Anyone can learn to love himself, no matter how filled with self-loathing he may be. I can't believe any gay person could hate himself more than I did when I was in my late teens and twenties (even though I suppose it's possible). So if I can turn that around, I sincerely believe anyone can, including you. I know firsthand how easy getting stuck in specific behavior patterns is, as well as how difficult figuring out what to do and where to start are. This series of posts, reprised from January 2011, will provide specific suggestions on actions you can take, starting today.
As human beings, we are meant to change; it's something we do continuously throughout our lives. A lot of change happens to us automatically, as a matter of course, through the aging and maturing process, usually as a result of something that takes place in our physical environment. But sometimes, we need to be proactive about change, rather than wait for it to take place naturally. And, believe me, if ever there was a time to be proactive and change, it's now–to improve your self-esteem and the love you have for yourself.
Before I go further, I have a responsibility to mention therapy or counselling could be extremely helpful, if for no reason than to give you a safe place to talk to a qualified professional, which, from my own experience, provides tremendous relief from holding in too much stuff for too long, and allows for cleansing and a fresh start. If you can afford therapy or counselling, or if a limited number of sessions are paid for through personnel benefits at your workplace (even just five, which is all I've had), I encourage you to make arrangements right away. You won't regret it.
But therapy and counselling are only as helpful as the effort, honesty, and commitment you put into them. If you are not yet ready to open up, to reveal your deepest, darkest secrets, to get to the root cause of why you do some of the things you do, and to work hard on implementing alternative behaviors, then therapy and counselling will have limited value. Just like everything, it's all up to you.
Finally, I hasten to add, I attended no therapy or counselling sessions to learn how to improve my self-esteem, to begin the journey to love myself. Not one. What I did over the years was on my own, and, for that reason, I know the steps I took worked (and they can work for you, too). When the time was right for me--that is, when I had been miserable long enough, and when I knew I'd come to the end of showing up in my life filled with the self-loathing that had defined me for so long--I began to read a lot of self-help books, to watch TV programs I hoped would help, and to do some serious reflecting and soul-searching.
What I offer here and in this series (because it's too long for a single post) is a list of the simple and specific steps I took to improve my self-esteem as a gay man (by the way, they will work for anyone trying to improve his self-esteem, not just gay men). I promise you, if you really want to change, you can. Ultimately, only you can do this; no one can make you love yourself.
Your first priority should always be you, ensuring you're the best you can be for yourself and for everyone in your life who's important to you. The only way you can do that is to recognize the intrinsic value you have as a human being, and to learn to love yourself as every one of us rightfully should, no matter our sexual orientation.
Step 1: Recognize the Problem and the Need to Change
First and foremost, you must recognize you have a problem with your self-esteem, and that you need to change, or improve, it. Why did I take so long to do anything about my own low self-esteem? Initially, because I didn't think I had a problem. I'd been filled with self-loathing for so long, I didn't know anything else. Hating myself had become a habit, a natural way of being, and I just thought that's how it would always be.
And the more reading I did, the more TV shows I watched where self-esteem was the subject, and the more I talked to people I knew, the more low self-esteem I saw. Everyone seemed to be in the same situation, for one reason or another, which seemed to make how I felt about myself all right. I mean, if I felt the same way about myself as everyone seemed to feel about themselves, didn't that mean nothing was wrong with me, after all? That having low self-esteem was simply the way it was for everyone? Did I have the right to think better about myself than other people felt about themselves?
You bet I did. That's what started me thinking. Either feeling badly about ourselves was simply a part of the human experience on earth, and nothing could be done about it, or we had a monumental problem on our hands. I used to look at the people around me, who I thought were attractive and funny and compassionate--who appeared to have everything going for them--yet, surprisingly, they always seemed to find one reason or another to feel insecure, resulting in low self-esteem. What was going on? How could this be? If they didn't love themselves, what chance did I have to love myself?
Regardless of how many unhappy people are in the world, I knew I couldn't keep travelling on the same path because I couldn't stand myself or my life. I couldn't stand feeling like I was stuck, like a huge weight was keeping me in the same place, like I'd never get myself out from under it and really start to live, the way I was meant to. I chose to believe low self-esteem is an epidemic in North America (maybe even the world), we could do something about it if we really wanted to, and I wasn't meant to hate myself, no matter the reason.
In other words, I recognized my problem and the need to change it. I was in my early thirties (twenty years ago), and, for the first time in my life, I knew something was wrong, and only I could do something about it.
But what? And where should I start? I had no idea.
Stay tuned for Step #2: Live Consciously