What is self-love? And why is it so elusive?

I suck at selfies.

The most important relationship you’ll ever have is the one you have with yourself. I know that doesn’t make sense — you’re one person, so how can you have a relationship with yourself?

Well, there’s you. Then there’s that voice in your head that calls you out over mistakes, raises doubts over your abilities and occasionally offers praise. So that’s the relationship I’m talking about.

There’s an idea out there that you have to love yourself in order to love others. It all sounds great, but if you were raised by people who didn’t love themselves it’s pretty darn hard to grow into an adult who is confident and self-assured. I’m working on it, but that self-critical voice is always in my head. And it’s this kind of mental game that can affect your physical and mental health.

Some people find religion helps with the loving themselves, because if God loves them, they must be lovable. My mom went to church every week, but she kept her beliefs around it to herself. I think her relationship with God helped her with feelings about her worthiness. She never brought up God outside of church. She kept that relationship private.

I think having pets over the years has helped me to feel loved. If you have a dog, you’re loved. No question. And they know you love them, even if you don’t say it regularly. A few months ago, I got this crazy idea that I needed to tell my dog that I loved her, and was surprised that the words brought tears to my eyes. Those feelings are in there, I just need to stop being afraid of them.

I keep forgetting Gemma’s age. I’m reminded by Facebook that she’s now 13. I got her from a shelter when she was two, and had just had a litter. That memory lapse about her age is a deliberate attempt to avoid the fact that most of my dogs have died at or around the age of 12. I can’t even imagine waking in the night and not hearing her soft snores. We often sigh at exactly the same time. I’m not sure which one of is sensing it from the other.

So we can use surrogates like pets to love us. Isn’t that good enough? Maybe, just maybe, I’m not being truthful with myself when I insist I haven’t demonstrated that love for myself in many ways. I wrote a memoir because I felt my story should be shared in the event emotional diabetes actually exists. I’m writing this blog because some inner urge propels me to get words onto the screen that might mean something to others. It really takes a lot of guts to, well, spill your guts on the internet. If I felt worthless, I wouldn’t bother.

A day or two after I publish a post, I often find typos and brain farts. I’m thankful that fixes can be done quickly and easily, unlike my old job writing for a newspaper. Back then, errors were corrected on page 2 of the next edition. They were highly embarrassing.

I don’t worry too much these days about little boo-boos creeping in. They’re inevitable, part of the creative process. My readers will understand what I am trying to say.

I’ve come a long way over the last while on not beating myself up over silly mistakes. I no longer feel nauseous, suffer from horrendous headaches or dive into a bottle of liquor to numb the shame. I don’t want to torture myself anymore over being human. Every flawed human is worthy of love.

If you don’t feel you love yourself, get a dog. They’ll remind you every day that you’re more than worthy of love. Even if you don’t feel it, trust them to tell you the truth.

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