How to Love Yourself Unconditionally, Even When You’re Suffering

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How to Love Yourself Unconditionally No Matter What Hurdle You Encounter

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Do you struggle with any of the following feelings?

  • you feel sorry for yourself
  • you feel ashamed about yourself in some way
  • you feel like you’re not good enough

Then it’s time for a wake-up call: you’re not getting enough love from the one person who matters the most—yourself.

Hey, I’m there with you. I used to feel all of the above, and I still do sometimes. But it’s much better now.

I grew up hating myself—hating my immigrant background, hating the coupon-clipping lifestyle we lived, hating going home to a home filled with anger, hating my acne and broad-set shoulders, and pretty much everything else about me.

It’s been a long journey getting to a place where I’m comfortable and happy with myself—where I feel love within me and not pain.

I want to tell you the story of how I learned to love myself unconditionally—how I let go of those feelings that made me feel ugly, unworthy, and small. How I learned to accept myself wholeheartedly, believe in my own power, and appreciate myself deeply.

And ironically, my journey to unconditional self-love started during a period of tremendous pain and suffering—in the midst of a cancer diagnosis.

 

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Finding Unconditional Self-Love in the Most Unlikely of Times

One day when I was 19, my world fell apart in the most spectacular fashion. One Saturday morning I went to the doctor’s office and before dinner even got to the table, I found myself crying in disbelief on a hospital bed. A few days later, the doctors told me I had blood cancer.

So began several years of despair, disappointment, pain, and fear. There were times when suffering was all I knew. There were days, weeks, even months where I couldn’t remember what it was like to feel good.

And yet, that was when I learned it was possible to love myself.

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How I learned to Love Myself Unconditionally in the Midst of Suffering

 

First, I Had to Give Myself the Permission to Heal Old Wounds

If you want to love yourself unconditionally, first you have to accept yourself.

But I couldn’t do that for the longest time. Why? Because I held on to a few old wounds inside of me and kept tearing them open. Those old wounds had to do with my family.

For years before my cancer diagnosis, I lived in the dark shadows of family drama.

For as long as I could remember, my parents were always in a cycle of fighting and making up. The arguments were violent and regular, and the good times were few and far between.

We were the family relatives shook their heads at and neighbours whispered about behind closed doors. Because of this, I was deeply ashamed.  I was, in every way, trapped in my own self-hatred and self-pity.

The cocktail of shame, self-blame, and self-pity I fed myself was toxic. It was as if I walked around with an open wound that festered and would not heal.

Every time I saw something or someone that triggered me—a father lifting a child on his shoulders, or a family having a barbeque at the park—I would cut the stitches open and say to myself: “Look what you don’t have.”

At the time, it didn’t seem like I could ever love myself. How could I, when I was the one who kept tearing open the scars of the past and making myself bleed inside?

But what I didn’t know was that the path to unconditional self-love would open up for me unexpectedly in the aftermath of a cancer diagnosis.

Soon after my diagnosis, I found myself at a crossroad—I either had to face up to the fight or go cower in a corner and continue to cry all day. After doing the latter for a few weeks, I began to realize I had to do something different.

The wallowing in self-pity didn’t help one bit. I still had cancer.

I realized in order for me to conquer this hell of a battle in front of me, I had to be stronger mentally. And I couldn’t do that if I continued to pick at the scars of the past.

I realized I had to give myself the permission to heal.

 

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Give yourself the permission to heal from old wounds. You deserve it. Click to Tweet
And once I made the decision that I was going to heal, everything changed.  I stopped focusing on those old wounds.

The suffering I was going through helped me put things in perspective. Sure, my childhood was far from perfect, but in front of life and death, the things that had happened to me didn’t seem so bad. I had let a few punches early in life keep me on the ground for far too long. It was time I got up, spat out the blood in my mouth, and moved on.

And so I did.

One day I caught myself thinking about the past and it didn’t hurt as much anymore. And I realized the scars have healed. That was when I finally started to accept who I am and everything that’s happened in my life.

 

Next, I Turned My Focus to What I Could Control

When you’re suffering, it feels like everything is out of your control. It certainly felt that way for me.

