How To Love Yourself When You Are An Outsider

alone girl hi

The clamor for good self-esteem has become almost cliché, an excuse for parading out a barrage of aphorisms: Love Yourself For Who You Are, Accept Yourself, Love Yourself and Others Shall Love You, Woman.

Whether that means loving your skin, or eyes, despite the White Beauty ideals seen on magazines and television; or flaunting those curves or hips rather than hiding them, it is part of a new wave of Self-Love scouring across society.

And sure, I can relate.

Being Asian myself, and very thin to boot (throughout school, I was teased mercilessly for my stick-thin wrists, and a girl once, upon raking her eyes over my spindly body in a bathing suit during swim class before puberty hit, pronounced me a “monkey” – skinny-shaming is just as debilitating as fat-shaming), I have had to deal with self-confidence issues related to these two traits, just like people who are a little on the plump side, people with disabilities, any physical signifier that classifies them as “Ugly” or “Other”.

But so much of the recent Self-Love onslaught focuses on appearances, particularly the appearances of women. And while that is all good and important, humans being highly visual creatures, very little attention to paid to the confidence issues one has to deal with by having a particular personality.

Personality is the true determining factor of your self-confidence, I think, at least in one’s younger years. It is much easier to feel happy with yourself when others seek out your company, like to talk with you; when you feel loved, approved of, accepted – and when peer acceptance is not present, low self-esteem is often, unfortunately, a natural consequence.

For instance, for many years I was made to feel defective for being introverted, so introspective that I barely paid any attention to the real world reeling by before my eyes. In the media, in modern literature, a new breed of the ideal woman was sprouting forth to smash traditional gender barriers: independent and bold and confident – in other words, extroverted. Though this “New Woman” allowed for greater opportunities among the female populace, at least in Western countries, doing so only replaced a previous admittedly debilitating standard for women with another – less constraining, yes, but a new standard to measure oneself up against, nonetheless.

Being Asian, in this case, actually made matters worse, as there is this absolutely nonsensical stereotype that all Asian women (I do hate using racial monikers; we’re individuals, not groups; people do not think all, say, brunettes or Caucasian men possess the same personality type, so why the generalizations?) are shy and submissive. As an INFP, a personality type which naturally, even among males, is conflict-averse, withdrawn, dreamy and, yes, has a tendency to be quiet and shy and burrowed in a corner with a book, I fit into this stereotype perfectly.

But, racial stereotypes aside, it is a fact that introverts, or any outsiders, have greater difficulty with self-esteem than their extroverted or more accepted counterparts. People find “confidence” (Read: Extroverted) beautiful, they find a “sense of humor” (Read: Usually Gregarious) attractive; and those who are shy, reserved, slightly weird, are overlooked or disliked, dubbed sometimes, infuriatingly, as possessing no personality at all.

It is hard, to learn to love yourself, when not only do people not seem to like you, they do not even see you.

How can you love something that does not exist?

On top of being shy, introspective, and skinny as a rake, I also had Asperger’s, suffered from social anxiety, and, lo and behold, was a creative thinker and writer – and we all know how solitary and odd writers or original thinkers have a habit of feeling in mainstream society, probably accounting for their general recluse lifestyles throughout history. This is not me complaining (Oh, Delia, my dear, I had such a hard time of it, you can’t possibly imagine!); all I am doing is trying to point out the various contributing factors, along with living in a low-income household that could not afford items such as new clothing more than every few years (“daggy” clothes are not great for popularity), that led me to have such low self-esteem for years, and years. Long, long suffering years.

Oh, actually, I am garnering for a little sympathy here, but it comes from a good place: perhaps some of you out there can relate, to any of this, and will feel less alone for it.

The bullying from my peers, ranging from abuse to exclusion, the days spent hidden in the back of the library, the days spent watching television showcasing people who looked nothing like me, a lack of supportive friends, not looking right, acting right – all this, for an excruciatingly sensitive and aware child, and later teenager, added up. I did not like myself – no, I loathed myself.

