has always been, "If it were only that easy I would have done it by now" Such clichÃ©s often make the recipient feel worse as in "I am a failure because I am depressed and now I feel all the more a failure because I can't snap out of it."
Another well intentioned phrase which I have always felt may be included in such worthless platitudes is "Love yourself." I have heard this from friends during some of my depressive episodes and I will tell you how I translated this advice from my depressive state:
Well meaning friend or loved one:"You need to love yourself."
My translation of what the person is saying to me: "You are depressed so obviously you must hate yourself. Therefore you are too dumb to know to do the opposite, love yourself. You have no self esteem or self worth so I have to tell you to get some. However, I am not going to tell you how to do this. See ya!"
I have always viewed it as somewhat of a rejection when someone tells me I need to love myself. It is like they are saying, "You go over there, love yourself and get well. Then you can come back and maybe someone will love you back." It feels like a pushing away to me. It can be translated as yet another way to say to pick yourself up by the bootstraps. Or if I think about this in a non-emotional way, it is one of those psychobabble sayings from many of the self help books.
Love yourself? What does this mean? Is it more than just psychological masturbation?
In pondering this phrase over the years I have come to my own working definition of what these words do and do not mean. If it is to have any useful application we need to define it more precisely. I hoping you can help me with this. The following are my personal guidelines for "loving yourself."
What loving yourself does not mean"
- To love yourself doesn't mean you take up being a hermit and expect to fill all your emotional needs on your own. You do need other people. It is more than okay to want other people to love you.
- It doesn't mean that you become a narcissist and inflate your ego. When have we ever heard the phrase, "She really loves herself" in a good connotation? We immediately think the person is a jerk who doesn't think their own poo stinks. Loving yourself has nothing to do with becoming a self centered ego maniac.
- Loving yourself has very little to do with self help book gurus telling you to stand in front of the mirror and have some cathartic tearful moment where you embrace yourself and recite positive affirmations to your reflection.
A more practical, precise, and useful definition for loving yourself:
- Loving yourself means that you are not a doormat. You have respect for yourself and demand and expect to be treated in ways which do not demean you. You do not allow yourself to play a victim role and you stand up for yourself when necessary.
- Loving yourself can mean that you are kind to yourself mentally and physically. This means that you don't replay your failures or mistakes in your head. It means you are not verbally abusive to yourself in your thoughts. You also remember to take care of your physical needs for rest, exercise, and eating healthy.
- Loving yourself means that you accept that you will never be perfect. It means that you forgive yourself for mistakes and you don't declare yourself a loser because you are having a hard time. It also means you understand that you are a work in progress and not some prize outcome.
- Loving yourself means that you take note of your successes in being able to survive another day with depression. Loving yourself means you take in the good things people say and feel grateful instead of doubt. Loving yourself is accepting that you are strong and you are worthy even during your darkest hour.
I think instead of saying, "Go love yourself" it might be more helpful for the loved one or friend to say these three things:
- You are loved. I care about you. I am here for you.
- You are loveable despite your depression.
- You can feel good about yourself because you are good. You are worthy. Here are all the good things I see in you. How can I help you to see them too?
Of course we would like your thoughts on this topic. How do you feel when someone advises you to just "love yourself"? What does this phrase mean to you? How can we make this advice useful? Thank you for all who participate in our discussion. We could not do this without you.