Years ago, I found myself sitting on the couch opposite of my therapist on a Tuesday afternoon. Normally, she would simply start by saying “update me” as I would try to tell her nutshell versions of the melodramas that had happened in my life in just the short week since I’ve seen her, and she would scribble in my chart as fast as she could trying to keep up. This time as she was taking her seat in her chair she held eye contact with me for an uncomfortable amount of time and flashed me one of her half smiles. Finally after a few seconds of silence she asked me, “Can you start the session off by listing all the things that you love?” I rolled my eyes immediately thinking to myself that she already knew a lengthy list of the things I loved. She had been my therapist for about a year. I started to ramble off typical, non-surprising things ranging from my parents and dog to the Purdue Boilermakers and carbs. About a minute in I started to slow in speed as I couldn’t think of anything new. To make sure I was done she said, “I am sure there are a few smaller things you left off the list, but can you think of anything big you may have missed?” I rattled my brain…I said family, friends, dog…etc. already. “No,” I responded still a little annoyed, “Think I said everything big.” She stared at me with a look of pity on her face, which only escalated my irritation with this whole exercise. “Jess,” she said finally after about 20 seconds of what seemed like judgmental staring, “You never listed yourself.”
I scoffed at her and cocked my head to the side. “After everything you know about my story and the people that have played a part in it how could you have expected me to list myself.” Yeah, I was full of dramatics in my early twenties. Did I mention I really didn’t want to be in therapy? Kudos to my therapist for seeing past my attitude.
I realize that some of you reading this didn’t notice that I left myself out of that list. On the other hand, some of you may have noticed that I didn’t list myself when naming all the things that I love, but you didn’t think it was such a big deal. Let me tell you right now, it was a tremendous deal. Long story short, I was coming out of a relationship that impacted me negatively more than I could fathom at that moment. Turns out being in love with an emotionally-abusive narcissist for four years can do a number on you no matter how stable you were before they walked into your life or how good your childhood was. Once you allow someone to have that sort of an impact on your life they can strip away every piece of self-worth you managed to muster up in the years before you even knew their name. His attacks were mostly aimed at my intellect, but he made sure I questioned myself physically as well. That is what I was hinting at when I told my therapist she should have known I wasn’t even going to think of naming myself in a list of things I love. Listing myself never even crossed my mind.
I clawed and crawled myself out of the hole he put me in during our relationship. I’ve learned to love myself eventually, but it was anything but easy. Any time a man started to treat me well I’d respond with maliciousness to test his loyalty, subconsciously try to entice him to treat me poorly because that was how I was comfortable with being treated in relationships, or even because I was bored and wanted to start a fight. I became similar to my ex in my relationships that followed just to ensure myself I wouldn’t be suppressed and controlled in this relationship like I was in the past.
I really don’t have an exact “ah ha!” moment to tell you about when I realized my problem was I didn’t love myself enough and decided to try and piece together some self-worth. I think that is because loving myself didn’t happen overnight for me. It happened within the little moments where I would wake up in the morning, rearrange my plans and postpone my to-do list, so I could drive out to Turkey Run State Park for the day and go hiking for some much needed relaxation. Or moments where I truly realized I enjoyed my own company like when no one close to me was interested to go see LeBron James take on the Indianapolis Pacers, so I decided to buy myself a ticket and go anyways and surprisingly enough — had a blast. Slowly but surely I was learning to love myself louder than the demons he left in me roared. I was able to finally grasp that my own cup had to be overflowing before I could pour energy onto others. It isn’t always easy to be open about how much you love yourself. It can almost be seen as controversial since our culture profits off of our self-doubts. I know those of you reading this already know the benefits that can come from loving yourself, so I am not going to bore you with all the positive aspects I have noticed in my life since I began to love myself. Just know that it is worth it. You are worth fighting for. You are worth loving. Say those things to yourself repeatedly each day until you believe them if you have to. Just take the first step. Let yourself be at such a height that any negativity someone may throw your way cannot even reach you. I promise you; it is worth the struggle.