How to Love Yourself When You ‘Hate’ Yourself

The other day I was having dinner with my husband at our family dining table, when my thoughts drifted away to one of the things I was yet to cross out from my to-do list. I was deeply lost in thought and unconsciously started to play with the food on my plate, when I felt my husband’s hand gently rest on my shoulder and I hear him ask me ‘Do you feel loved?’

I remember feeling stunned by that question; my heart perhaps even skipped a beat. I’ve been married to Yusuf for almost 3 years and this was the first time I was hearing him or anyone else ask me that beautiful yet genuine question. It’s one thing to tell someone you love them. It’s another thing to ask them if they truly feel loved by you. I blushed and responded truthfully that yes, I do feel loved…a lot actually alhamdulillah.

The question Yusuf asked might have sounded cute and romantic but it kept me up all night and got me thinking about all sorts of things. After our dinner, I went upstairs to our bedroom to prepare for the night. I stood by the bathroom sink and found myself staring blankly at my reflection in the mirror, my eyes traced my body and for a second I imagined it could speak back to me. I then asked my body, ‘do you feel loved by me?’ My heart broke at that moment and tears welled up in my eyes because I knew how badly and unkindly I’ve treated my body up until that moment.

The body that fought away so many diseases and infections for me. The body that kept me warm on the coldest of nights. The body that performed miracles and nurtured and carried my son for 9 months in my womb. The body that patiently nurtured me back to health whenever I fell ill. The body that swiftly reacted and protected me from all sorts of imminent danger even before my mind could register the danger. The body that made me feel and experience all kinds of joy in this world through my functioning senses and able limbs.

I failed my body, despite all the love and sacrifices it made for me since the day I was born. I would always pick at its flaws. I would often compare it with other bodies. After giving birth to Ayman, I remember avoiding mirrors for the first 2 weeks. I could barely stand to look at my reflection in the mirror; the extra loose skin, the discolouration, the stretch marks that carved their way deeply into my skin, the extra layers of fat that clung to my hips and belly. I could barely recognise myself and instead of showering my body with loving words and praises for going through hell to nurture and birth my son, as well as healing me back up as quickly as it could, I betrayed it. I betrayed it the same way society betrayed its women.

I don’t know what moved me at that moment but I started to apologise to my body for all the ill treatment I put it through. “I’m sorry” I kept repeating as warm tears streamed down my face. You are an amanah; a trust that Allah gave me. I’m sorry I unfairly compared you to others when you were fashioned uniquely and beautifully. The sunset, stars and the full moon are beautiful and yet they look nothing alike. Why turn a blind eye to your own unique and magnificent creation and choose to focus and compare yourself to another body that is not free of its own flaws? There are thousands of people that would give anything to have the healthy body that you have. I’m sorry I sabotaged your health and wellbeing countless of times by feeding and nourishing you with unhealthy things. I’m sorry I resorted to extreme measures to keep you ‘fit’ by starving you, when you cried out for food several times in a day. The truth is I was lazy and wasn’t ready to put in the extra hard work by exercising control and discipline in my eating habits and maintaining a healthy lifestyle but instead resorted to quick and harmful fixes. I’m sorry for the years I didn’t properly cover and protect you from the lustful eyes of predators and animalistic men. They didn’t deserve to feast their eyes on the holy and blessed temple of your body and to behold your beautiful presence that was reserved for a special few to see. I’m sorry for the days I called you ugly or stared at you in utter disgust. You were there for me during my worst days, but I turned my back on you during your worst days (such as the times you saw your period and would get hormonal acne, feel bloated, have enlarged pores and discolouration all over your body). I’m truly deeply sorry my dear body. You are unique and was created beautifully by the Best of Creators who created you with the best and the purest of intentions.

‘I love you’. I heard myself say with a conviction I’ve never heard before and I felt a heavy weight lift off my chest.

My eyes lifted to my head and I focused on my mind and then I asked it ‘do you feel loved’? Once again warm tears welled up my eyes and my mouth quivered. If I’m being completely honest, I’ve never been the type to truly worry about what others say about me because I am my own biggest critique. There’s hardly anything someone can tell me that I haven’t reprimanded myself for already. Not a day passes by where I don’t cuss myself out for something. Till today, I still call myself out for the mistakes I made when I was 5 years old. When it comes to the people that have wronged me, I can always find it in my heart to forgive them but I can never forget what they did. Sadly, my mind doesn’t know how to forget things or delete experiences or certain memories except it’s by the will of Allah. As much as I would love the ability to be able to forget things, I can’t. Unfortunately, when it comes to the times I’ve let myself down or wronged myself, I do not know how to forgive myself nor can I forget the things I did.