As if that wasn’t enough, once the Self-Love movement took off, self-help books flying off the shelves, people told me I just had to realise I was “worthy”.

Yes, indeed; it is easy to feel worthy without the particular history I had, without the particular brain and psychology, the particular body, skin, experiences; it is easy for you to say that, when you are talkative and loved and have never spent time alone in the bathrooms, imagining yourself being flushed down the toilet in a gurgling swirl of oblivion; it is easy for you to say that, when you are not slightly neurologically different from others, when you do not feel like an Outsider, when you are not so sensitive each day is a tiny battle, each night a time to cry, and bandage your accumulated wounds.

It is easy to say that, when you are Extroverted, or Straight, or a Non-Minority, or Well-Liked, or Neurotypical, or Male (though this is unfair, men, on average, tend to suffer from fewer self-esteem problems than Women), or Non-HSP, or Non-INFP, or Well-Off and can Fit In Happily.

(Note: I do not mean to say that Extroverted, Straight, Caucasian, Well-Liked, Neurotypical, Wealthy or Male individuals do not have any problems: I am simply trying to make a point that when you are an Insider, it is rather presumptuous to dole out voice to an Outsider)

It is easy for you to say that I simply must feel “worthy”, when everything and everyone your life has affirmed that, and everything in mine has pointed to the contrary.

Frankly, just being an INFP and Highly Sensitive, especially if you are male, is enough to lower your self-confidence drastically, let alone the extra baggage I dragged around. What’s worse, being sensitive dreamers, we have a tendency to blame ourselves whenever anything goes wrong.

People, extroverted individuals surrounded by friends, told me, I should tell myself I was “worthy”. They were speaking from a good place; they just wanted to help. But when I was unsuccessful at raising my self-confidence that way, I believed there was something wrong with me. I grew ashamed of my lack of self-esteem, which only fueled the self-hatred.

I was a big, fat Not.

Not curvy enough. Not talkative enough. Not outspoken enough. Not friendly enough. Not normal enough. Not realistic enough. Not pretty enough. Not. Not. Not. Not. Not. Not.

Also, I was a big, fat Too.

Too weird. Too quiet. Too shy. Too strange. Too sensitive. Too poor. Too androgynous. Too isolated. Too skinny. Reads Too much. Thinks Too much. Head Too stuck in the clouds.

Above all, what drove the pain deeper, and still stabs me now and then today, was my unbearable loneliness, for I had no friends – and loneliness, as you may well know, only breeds further insecurity. A young female, or male, lonely and misunderstood, is bound to have some problems loving themselves without either a dose of wisdom or intervention.

In my case, the intervention was internal. And the recovery slow.

Yes, I did realise I was fine, just the way I was; that many writers, throughout history, had been considered eccentric, reclusive, shy, and many even had Asperger’s – so I was not alone, really; and perhaps, if I was not the way I was, I would not have my creativity, or interest in writing, or my imagination. That being shy daydreamer does not make me submissive woman; I have my own inner strength, only it is expressed differently. That the negative opinions of other people, though they hurt when expressed (“Shit! Look at your wrist: Are you anorexic?” “You’re too, um, quiet”) are less important than how I think about myself.

But the turning point, for me, was the realisation that, in the end, no-one really cares whether you are strange or different or shy, as everyone is too focused on themselves, and that everyone, even the most privileged, like all humans, go through their share of suffering. Sure, you may suffer more, you may feel lonely more frequently – but is that so bad a price to pay, for your unique gifts of sensitivity, compassion, creativity, perspective etc.? You may be disadvantaged in some respects, but blessed in others. Everyone is good at something; everyone has a spark, deep within them.

It is true, what they say: self-acceptance does come from the inside; but you will not find it by repeating mantras to yourself (I am worthy, I am worthy, please let me feel worthy…), or pretending you like being an outcast, or wearing a mask of superiority (Those unoriginal commoners!).