My body was breaking down. There were days when I could barely muster enough energy to sit up. I felt, besides placing my faith in the doctors and a plethora of medications and procedures, there was little else I could do.

On top of that, I couldn’t go anywhere due to an extremely compromised immune system. Even when I did go out to places other than the hospital on those rare occasions, I didn’t have the strength to do much.

But surprisingly, that was when I discovered how much power I really had.

After hearing some much-needed words of advice from a nurse, I started to take small steps in changing my mindset and my daily routine. Instead of focusing on what I didn’t have control over, I concentrated on things within my control.

And they were little things—things you probably never think about and just do on autopilot. Things that seemed so insignificant and yet made all the difference in the world.

For example:

Instead of sleeping until whenever I felt like getting up, I made sure I got up at the same time every morning. No matter how I felt—whether nauseous, tired, sad or scared—I would brush my teeth and wash my face. In the afternoon, I would make myself take a hot shower like clockwork.

Even if all I could do was lay on my bed for the rest of the day, I felt I had accomplished something. I felt I still had control—however meager it was—over my day.

And then I took it a step further. I started to exercise. At first just 15 minutes of walking at a leisurely pace at a time. Then 20 minutes. 30 minutes. An hour. I gradually increased the duration and intensity of my exercise routine until I could swim, hike, and even play dodgeball.

Exercise gave me a great sense of purpose. In my mind, I was not a cancer “sufferer” any longer, but a cancer “warrior”. Even if the day was off to a horrible start, I had the choice to put on my runners and be that warrior.

I also developed a keen interest in alternative medicine and learned how to cope with minor ailments—anything and everything from lingering coughs, tension headaches, and chronic heartburn, to stiff neck and shoulders—through these practices. Even if I was in pain, I had the comfort of knowing I had the ability to make myself feel better.

Once I saw the positive effects of everything I was doing, I started to believe in me.

I started to believe instead of passively waiting to get better on this road to recovery, I could take charge of where I was going and how I was going to get there.

This sense of agency propelled me ever closer to unconditional self-love.

 

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Focusing on what you can control is the key to more happiness and self-love. Click to Tweet

 

Finally, I Learned to See Life Through a “Gains Perspective”

The change that made the most impact in my journey towards unconditional self-love was when I finally learned to see things from a “gains perspective”. It completely changed the way I think about myself and the world around me.

Before I had cancer, I was never the kind of person who would count my blessings. If you told the 19-year-old me to look for the silver lining, I would have smiled politely with my good Asian manners and rolled my eyes inside.

After all, What could possibly be the bright side of having a broken home, student loans, and acne that plagued me since 12?

To make matters worse, I got the cancer diagnosis just a few months after my 19th birthday. After months of chemo and a year-long recovery, I made it back on my feet only to have cancer knock me down again. While I was undergoing treatment after the relapse, my mother—who was taking care of me at the time—lost her job.

If I had considered myself “unlucky” in life before my 19th birthday, I felt downright cursed for everything that happened after.

But in the months and years that followed, I experienced a profound shift in thinking that I didn’t think was even possible, especially during a time when I couldn’t be more down and out.

I started to think I was lucky. I felt like a winner in this game of life.

And it was all because of my suffering.

Suffering is like a pot of stew simmering on the stove. It condenses everything in life—the good moments and the bad—into its most intense forms and flavours. Yes, there were the bitter lows that made me question whether I could ever be happy again, but it was also these moments that made the highs taste extra sweet—like the moment the doctors told me they found a stem cell match for me.

I realized how miraculous it was for me to be alive in the first place. And even more mind-blowing to have a second chance at life when many others were not so fortunate.

Once I had this epiphany, I started to intentionally pay attention to the small victories in life, no matter how tiny they were—a warm smile from a stranger, a good laugh with friends, or another day with my family.

Instead of ruminating over the things I’ve lost because of cancer, I  learned to open my eyes to the rewards I’ve gained.

And this “gains” perspective has helped me cultivate a deeper appreciation for myself than ever before.

No matter what failure I encounter, no matter how hard I fall, I always search for the silver lining. Even though it’s not obvious at times, I know if I look hard enough, I will find it.

