by MAGGIE SPAETH '23
It can be emotionally draining to go through high school with many set standards and expectations. With the stress of school, sports, extracurriculars and friends, we can oftentimes forget to focus on ourselves. Self love and acceptance is incredibly important for our individual growth as we prepare to enter new chapters of our lives.
For many the concept of self-love is considered more of a luxury that can only be obtained if you have free time. Ironically, however, self-love is extremely necessary for those who work “too hard” and are constantly striving towards perfection. Perfection is the true enemy of our brain. There is this idea that it is something attainable. The constant drive to do everything flawlessly is praised. However, when we’re driven by the desire to do everything right, we are ultimately more prone to self-criticism. Being controlled by a voice that tells us what we’re doing or who we are isn’t enough enough is the true killer of self-love.
The first step to defeating the parasite of perfection is acknowledging how damaging it is. It eats at our recognition of self-worth, stripping us of the happiness to which we are entitled. “When you’ve spent years cultivating this inner bully, you develop an unconscious reflex to put yourself down for every minor thing, no matter how ridiculous or absurd” (Sandoui, Why Self-Love is Important and How to Cultivate It).
It is essential to recognize that self-love can be learned. It starts with being kind to yourself. When you’re suffering or stressed, being understanding and compassionate towards yourself and your situation can help relieve you from the self-criticism that arises in these situations. This, however, requires practice. Luckily there are many mindfulness exercises that can build this skill.
For example, when you find yourself panicked or stressed, start to focus on your environment - where you are, how you’re positioned, what you smell, hear, taste. By acknowledging your surroundings, your brain begins to slow your racing thoughts. Place a major focus on your breath. Take deep breaths and fully experience the inhale and the exhale.
Meditations are also amazing for calming stress. It doesn't require a 30 minute session of pure silence in a serene setting, meditations can be a simple 5 minutes to check in on your emotions and how you’re doing mentally in that moment.
Another great way is journaling. Writing down things you like about yourself or that you are grateful for forces your brain to focus on the positives rather than the negatives.
However sometimes it’s not just you that's holding yourself back. Toxic relationships or friendships degrade your feeling of self-worth. It is essential to be mindful about who you are around and how they make you feel. When you begin to notice a behavior that makes you uncomfortable or hurt, speak up about it. Set healthy boundaries and don’t be afraid to enforce them. If the behavior continues, understand that it is for the better to step back and take a break. Your energy and time is valuable and it only hurts you if you waste it on people who don’t recognize that. Surround yourself with people who make you feel heard and loved.
Don’t forget how worthy and amazing you are and continue to be kind to yourself because you are deserving of happiness.