Instead, it comes from having a realistic outlook – no-one really cares that much about you, so you might as well care for you – and feeling compassion for all human beings. Even those who possess all the traits society accepts, they, just like you, have their moments of awkwardness, isolation, their own internal conflicts and problems.

We are all outcasts, deep in our hearts, only some people are better at hiding it. By the same token, we are all beautiful, in our unique and wonderful ways, and even if other people do not see or affirm it, you must. Hard as it may be to possess a trait that deviates from the norm, you can use it to your advantage and, if not like, at least accept your differences, in spite of the pain, in spite of the suffering.

Loving yourself, as an outsider, is not about never feeling uncomfortable or out of place among other people; that will never go away. Instead, it is about feeling Acceptance and Compassion: For The People Around You, For Others, and, most of all, For Yourself.

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INFPs & Self-Love

Happy

Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

Sorry.

Hi. How are you? How you doin’? I hope you’re well. I really do. I hope you’re incandescently happy right now, and if you’re not, then I hope one day you will be. You will.

Usually, I would have written this on my new blog reserved exclusively for INFPS, but very few people have read it and found it engaging, and if I’m honest with myself, even I find it a little boring, probably because it’s much more serious and wilted than the oftentimes playful posts on this blog.

So I decided to write about it on here. It’s okay. We all have failures. Maybe I should start writing a funny blog for INFPs. It’s better to use humor and delight as a way of self-growth rather than prissy little posts full of puckered lips and frowns, don’t you think? Would any of you be interested in that? It’s so much fun laughing at our weird, awkward, wacky selves isn’t it?

Much better than weeping and moping and…self-hatred.

I can’t be the only one who’s struggled with this, right? No. Of course not. What am I saying? If there was, on the off chance, an emotional Olympic Games, we would get gold-medal for Most Critical Type. And ENTJs would get the gold medal for Most Blunt Type. Remind me again why I like ENTJs so much? Ahem. I digress.

For a good portion of my life, I’ve loathed myself. Loathed everything about myself. Loathed my hair. My face. My entire being. Everything was wrong, off, inadequate. Not good enough. It was enough to skyrocket my social anxiety levels, and just generally make me a horrible person to be around, because I was so insecure and flat and fishing for compliments and reassurances all the time like a wet, limp rag of a human being.

Everyone else seemed so sure and confident and secure in themselves. No-one else seem to have trouble talking to people. I shrank in social conversations, erasing my thoughts and opinions and beliefs in an effort to align myself and agree with others, so they wouldn’t hate me. I didn’t want to be disliked. Really, deep down, when you hate yourself, and you act in a self-deprecating manner, it’s your subconscious desperately trying to obtain love.

One of the reasons I repelled the love of my life for two freaking years, suddenly avoiding and ignoring him like he’d sprouted horns and maggots wriggled in his hair (poor guy, I’M SO SORRY, I’ll make it up to you) was because I thought I was inferior to him. I had no self-confidence, and no self-respect for myself. And that drove him far, far away. Why?

Because no-one loves people who don’t love themselves.

Oh. My. God. I mean, it’s so obvious, and it’s bandied around a lot in self-help articles and whatnot, but I never truly realised the truth of it. I never truly absorbed it. Have you? One of the many reasons I like the person I do right now is because of his confidence, and his acceptance and love of himself. As human beings, we’re attracted to independently happy people. And here I was, poisoning my insides with bad thoughts until I was a mushy clump of bitter dregs to swallow in social situations.

And now, finally, after years and years of mental flagellation and self-torture, sprouting from a bad incident with bullies and my innate self-critical nature, I can finally say….

….I love myself.

I love my flaws. I love my weirdness. I love the way my eyes roll and flit about like a wacky, crazy person when I’m having fun. I love my creativity, and my imagination, and I won’t put myself down for having both of those in abundance, even if people think I’m mad. There is a method to my madness, my dear. I love my writing, even though it’s often far from good, because every word I write is a learning experience. And I’ve touched some of you guys, so, I’m happy! I even love my awkward laugh, a cross between a grunt and a snort and a sweet, little girly trill. Ah, my lovely, little hybrid laugh.

