“You Have to Love Yourself”

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A few weeks ago I wrote about having reasons to live. But this week a friend asked me, “Don’t you think most people already believe life is worth living? The problem is that we don’t think that we ourselves are worth any effort.”

I think he had a point. Most of us, if pressed, will admit that life is OK. But do we believe that it’s worth putting effort into ourselves and our bodies, or do we think we don’t deserve our own love and attention?

The conversation reminded me of an interview I did for my diabetes book. I was standing in a Men’s Wearhouse with my mother, telling her about looking for interview subjects, when a salesman came over and said, “I heard you talking about diabetes. I have that. Do you want to talk to me?”

His name was James R. He was 47, good looking, African-American, and very helpful. He told me about his diagnosis.

At that time, I was maybe 30 or 40 pounds overweight. I changed my diet completely to not eat any sugars and cut way down on carbohydrates. They had this little gym where I lived, and I started getting up at five o’clock every morning to work out. Now my sugars are pretty close to normal.

As simple as that? I couldn’t believe it. I asked James how he was able to quickly make such changes, when others struggle their whole lives and never get there. This was his answer:

I love myself. I think that’s the best thing I can do. Once you love yourself, then you’re going to take every resource possible to extend your life. That’s not being selfish. Sometimes you have to do things for yourself before you can do things for anybody else. If I don’t care about myself, how can I care about anybody else? These things are important to understand, that if you want to continue to stay on this planet and breathe this air, you have to love yourself.

He really impressed me. I’m not sure how many people, with or without diabetes, could say what he said, especially members of discriminated-against groups or heavy people in fat-phobic America. As I asked in my book, how do you love yourself when society does not seem to love you? Or when you feel unlovable because of absent or damaged parents, a history of trauma, or because your life doesn’t measure up to the images you see on TV or to your own expectations?

And really, isn’t it hard to love yourself when your body seems to be betraying you, or when you blame yourself for health problems? Or when you’re alone, or when nobody seems to care?

But if you don’t love yourself, how are you going to succeed at self-care? Why watch carbohydrates or check your blood glucose or get up in the morning to exercise like James R. does? And if you don’t love yourself, how can you expect your children to love themselves, or expect people in your community to treat each other well? These issues can determine quality of life and health for generations.

What Do We Do?
Most psychologists agree that self-love or self-esteem (which are similar, although maybe not exactly the same) begin in childhood. If your parents love you, you are likely to feel better about yourself. But many parents are too stressed or too wounded to give their kids that kind of love. As a result, people may feel unlovable or unworthy their whole life. Media images might reinforce those negative feelings.

Not everyone agrees that self-love is desirable. Some people think the whole self-esteem idea is wrong, that people should only feel good about themselves when they have done good things. I think people are much more likely to do good things if they believe they are good people.

What do you think? Do you love yourself? Is loving yourself important to living a good life? Is it important for diabetes management? And if we want people to love themselves, how can we help with that?

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