As I look back, it’s quite unbelievable how much I was unable to forgive my own wrongdoings and past mistakes; perhaps this is the major reason why for the longest time I couldn’t bring myself to truly love myself. How could I sincerely love myself when I would constantly dwell on the bad things I’ve done in the past and I would always focus on my shortcomings? It’s hard to love someone if you constantly think of the things they did to let you down. I hardly extended grace to myself; guilt, remorse and regret were emotions I frequently relived. I also thought about the times I filled my mind with fear and doubt and envisioned every bad thing that could possibly go wrong with my dreams; never fully trusting myself or my abilities or believing in myself half as much as others do.

I inhaled deeply and paused for a minute and started to think of all the things I should be proud of and all that I’ve accomplished till date; despite all the challenges and negative experiences I’ve experienced in the past. I began to apologise to my mind. I’m sorry for being your worst companion; it’s no wonder you heavily relied on the validation of others in the past because you hardly ever validated yourself. I’m sorry I contributed to your suffering and delayed your healing. I’m sorry I demanded perfection from you when you are the furthest thing from perfect and can never be perfect. I’m sorry I doubted you and was not you biggest cheerleader when you dared to dream and accomplish something new for yourself. I’m sorry I constantly relived and reminded you of your past mistakes despite knowing you’re not the same person nor can you go back in time to change your actions. I’m sorry for the times I lied and said things were okay, when it wasn’t okay. I’m sorry for the times I invalidated your needs and desires and stopped you from speaking your mind and vocalising your wants and needs. I’m sorry for not prioritising your wellbeing and always putting your needs second. That night I made a commitment to myself that whatever challenges I was to encounter in the future, I would never again doubt my abilities or become an obstacle to achieving happiness or fulfilling my purpose . I reminded myself that growth never happens from a place of comfort. It’s okay to feel fear but don’t let it cripple you, never belittle yourself and who or what you’re capable of doing or achieving. I also promised myself that going forward, I will always move with grace, love and will do everything within my power to support myself and won’t stop showing up for myself. If and when I do fumble, I will remember to extend the same mercy I extend to others to myself because I am also human and prone to mistakes. My mistakes do not define me but they can help shape me into becoming someone greater.

I splashed some water on my face to get rid of the tear streaks and focused on the growing pain in my chest. Apart from the days I would hate on my body or hate myself for the things I did in the past, there were other times I would hate myself. Those days were the worst days and they were the times I felt like a hypocrite or an imposter. Social media is a platform that constantly tests my mental health. I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought of or was close to deleting all my social media accounts; the thought of not having to be held accountable for every thing I like, share, comment or posts on social media sounded like a beautiful dream to me. For the sake of my sanity and wellbeing today, I’ve significantly reduced the amount of time I spend on social media and how much I share on the platform.

You see often times on social media, I would see a good reminder that strikes a cord in me and my first instinct is to repost it on my story hoping someone else would benefit from it as much as I did. However, after a few minutes of reposting I start to think…Altine do you really really care about people benefiting from the post or are you just re-sharing to keep up with an image? Who are you to be sharing some deep and thought provoking quotes when we both know how shallow-minded you can be sometimes? Who are you to be sharing all these faith boosting reminders like some righteous person when you are anything but one? On my stronger days, I know its just waswasah and shaytan trying to get in my head and I’ll be quick to keep him in his place and mute all the rubbish he is whispering in my ears, but on my weaker days, these kind of thoughts really get to me and I start hating myself and start to feel like a hypocrite.

The truth is everyone has a reputation (whether they deliberately build it or not) or an image they have put out in the public or on social media that makes people perceive or think of them in a certain light before people truly get to know them. When it comes to this self image/self-reputation thing, I would prefer people think the worst of me and I end up being a little bit better than what they think of me in reality, than for people to think the best of me and I’m far from who they think I am. I know I’m not a ‘bad’ person but at the same time, I’m not blind to my flaws or my past transgressions.

