Many times in life, sometimes by elders, sometimes by teachers, sometimes by friends and sometimes through books or social media, I have been apprised -advised- repeatedly, that change starts from within. And every time I questioned if I could, how? How does change start from the inside? What kind of strategy does it require to emerge in one’s life? How will it configure me? How will it transform my actions? And every time, like any other, I was struck by confused stares or obfuscated answers. I came to realize that change, for everyone, is different. Different lives. Different cultures. Different needs. But humans; so different yet so similar. The need for change, or change itself can differ. But there is something that lies at the very core of it all. Without it, change cannot come. Without it, one cannot achieve self-acceptance. Without it, self-identity will continue to remain an enigma. It is love. Yes, you heard me right, love. And by love, I do not mean the love you shower on your children, the love you feel for your parents, the love you share with your husband or the love that resides in between you and your friends. We have all the love in the world to give others. But when it comes to loving the self, we’re as broke as a homeless man who begs for survival. We yearn to be loved and appreciated but when there is no one around to feed us the daily two spoon dosage. We retreat deep into the cocoon of self-worthlessness; where depression and desolation exist to snuff out hope and happiness, only to fill our hearts with pain and despair.
Self-love is a crucial part of being a believer. When you don’t love yourself, you don’t forgive yourself. You mostly end up beating yourself up, constantly, for the things you might or might not have done. Self-hatred is a time and energy costing task. When self-love is gone, so is inner peace and tranquility. And how can you be a practicing and steadfast believer if more than half of your time is spent on cursing yourself rather than on the acts of worship? How will you be able to function properly on a daily basis when you are constantly doubtful about your worth and abilities? As I’m going through these phases so I know more better about what other feels so…
The act of self-love brings with itself self-acceptance and self-knowledge. Love requires knowledge. You cannot truly love someone until you know them. Same is for respect and acceptance. And with self-knowledge comes self-identity. So, the very first step to loving yourself is knowing you.
Self-knowledge is not limited to just knowing a couple of facts about yourself. It is to have an authentic, honest and even-handed perception of yourself. Many of us don’t even know what makes us happy or angry or sad. When you possess this sure knowledge of things or events which might trigger a positive or negative reaction, you know what to stay close to, or away. You know when to remain in the room and when to leave. When you realize that these certain words propel me to question my self-worth, you know to refrain from such sentence and people who utter them. Self-knowledge is an integral part of loving yourself. It opens the gate to self-acceptance.
Take a pen and paper and write down all of the things you already know about yourself. Write down what or who makes you happy, sad, angry, anxious or irrational. What makes you smile? What is your favorite color? What are your hobbies? What skills do you have? Everything you can think of, write it down. Now after you have written all of it, fold it. Close it. Put it away. Don’t read it now. Read it tomorrow or the day after tomorrow with a fresh mind. Then analyze everything carefully. This exercise will prove itself beneficial in knowing yourself more. In Sha Allah.
Now from self-knowledge, we’ll come down to self-acceptance. Take that list of yours and separate all of your negative and positive qualities. A lot of folks believe that acknowledging the flaws in you and being cool with it means self-acceptance. They are right but only to some degree. As a Muslim, it is necessary to hold a content and thankful behavior towards your physical appearance, no matter how far they are from the beauty standards of the fashion or film industry. There is no flaw in the creation of Allah. You are beautiful and perfect, be cool. But it is not okay to be cool with the flaws of one’s character; this is where the sensible version of self-acceptance differs with the un-sensible one. To be happy or proud of sins and actions of immorality is not self-acceptance, its ignorance. Accept your shortcomings, then work your best to eliminate them. Before reformation; comes acceptance. You cannot improve until you acknowledge the need for improvement. No one is an angel. Not you. Not me. We all slip. But the best ones are those who repent and reform. Allah is Ever-Forgiving.
إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ التَّوَّابِينَ وَيُحِبُّ الْمُتَطَهِّرِينَ
‘…..Allah loves those who repent, and He loves those who cleanse themselves’ (Qur’an 2:222)
Self-acceptance is not just about acknowledging the negative in you but also the positive, the good. Be thankful and appreciative of your self’s positive characteristics. Don’t overlook the goodness in you. And don’t over-obsess the goodness in you, it may lead to unhealthy pride. Acknowledge the virtue, skill, and talent. And try your best every day to improve and sustain it.
One of the main things which hinder us from loving ourselves is the thought of what people think or say about me. We are greatly troubled by the opinions people hold about us. It is a major speed breaker in self-love. Or an enormous mountain in the middle of a road.
As a Muslim, our ultimate goal is the pleasure of Allah not the pleasure of people. As long as the ride of life drives according to the compass of His will, all is well. If Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم had cared about the opinion of people, Islam wouldn’t have reached us. He is a role model for us all. And out of many, one of the most critical thing which we learn from his life events is that people don’t matter, their opinions and words don’t matter; Allah does. If you want to or ever intend to change yourself so that you are more acceptable to people or even to your family, remember this, you alone will stand in front of Allah on the day of judgment, not your family, and certainly not the people for whom you changed yourself. There is no point in changing yourself into someone else if you risk losing yourself, your Iman, your happiness and self-worth in the process. If someone is not able to accept you the way you are, walk away if you can. If you can’t, ask Allah to help you deal with them. Never let the action or sentences with subtext, ‘you don’t matter’ affect you. You matter. Maybe to them, you don’t. So what. Who cares? You matter. Just because someone failed to see your worth does not mean you are worthless.
Filter it out:
It is said, ‘tune out the carping, the criticism, and the negativity. And enjoy life for it is only granted once’. Hmmm. It may sound like a wise thing to do, but tuning out the criticism is not constructive. Why? We need to understand that we are not perfect. We make mistakes. We are humans. And many times in life we receive advice or criticism from people of various temperament, age, and wisdom. Sometimes an advice received with love and warmth when weighed logically can prove to be inefficient. Just because someone said it with tenderness doesn’t validate its prudence. They are humans. Everyone has different life experiences, set of beliefs and cultural values. Not everything that resonates with them is going to resonate with you. If someone advises you to chop off your hair because it’ll save the daily effort of combing and washing, will you? Of course, you won’t, even if it may sound logical and time-saving. Similarly, a spot-on advice sometimes may sound like sarcasm or an hour-long lecture coming out of your mother’s beautiful mouth. The way something was said should not devalue its truthfulness and wisdom. As a wise man once said,’ Do not look at who said it, how he said it when he said it but what he said’. Wisdom 101. It might hurt your heart and ears to let pour in the harsh words. But you are strong. You are wise. You can work past that hurt and harshness to finding a rose for yourself to adorn with, in between a jungle of thorns. Just ask Allah to help you and give you the strength needed to be optimistic in the face of adversities, both inner and outer. So don’t tune it out, filter it out. Weigh the words said to you. If it makes sense according to Quran, Sunnah and you, implement it in your life. If not, throw them away. Don’t dwell on it.
Self-love takes hard work, practice and time, like every other thing. It is not something you might develop overnight. But it is not an impossible thing. The man has reached the moon, but self-love, to the masses, seems even harder than that. It is not.
‘You are worth finding, worth knowing, worth loving. You + all your one million layers. Always hold that close.’ –quoted