“I love you.” That’s what I have to say to myself in the mirror on a regular basis. It’s a technique for developing self esteem that my last therapist taught me and I think it is a powerful spiritual practice as well.
I hated myself for years and years. Internalized homophobia it’s called. It was painful. I dulled the pain with barrels of booze and truckloads of drugs but even that wasn’t enough. What I really wanted was to kill myself. Even after I began the process of coming out that self loathing was still very strong within me.
But the self hatred was just a way of thinking and like all habits I found it could be broken and replaced with new ones.
I will never forget the first day I started the “I Love You” practice. It was really awkward. I felt like someone was pressing their ear up to the bathroom door, listening to me whisper to myself.
“That’s it, I’ve really lost it,” I thought.
But it didn’t take too long to stop worrying if I was crazy or not. After awhile it even started to feel so good that it wouldn’t have mattered if there were a thousand people on the other side of that door pointing their fingers and laughing hysterically.
I did this practice almost everyday for three months. What was the result? For the first time in my life I started to actually like myself. I eased up on the old habits of critizing my every thought and action. I became my own best friend and even started to enjoy my own company.
I know, this all sounds terribly self centered, narcissistic even. But it’s not. As I found a sense of ease within myself, I found I was better able to pay attention to the needs and wants of all the people around me. I didn’t become suddenly perfect and saintly; when push came to shove my needs were still number one. But I think that’s where I began to open up to the idea that other people were at least (almost) as important as I was.
Today I still do the “I Love You” practice from time to time. I should probably do it more. Yesterday I caught the old self rising up, criticizing too much, trying to reassert control. Old habits can be changed. It just takes a long time.
You can try this practice for yourself if you like. You don’t even have to be a recovering addict or anything like that. It’s just a nice thing to do for yourself, probably better than treating yourself to ice cream or a massage.
Go ahead. Look into the mirror today. Look yourself right in the eyes. Be kind to yourself and say it like you mean it: I Love You!
I promise you deserve it.