When I get loving messages and prayers from random people in my dms on instagram, it truly warms my heart and each time I pray for these kind individuals and I also pray that Allah makes me much better than what people think I am. However, when people start mentioning to me that they look up to me, I start to feel like a fraud or an imposter and it dawns on me that some people are paying close attention to me and probably even keep me in mind. When someone tells me I’m “smart and intelligent” I can’t help but think of the tests and exams I failed in the past or other times I felt like a failure. When someone tells me I’m “wise” I can’t help but think of all the unwise decisions I’ve made in the past. When someone tells me I’m “patient and calm” I can’t help but think of all the times I lost my cool and was rash with my words or actions. When someone tells me I’m “religious” and a ‘good muslim’ and I Inspire them to be a better muslim, I can’t help but think of the frequent nights I wail and cry to my Lord and beg Him to forgive me for all the ugly sins I committed in open or in secret, deliberately or in-deliberately, during the day or in the dead of the night. These thoughts cause me to feel like an imposter and like a hypocrite, and then I start to hate myself and blame myself for this false image/representation that I must have put out in public to make some people think very highly of me. I’m just a struggling human that is striving her best (and on some other days not her best ) to please her Lord whilst working on her flaws and building her strengths. While on the one hand I really don’t care what people say or think about me, I very much care about the part or role I play in them saying or thinking about me in a certain light.

Alhamdulilah, I can tell you today that I no longer experience days where I ‘hate’ myself for whatever reason because I now closely guard my thoughts like a prized treasure and monitor the thoughts I occupy my mind with. I make an effort to fill my mind with only positive and loving thoughts. You’ll be amazed by the things your mind can do when you truly train it and caution it on the things to do. We wield so much power over our minds but we tend to let our thoughts control and get the best of us. The mind is an extremely powerful tool that you can use to your own advantage or detriment. If you are currently struggling with self-hating thoughts or emotions, here are a few tips to help you fall back in love with yourself:

  1. Own Up To Your Mistake and Commit To Do Better. If you messed up a little bit or big time, admit it and hold yourself accountable. Do not try to make excuses, justify or shift the blame to someone else. Call yourself out and take responsibility for your actions or inactions. If you wronged someone, own up to your mistake and try to quickly make amends with that person. Do not delay it even if they have a share in the fault. Sincerely apologise and make a commitment to the person you’ve wronged that you will not repeat the same mistake with them or with another person. You can make peace with the fact that you tried to do the right thing afterwards; it’s the noble thing to do. You can’t re-write a wrong or a mistake but you can always try to make up for it the best way you can.
  2. Forgive Yourself and Make Peace with Your Past. One thing I’ve come to learn is that there is no such thing as love without forgiveness. You can’t love if you don’t have the ability to forgive. Allah is Al Wadud; the most loving and he is Al Ghafur; the oft forgiving. A parent who loves their child will always find it in their heart to forgive their child for their transgressions. A child who loves their parent, will always find it in their heart to forgive them for their shortcomings. NOBODY is perfect. No matter what you’ve done, you deserve some forgiveness; even if it’s a mistake you’ve made one too many times. Feel the hurt and the pain but don’t dwell on it for long. Try to find it in your heart to forgive yourself; bear in mind it may not feel great at first and it may not happen immediately. However, in order to move past this mistake and make it a learning chapter of your life, you must learn to forgive yourself. Let it be a mistake that humbles you and brings you closer to Allah and not one that take you further away from Him. Also, learn to separate the action from the person. If you’ve done something bad, you are not inherently a bad person you’ve simply done something bad. It’s never too late for you to change and be a person you’ll be proud of. All the Sahabas (Companions of the Prophetﷺ) all had a past but look at how they changed their lives and were later promised and gifted with the news of Jannatul Firdaus. So don’t be sad or despair, for there is hope for you and I too.
  3. Perform an act of kindness. Kindness can never be overrated. Kindness is something that feels good for both the person that receives it and the person that gives it. Perform a kind act that no one else knows about. Be the sunshine in someone’s cloudy day. Choose to extend kindness to someone that was rude to you. Forgive someone that has wronged you. Buy a random thoughtful gift for someone. Do something kind for your parents. Buy your spouse some flowers. Give someone your smile. Lend someone a help that only you are positioned to offer. I find that we are most happy and pleased with ourselves when we are at service to others. And besides this, just imagine all the good rewards you are earning and how all of these will be shown and paid back to you on the day of Judgement.
  4. Be kind to yourself. If you want to love yourself, you must first feel worthy of receiving that love. A wise person once said that you must treat yourself the way you want others to treat you. You are important and you deserve the same amount of love you give freely to others. Compliment yourself. Buy flowers for yourself. Pray for yourself. Look after yourself. Spoil yourself. You can’t do everything by yourself, so learn to allow others help you when they can. Remove yourself from situations and people that don’t value or respect you. You are a noble creation of Allah swt, the Almighty. Take pride in that. You are worthy and you deserve the goodness of both this world and the next. Never pass on an opportunity to give love to yourself; you can’t wait on others to do that for you. You are responsible for your own happiness and contentment.
  5. List 3 of your greatest accomplishments. What are three things you’ve done that has made you proud or given you a sense of fulfilment? Whether you are aware of it or not, the world is a better place because you are in it. Someone somewhere is thankful for you. Something as small as a genuine smile that you gave someone could have lifted their spirits and made them feel important and noticed. A person might have been struggling with suicidal thoughts but your compliment, kind words or generosity could have stopped them from jumping in the river because you made them believe that there is still goodness in the world. I particularly love this activity because it creates a record of the things you’re proud of (big and small) that you can re-read whenever you’re feeling low and incompetent. You can add to the list as time goes by and revisit the list on a daily/weekly basis to feel the maximum effect. Always remember that the fact that Allah created you and brought you into existence, means you had a purpose and He believed you were the right person to fulfil that purpose and you are worthy of being counted as one of His proud creations.
  6. Show up for yourself. Say no when you need to and set boundaries for yourself. Do not spread yourself thin…it may seem like you are doing something good at first but in the long run you would resent yourself and start to blame others for making you feel burned out. When you stand up for yourself and are assertive about your values, rights and beliefs, people will learn to respect you even if they don’t agree or share the same beliefs with you. You have to learn to speak up and fight for the things that matter to you or else people will start to take you for granted and treat you however they want.
  7. Speak your love language to yourself. What better way is there to love yourself than to practice your love language on yourself? If your love language is words of affirmation, gass yourself up sis! Tell yourself the things you wished you heard more often. Remind yourself of how much of a badass you are. You are every bit that beautiful, intelligent, strong, resilient, talented, blessed, hardworking, funny, courageous, sexy human being. If your love language is quality time, give your phone a REST! Enjoy your solo time. Journal your thoughts and feelings, go ride a bike, enjoy a bubble bath, watch some feel good movie/tv shows, read a book, book yourself an appointment at the spa. If your love language is gifts, pull out your want or need list and reward yourself with something from the list, treat yourself to a delicious cheat meal at a lovely restaurant, buy yourself that cute pjs or sexy lingerie, gift yourself a nice staycation or a vacation if you can afford it. If your love language is acts of service, write down the list of things you need to get done and complete them at your own pace, tidy up your room and light a few scented candles, declutter your wardrobe, go on a social media cleanse, go to the mosque and pray in congregation, treat your body to a lovely TLC session and get your hair done and your body hair waxed. If your love language is physical touch, book an appointment with a masseuse, workout, meditate, pray, fast, apply scented lotions and oils on your body and give your body a deep cleanse.
  8. Write yourself a love letter. I know this is a hard assignment, but it really challenges you to identify the things you like most about yourself. Speak to your inner child and open your heart and do not mince your words.

