Raise your hand if you have ever been unfairly judged. Now, raise your hand if you have ever unfairly judged someone else? Raise your hand one more time if you have ever judged yourself unfairly.
You paused for a split second and had to think about that last one, didn’t you? Because whether we are being judged or doing the judging, it’s mean. When we are talking about ourselves, the lines are blurrier, but in the end, we are still just being mean.
I was bullied in high school like no one’s business. I was a cheerleader with a gigantic nose that earned me the moniker ‘The Bird.’ I was verbally tortured at school by a group of football players. One day, after losing a game, the team and cheerleaders loaded the bus to head home. Sore about the loss, the boys began to chant at me, “Kill the bird! Kill the bird!” The cheerleaders joined in, too. The chant lasted a few minutes; the bullying lasted all year long.
I was inconsolable, so my mom made me an appointment with a plastic surgeon. That summer, at fifteen years old, I had a life-altering surgery for the sole purpose of stopping kids from being mean to me. The surgery went ok, but the bullying continued.
That experience taught me that bullies have all the power, the only way to fit in was to change everything about myself, and hating myself was a good defensive strategy.
I don’t want to brag, but I became an expert at self-loathing. No one was meaner to me than me for the next few decades. I chased perfection like it was my job and looking back I can tell you with confidence that what I did to myself was way worse than what those kids in high school did to me.
Then I met Jesus and with him, I began to reverse the damage. There was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in the process, and I’m not just talking about me. (See: Jesus.) An overnight cure, though nice, would have robbed me of the chance to learn how to love myself authentically. Jesus showed me the way, but I had to do the work.
I think we all have a little self-loathing inside that wants to bully us around. It tells us we aren’t good enough, smart enough, talented enough, loved enough, strong enough, and more. It holds us back from being the best version of ourselves, which affects everyone around us, including the ones we love. It keeps us from boldly pursuing God’s good plan for our lives, which is disobedient and disappointing.
The solution is to learn how to love ourselves. It seems simple, but it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. I’ve tried and failed a million ways, but my big breakthrough came from a technique my counselor taught me. She’d ask me, “If your daughter said those things about herself, what would you tell her?”
Easy. I’d tell her the truth. She is beautiful, smart, funny, talented, and kind. I would remind her that she is a child of God and in his eyes she’s wonderful. I would tell her she deserves to be treated with respect and grace and anyone who disagrees could take a long walk off a short pier. Then I would tell her how much I love her.
Then, annoyingly, my counselor would ask me to say those things to myself. (Insert dramatic sigh here.)
It doesn’t make sense to believe all the beautiful things about other women and exclude myself. Not to mention that it’s a bit like telling God to his face that you were his first big screw up. Do you want to tell the creator of the universe that he sucks? Me neither.
I’m learning to treat myself kindly, give myself grace, and remind myself that God loves me. It’s hard but it’s important for me, my daughters, you, your daughters, our moms and sisters and best friends, and women everywhere. We will love them best when we first love ourselves.
Friends, we can do hard things! The next time you notice you are beating yourself up, imagine someone you love just said the same thing about themselves. What would you tell them? Now tell it to yourself.
Now when my inner bully shows up, I visualize an ugly little troll, and I imagine kicking it in the face like a gangster. I’m all, “Not today, Satan. I don’t play that game anymore.” I can shake off the lies because I’ve learned to internalize the truth about who I am according to God and me alone. That is what it looks like to love myself. And it feels like freedom.