When I was two years old I had no idea what marriage was. I was loved and happy, no siblings to share my parents with and all was right with the world.
When I was four, my mother said to me, out of the blue “you can marry whoever you want.” I started to wonder what marrying meant, but never forgot the look on her face.
When I was six, she told me “you can marry whoever you want as long as he’s Indian.” ‘Curious’, I thought. And a feeling of uncertainty began to lurk just beyond my peripheral vision..
Eight years old, “You can marry whoever you want but he must be Indian and Hindu.”
And by ten: “You can marry whoever you want but he must be Indian, Hindu and Bengali.” (note, not high caste)
Finally by twelve: “I’ll find you the perfect husband.”
By fourteen I was terrified. I knew my parents loved me, but I felt the weight of cultural expectation and it crushed my heart, my soul, my hope. My eating disorder and self-harm began to peak around then too….
In 1990 I was a fresh-faced first year, a seventeen year old scared of the world. One autumn day I was shopping in the centre of Bristol, and a man in a leather jacket, tattoos and dark greasy hair walked up to me. He said “YOU are the ugliest girl I have EVER seen.” I looked at him right in his eyes and said, simply “I know.”
The man looked at me as if I’d slapped him, and walked away. Perhaps it was because I didn’t take offense. Perhaps he realised that there was no more damage to be done to this particular human being without getting physical, (and arrested :-)). Or perhaps he had finally met someone who hated themselves more than he hated himself. I don’t know. But I’ve never, ever forgotten the look on his face….
Over the years I’ve observed that we all wrap ourselves in layers of self-loathing. Some fight their way out and others remain cocooned inside. I’m still struggling to emerge, but with the cracks of light visible I am now able to ask the question:
Why do we do this to ourselves?
I’ve had a glimpse of enlightenment. A conversation with my higher self where I asked how I could learn to love myself, and back came a series of questions.
Did I hate myself as a baby? No. How could I? I was an innocent. A bundle of love and hope and potential. I felt no hate for that tiny thing.
Three then. Was I unlovable when I was three? No. Imaginative, loving, sharing, growing, learning wee girl that I was, I could not hate her either, nor find a reason to dislike her.
Four. Let’s try four. The rejection is starting to show. My brother has unintentionally, innocently destroyed my world, taken what was mine. And boys, well they were valued more highly than girls. Boys were on a pedestal, girls a mere afterthought. My parents did love me, but my culture did not. The anger started then perhaps. The childish outrage was there, but not the hate. Not then.
But as school became more combative, as I was forced to admit that I was a heathen (Hindu) in the face of their flavour of Christianity (Seventh Day Adventism) I found myself isolated. I had friends, but never close friends beyond my Reception year. I tried hard to please, to conform, to be one of them. All kids do that. All fear being different, and by the time I was ten, I’d read every single version of the bible I could get my hands on, to try and see the world the way they saw it. But in the end I finally learned that I could not. At ten, I had decided that Hindu philosophy fitted my understanding of the universe far better than what was being taught from those heavily adulterated words of a Good Man who simply wanted to teach the world to show love. The class heathen did come top in Scriptures though…
So where were we? Ah yes. Secondary school at 10 years old. This is where the hate and the bullying really kicked in. By 13 I was starving myself, at school and at home.. and at 14 my hair had started to fall out. My parents had enough to handle day by day to notice, but I still remember screaming at my mother that I hated myself and how ugly I was, and my mother’s uncomprehending face as she tried reasoning with this unrecognisable girl who used to be her daughter.
So I took every rejection, every racist comment, every stone hurled at me and I turned it inwards. It suited my self-image. They saw in me what I saw in me, someone to despise, this worthless, ugly girl. And looking back I know that so many kids went through different versions of what I went through, with the same end result. We then continue to walk the world, hemorrhaging self esteem, and continuing to hurt and hate ourselves long after the others have stopped and forgotten, and moved on. It eats away at our core, our operating system: and infects our confidence, our ability to succeed, to fight, to feel worthy of being loved. And these memes socially program us with destructive and conflicted beliefs calcify around our hearts, emotional cataracts that cloud our inner vision so we cannot see those who love us or accept the love they try to give. And all the while so little importance is given to our mental health that it is no wonder we have so many societal cancers metastasizing around us. All because of one thing:
Because we do not know how to love ourselves. And so, we do not allow ourselves to truly love others.
When things started to change
Now, I’m an avid lifehacker, constantly on the search for ideas to do things better, more easily, more quickly. If I was going to deprogram myself I was going to have to do some research.
You can never completely hate yourself when you’re with someone who loves you. The eclipse is only partial, and if you’re lucky, it is not permanent. I did not make it easy for my husband to love me but amazingly he saw through the self-loathing and anger and stayed. Never lost faith. Pulled me out of holes that I had dug for myself more times than I want to remember (although I will).
I expressed a silent desire to stop this emotional self-harm and slowly but surely the universe responded, with small messages, crumbs on the trail back to what I had lost.
“and I said to my body, softly. “I want to be your friend.” it took a long breath and replied, “I have been waiting my whole life for this”.
I saw this and my eyes filled with tears. “I want this too!” I whispered to myself. To stop raging against my body, to take responsibility without dismissing it as self-blame, and to accept me. The trouble was, where could I start? I sent a message to the universe that night, and within a week I had an answer. An airbnb guest in my father’s annexe left a book on the bed: The Happiness Trap by Doctor Russ Harris. It would have been rude to not read it… and it started me thinking that it might be possible to initiate a soulhackers’ guide of sorts….