I belong to a generation that was taught to love others selflessly, and it didn’t get me any closer to loving myself.
Growing up, I was taught to be selfless and to always love others above myself, because that set the foundation of a strong relationship. This notion, however, only applies to women (that is another can of worms for another day). So all that was hammered into my head till I reached the hosh-sambhalo stage was to love others to be loved back. And I followed this rule to the T, only to experience perennial disappointments and toxicity in my teenage years.
Whether it was my love life, my friendships, or my family, I always went out of the way to love others to be loved back. And that kind of love was hardly reciprocated, making me wonder: What went wrong? Was I doing it wrong? Is something wrong with me? At all of 19, I was pessimistic, full of self-doubt and zero confidence in myself.
An ex-boyfriend pointed out that I was looking for love in the wrong places. We were getting momos at a famous South Delhi joint. I didn’t even like momos that much, but he did. The irony!
This pattern of projecting my love onto others in order to feel loved reflected in my education, my first job, my first social media account, and even my first stint as a manager, but with a hint of self-awareness – I had too much love to give, and I showered it on others more than on myself.
(Self) love in the time of social media
Let’s table everything else and focus on social media for a hot second.
Being on social media opened my eyes to the sad yet comforting fact that I wasn’t the only one trying to close this love-loop onto myself. There were just as many people like me who were trying to win others over. The likes, shares, and comments game was just the tip of the iceberg – my fellow social media users were going all the way to be celebrated and liked online.
According to a 2021 study, millennials and Gen Z (aged between 16-30 years old) are currently the main age group affected by the perils of social media and are experiencing higher levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.
This comes as no surprise as millennials are constantly glamourising hustling, working hard, and projecting this image of prioritising themselves, often to woo their followers and create a picture-perfect personal brand.
What they fail to do is to set the context of the hit one’s mental health takes to maintain this happy and relatable image online.
Even though influencers like Kusha Kapila and Dolly Singh have come forward with their struggles of being loved online, many continue to look for love outside themselves.
Art imitates life
Another (not very kind) ex-boyfriend put forth a question to me: who would love me if I didn’t love myself? You see, there’s nothing wrong with loving yourself. Neither is sharing it on social media. But why you do it makes all the difference.
I refused to tell my loved ones the pain I was going through to keep up a happy image. The fear induced by the pandemic made me insecure about losing my job, so I pretended to love it in order not to get fired. I would constantly try to keep others satisfied, setting aside my own aspirations. I overworked myself despite the fact that my role hadn’t been defined clearly.
What was the point of social media hyping me up when it did nothing to solve real-life problems with real consequences?
The truth is, the pursuit of being liked by others eats into your self-respect and what you expect from yourself and others. After a point, you lose respect for your dreams, aspirations, and even your potential. So before you reach that point, make sure to do something that makes you respect yourself and not care about others’ attitude towards you.
This is where social media, strangely, helped – I started to fake it till I made it.
I took baby steps towards nourishing myself by deliberately choosing my career path, choosing imperfect friends, changing jobs more often than most people did, spending more time with myself than with people who would validate me, and letting go of this need to be liked by everyone.
This practice made me realise I was spending my energy avoiding conflict. I would bottle up my emotions till a point where I didn’t feel like the same person anymore. My loved ones felt deceived and I felt like I was betraying myself by not prioritising myself. So, I became vocal about my needs.
And before I knew it, I was loving myself a little more than I was before.
I do not mean to make social media look like an evil being here. Your approach to it clarifies the line between knowing whether you’re faking for others or for yourself. Before you take to social media and post about self-love,
- Check in with yourself. Is being this way coming naturally to you? Does this align with your authentic self?
- See if you can love yourself or perform an act of service quietly, without anyone knowing.
- Ask yourself: Am I doing this for myself or for someone else to notice?
- Take a break and check with yourself offline.
The secret? Validate your own choices and do not seek people’s validation. Raise your power by loving thyself.