Learning to love myselfBy Sam Farmer
Learning to love myself is one of my greatest accomplishments. I say that because of how long I fought this battle without ever quitting, how much energy I poured into the fight, and because there is no greater gift, and nothing more beautiful, than to love who you are.
I consider my efforts to build self-esteem a battle, because while growing up and well into adulthood, I knew that I was different in several respects from my peers, and it was against this perception of being different that I had to fight to move toward self-love.
Today, I feel as though nothing or no one can break my spirit or force me to be somebody other than who I am. The following realities helped me significantly in developing inner strength and self-love:
You are unique and special
There is nobody exactly like you anywhere in the world. This is as it should be, so don’t try to be like somebody else. Otherwise, the world is missing out on the real you!
You are not the only one
Why isolate yourself by thinking that you are the only one with problems, when everybody everywhere confronts challenges and carries emotional baggage? I know that it is easy to fall into this trap when you’re feeling down, though you owe it to yourself to fight this tendency.
Accept who you are
Try at all costs to either accept or, better yet, embrace who you are. Otherwise, you are sentencing yourself to a lifetime of unhappiness. I find that it helps to think of autism or whatever you are contending with as being a “profile” or as being a unique aspect of your identity. Being able to think in these terms will help you arrive at self-acceptance.
Figure out who you are and be who you are
You need to define what you believe in, what is important to you, and what you stand for. Do not let others do so for you. I have found that being good to yourself and to others, advocating for your own needs and interests (doing so is not a selfish act), and spending time on activities at which you are proficient and that you enjoy will all help build inner strength.
Avoid “me versus them” thinking
I have learned not to think in terms of “there’s me, and then there’s everybody else” or “I am not neurotypical like they are,” and instead I think in terms of “We are all human.” Embrace who you are, embrace “neurodiversity,” celebrate what makes you special and recognize that everybody everywhere is human despite the differences that exist among us.
Discover and cultivate your talents, abilities and interests
At a young age, I began to work on my sense of self by spending time developing my aptitude and passion for several pursuits. Music would eventually become more than one of my talents; it would become core to my self-identity. My Aspie profile has also endowed me with abilities that have served me well. For example, as with many folks on the autism spectrum, I am particularly detail-oriented, analytic and adept at thinking “outside the box.”
Remember: a half-full glass of water is always half-full, never half-empty
If you are pursuing a goal and get sidetracked, don’t quit. Instead of letting mistakes and adversity get you down and keep you down, look at them as learning experiences that can help you grow and make you stronger.
Seek help and advice
Don’t go it alone if you are having a hard time. Furthermore, do not think that you are weak-minded just because you need help. Arguably, all of us could use at least a little help from time to time.
Your behaviors toward other people affect your inner sense of self
When I was younger, more introverted and less aware, I often acted and spoke without regard for others, and during those years, my inner sense of self was compromised. How you treat others and how you view yourself are inevitably connected. Use this reality to your advantage.
Be aware of the personalities of the people with whom you associate
Over the years, I have learned to seek out smart, happy and successful people, to pursue friendships with folks who were able to see the good in me despite my deficits around social competence. Work on cultivating relationships with people who are kind, open-minded and interesting.
Realistic expectations are essential to self-love
Life is often hard and unfair for everybody. Other people have their own problems to deal with and therefore will not always be able to do what I expect of them. When I began putting myself in other people’s shoes, I began to understand them better and take their situations into consideration. Consequently, my expectations of them became more realistic, I became stronger and less dependent on others to feel happy, and I figured out how to adjust the expectations that I held for them and for myself.
Patience is a virtue
My “inner battle for self-love” has lasted for the better part of my life thus far. If you have been walking for a long time down a winding road as I have, and you are not yet where you want to be, remember that it doesn’t all come together overnight. Allow for mistakes and self-forgiveness, and keep going!
Meaningful change is hard, slow to come, often achieved in the face of adversity, and entails many small steps taken over a long period of time. These are the ingredients of change that allow it to take hold and last. Are you up to the challenge? I hope you are. You deserve it!
This excerpt is an inspiring reflection from Sam Farmer’s personal, heartfelt book, A Long Walk Down a Winding Road: Small Steps, Challenges, and Triumphs Through an Autistic Lens.
Sam Farmer is a neurodiversity community self-advocate, writer/author, public speaker and consultant for Floreo, a company that leverages virtual reality technology in teaching social, communication and other life skills for neurodiverse individuals. Diagnosed later in life as autistic, he writes blogs and articles, records coaching videos and podcasts, and presents at conferences and support groups, sharing stories and thoughts as to how one can achieve greater happiness and success in the face of challenge and adversity.