Finding contentment, not love


Beautiful young woman with calm expression adjusting her hair while sitting in bed with Christmas theme decorations and tree behind her

Saly Seye

I dislike myself.
A lot of people probably share the same sentiments. Too many of us, particularly women, are insanely mean to ourselves. We scorn ourselves down to the core, criticizing every piece of our personalities. I know I do, and I know I’m not alone.
People – the ones other than ourselves – are temporary. Hating someone other than myself is much easier to deal with because eventually that person will go away. Whether it be a switched class, a new lunch spot or even going into a different room, there is always a way to rid myself from the presence of someone else.
Unfortunately I can’t just run away from the person I call ‘me.’ I’m stuck with myself, which makes it perplexing that I am the person I’ve chosen to torment.
Maybe it’s easier to put myself down because no one else has access to my thoughts. The words I speak out loud? Those aren’t just mine: they become open to interpretation and criticism. But the ones that no one hears, the ones only I have access to are the ones I have complete autonomy over. I can’t always do what I want, I shouldn’t always say what I want, but I can think whatever I please. I am always with myself, and that makes it easier to completely slash my own self-esteem whenever I want.
I would never speak to my friends or my family the way I speak to myself. I could never tell my 12-year-old brother he’s worthless. I cannot imagine telling any of my beautiful best friends they are hideous, or how they don’t deserve to eat. I would feel like a monster if I told my intelligent, capable mother she will never find success.
Yet, I tell those exact same things, usually worse, to myself.
When asked about my own positive qualities, I often come up empty. Sometimes, I’m in such a terrible state of mind that I literally cannot think of one thing I like about myself. But most of the time, I actively shoot myself down. I’m scared to inflate my own ego by simply highlighting my strengths.
I could call myself friendly if I hadn’t snapped at a classmate last week. How can I say I’m easy to work with when, last year, I shouted at a group member a little too loudly for not pulling their weight? I might be sort of nice, but not as nice as the girl who sits next to me in biology. What if I tell a teacher I think I’m competent, and they look at me and laugh? I’m egotistical for even thinking I could have any redeeming qualities. I’m an idiot. I’m terrible at everything, and I’m a dreadful person.
I’ve always confused the act of self-acceptance with the act of becoming an egoist. In my mind the two existed on a spectrum, with self-loathing on one end and arrogance on the other. I was supposed to shed my ego completely, retaining some elements of self-hate but calling them humility. That would magically push me toward this magical medium where I’m happy with who I am.
Maybe that works for others. Who knows? Maybe people who are kind to themselves think exactly that.

But frankly, I don’t think something as complex as self-image comes only between two limits.

Someone who hates him or herself can still be egotistical. Anyone can believe they’re better than everyone else yet have a low self-esteem. It’s possible for me to think I suck, yet also think the people around me are worse. Being content with yourself isn’t about reaching some perfect equilibrium between two extremes, though I wish it were. To reach a sense of contentment is to exist at a perfect zero, it’s having a solid sense of self without conscious rumination over one’s self-image.
I play the blame game with myself quite often. I fault my self-hatred to my elementary bullies, the skinny girls up and down my Instagram feed, my less-than-ideal childhood or anything else that comes to mind. While it is empowering to identify the causes of my issues and realize I’m not broken, sometimes the blaming takes place of the healing.
I can’t do anything about the people who hurt me. I can’t go back in time and stop the trauma from taking place. It’s unfair, but I have to move forward. No one had any right to contribute to taking down my self-esteem. But while I’m still reeling from their blows, they’re all living their lives with no regard to how they’ve impacted mine.  
I have to stop being mean to myself. It hurts my heart seeing my friends overridden with self-hatred, but I have no problem being my own worst enemy. There are moments at which I legitimately cannot think about anything but how I despise every tiny thing about who I am. At those moments in time, there is not a single person in the universe who I hate, who I am disgusted by, who I wish were gone, who I believe deserves nothing positive, more than me.
I do not strive toward the luxurious, self-help book type of self-esteem that makes me unable to stop talking about how in love I am with myself and my body. I’m not looking for a complicated, clinical understanding of my own mind. Different things work for different people, but I just cannot handle the idea of taking my self-image to an extreme in any direction. I don’t search for self-love. I want to be content. Before anything, I want to simply accept myself.
Right now, that’s a concept I have no idea how to tackle. I don’t know the first thing about accepting who I am. I just know what I’m looking for. It’s not much. But at a time where I still dislike myself, it’s a mountain I have yet to climb.