Jaime Castillo, LCSW
When Self-Love Feels Impossible
Updated: Apr 24
If you open any health-related magazine, follow any self-improvement accounts on Instagram or are using any self-help resources to work on your own healing, it’s likely that you are being flooded with messages about self-love. It’s great that we are making efforts to move away from toxic diet culture and impossible beauty standards, but self-love may be on its way to becoming another seemingly impossible ideal that feels unreachable for many.
When we internalize messages in childhood that we are not worthy, lovable, or deserving of care, those typically become our truths that remain with us into adulthood. We can certainly work at (and be successful at) shifting those narratives and rewriting our story as adults, but this is long, winding, mountainous path that is no short or easy feat. When we ask people who are on this journey to "just love themselves", it feels like the equivalent of asking them to have a 36 inch bust and 24 inch waist; impossible and unrealistic for most.
What’s dangerous is that this ideal of self-love is being paired with a promise of healthier relationships, improved sociability and more happiness, which are the exact promises the harmful beauty industry makes to us. When we are mistreated as children and subsequently develop a deep self-repugnance but are taught that our happiness goes insofar as our ability to love ourselves, it reinforces hopelessness and shame.
Don’t get me wrong. Moving away from diet culture and impossible beauty ideals and shifting into personal empowerment is a refreshing swing that we all desperately needed, AND we need to take caution when digesting this message so that the ideal of self-love doesn’t become an equally-as-impossible replacement for the perfect hourglass shape.
The goal of self-love to someone with childhood trauma is the equivalent of becoming fluent in a brand new language. Certainly possible, but it’s an uphill battle during which smaller milestones need to be acknowledged. It’s okay to celebrate learning your first few words, and it should be celebrated when you are learning to barely like yourself.