Now, before I wrap up you guys already know that I like to keep things real and realistic. I understand that you can’t go from feeling angry, hurt, or inadequate to loving yourself in an instant. The truth remains that things are always easier said than done. When you feel low about yourself, it’s hard to think good thoughts beyond what we feel in a given moment, especially when that emotion is overpowering. If you’re angry, its easy to access angry thoughts. If you’re feeling insecure, it’s easy to think thoughts that will further fuel your insecurity. If you’re feeling hopeless, you will have thoughts connected to hopelessness. Similarly with hatred or dislike, when you’re overcome with the emotion, it’s easy to entertain thoughts that will further anchor you to the emotion.

That said, my last piece of advice is that when you find yourself thinking negatively about yourself, you need to be able to first identify and understand what is happening in your head. Become more conscious of your thoughts. Take control of your thoughts and quickly abort all other self-damaging thoughts whenever they slip in. Laugh at the attempt of the shaytan. Tell him I know where you are trying to lead me with these thoughts, nice try but I’m not going to let you. When you feel angry or hatred towards another human being (including yourself), always remember to say ‘Auzubillah Minashaitan Nirajeem’ ( “I Seek Refuge with Allah from the Accursed Shaitan”) and make lots of istighfar afterwards.

If you’ve done something terribly bad that you are ashamed of and your conscience starts to bite you and you start to feel remorse, guilt and perhaps anger towards yourself, it’s okay to not feel love for yourself at that moment. It’s one of the mercies of Allah to be able to feel bad after committing a wrong act. It’s not at all times we must love ourself but we must be able to regulate our emotions when they become extreme and start to negatively affect us and those around us. During the dark moments you sin or commit a wrong against another, it’s enough for you to just accept yourself and where you’ve fallen short. It’s the most you can do for yourself at that moment. Acceptance is an attribute of love. Whatever wrong you’ve done, accept you’ve done it and you can’t take it back but ensure you go back to the very first point I made, which is to own up to it and commit to do better and watch as you make progress and perform deeds that will help position you in a place where you are able to love and accept yourself in spite of your many flaws.

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