Of course, this lightning strike of an epiphany only happened today. It was one of those things, you know, when you understand something in principle, but never truly apply it. And today was the day I finally realised how important it was to love and treasure who am, because if I don’t, then how will anyone else?

Like I said, really obvious, but I never actually internalized it.

Oh! And here are some tips I used to overcome my self-hatred. I hope you might be able to extract some usefulness from them. Right now, I feel like I’m in a good place, and even ready to speak to my crush for the second time in a row, even though the thought sends me into a giddy, nail-biting frenzy. Go me! Gosh. Even those two little words of encouragement are so alien to me.

I never supported myself, even though the most important supporter you can have is not your mother, or your boyfriend, or the world: it’s you. Just you. Put yourself first, okay? You are a wonderful, lovely human being. Hey, I love you. I really do. You’re awesome. If you’re struggling with the same thing, you’ve just got to change your mindset a little. It’s wonderful when you love yourself, because you hurt less. And you’re happier, and you can talk to people and make them happy with your I-Love-Me presence. Of course, everything in moderation – an overblown ego is just as strong of a repellant as a non-existent one.

Okay. Let’s get started.

  1. Record a video of yourself speaking to the camera and then watch it again and again and again.You will cringe the first time round. And the second. Watch it until it almost feels like the person speaking to the screen isn’t you anymore. This is easier if you don’t really pay much attention to your reflection in the mirror, and so sometimes forget details of your own face like I do.As the face on the screen grows more and more foreign, actually imagine it’s someone else, and judge them as you would another being. Or use your imagination and pretend you’re someone else, and judge the person on the screen while you’re in the mind and skin of that other person (preferably a neutral one – don’t put on the skin of your enemy for this exercise). You’re probably going to be much kinder to yourself, and realise you don’t look half-bad – maybe your awkwardness and weird laugh is even kind of cute.
  2. Reattach yourself to reality. When I hated myself, I viewed everyone as a threat to my already rocky self-esteem. This did not lead to a good social vibe. I became so distanced from people I began to view them as psychological studies rather than creatures I could have fun with. Most normal people actually socialize because it’s fun and enjoyable, and I don’t care how introverted you are, you’re still human and can find delight in interacting with other beings.So try and laugh and have fun with some people, even if you’re awkward.It’ll reconnect you with your inner playfulness and that of others, and make you happier. It’ll also make you realise that most people aren’t out to get you – they’re quite nice, and they’d really like it if you were nicer and less stony-faced and serious, and could have a good laugh with them.
  3. It’s all about your personality. Hey. I get it. Looks matter. Beauty is important in our society – there’s no denying that. But your appearance takes a back seat once you open your mouth, and start expressing your own unique personality. People pay attention. People like you. People will smile and laugh with you, because you’re a happy and nice human being who is confident with him or herself.Ever notice how beauty doesn’t only fade with age, but time, as in, the time you spend with someone? It’s as if you can get accustomed to beauty, so that it recedes into the background and all you see is who they are. Same thing goes for unattractive, or even ugly people – if they have a good personality, once you’ve been around them for long enough, they’re looks stop mattering.

This stuff doesn’t happen overnight. Well, the realization happened overnight for me, but it’s going to take lots of ACTION and DOING and moving out of my comfort zone to truly, truly put it into practice. A lot of self-affirmation, and realizing that I am a beautiful, lovely human being, and that I deserve people to like me for that.

Oh, and there’s the fact that I’m head over heels for someone at the moment, which is extra motivation to get working on myself. Maybe the universe didn’t allow our relationship to start until I had my shit together and grown as a person a little more, and was ready to learn the greatest life lesson of all: thou must love thyself. To thine own self be true. Okay?