With this perspective, I don’t dwell on my mistakes, my flaws, and my worries as much as I used to anymore. Instead, I have more room for self-compassion and self-love.

3 changes you can make in your life for more unconditional self-love! Click to Tweet

 

How You Can Learn to Love Yourself Unconditionally

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If you want to love yourself unconditionally, you have to first stop picking at old wounds. You have to let go of the painful things that have happened to you, the self-blame, and the “poor me” mentality. I know it must have been difficult, life-changing perhaps, unfathomable even. But dwelling on the past won’t solve anything.

If you still feel stuck in the “coulda, woulda, shoulda’s” and need a little push to get going, I suggest you read this post on how to get over regret.

You have to recognize how much inner strength you have. A lot of things may be out of your control, but not everything is. Don’t think for a second that you’re helpless.

And you have to start seeing the glass as half-full, even if it seems impossible at first. The “gains” perspective is like one of those hidden image optical illusions that, at first, makes you scratch your head and go “I don’t see it!” But with practice, you will get better at it, I promise. And once you do, you will realize you’re a winner, always have been since the moment you came into life.

If you’re currently in a period of suffering, loving yourself can feel out of reach. But if anything I hope my story has inspired some hope in you of what is possible.

We can learn to love ourselves unconditionally no matter what the circumstances may be. It just takes some practice.

So let’s practice together.

Related Articles About Happiness and Healthy Mindset:

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How to Deal With Negative Thoughts 

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22 thoughts on “How to Love Yourself Unconditionally, Even When You’re Suffering”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It made me realize how much from my troubled and traumatic past I hold onto and how it is still affecting me 40 years later. I didn’t realize that I have been doing the same thing you did by making myself bleed constantly. I am going to be making some shifts in my own mindset and routines to improve me and love myself more. Thank you again.

    Reply
    • Hello Rose, so good to hear that this article inspired this reflection in you. You’ll see that once you stop picking at the scars of the past, you’ll feel so much better about yourself. You deserve it.

      Best of luck in your journey to more self-love!

      Sabrina

      Reply
  2. What an amazing story, perhaps more relevant than ever in 2020. Even without the current things going on in the world though, there is so much here to take to heart. I have a terrible habit of thinking of all the “what ifs” and how whatever is bothering me now could have been avoided if only I had done something differently earlier. And that mindset really distracts from the good things in life now, let alone being proactive about the future. So thank you for that dose of perspective.

    Reply
  3. Dear Sabrina,
    Your story is very inspiring. Thankyou for sharing your life experience with us. You inspired me to move forward in life. Right now im suffering with my mental health but you taught me that positive thinking can change your life. People might say its hippy dippy, but withou self love, you will never appreciate the abundance of love around you.

    Thankyou sister.

    Reply
    • Hi Marielle, I’m so glad to hear that my story inspired you to move on and embrace more self-love. I realized in my health journey that a lot of the pain in my life had to do with how little love and compassion I had toward myself, and once I started to work on this aspect, everything else eventually fell into place. Wish you the best in your journey to more self-love.

      Cheers,
      Sabrina

      Reply
  4. Dear Sabrina,
    I stumbled across your page on my Pinterest and I am so proud of you and I don’t even know you. Although I do not have cancer I am going through a different kind of sickness that is very rare. This journey has been so hard to stay positive and love myself and reading this post has made me inspired. My surgery is Wednesday so this must be a sign to keep fighting because I am almost there! Thank you for your encouragement means so much to me!

    -Alexzandra

    Reply
    • Dear Alexzandra, I wrote this post for readers just like you, who may be having a tough time loving themselves at a moment of crisis in their lives, and I’m comforted to hear that it has brought you some comfort. I’m sending you positive thoughts and I hope your surgery goes well tomorrow. Your journey may be tough and rare but just know that at the end of it, it will make you a tough and rare gem 🙂

      Reply
  5. Sabrina,
    You’re strong, brave, and courageous for opening up about your experiences and sharing truth with all of us. Your words of wisdom are appreciated more than you know. Thank you for the beautiful reminders…sending you light and love!

    Reply
    • Hello Sarah, thank you so much for your kind words. You don’t know how much it means to me. The act of writing down deep parts about yourself is never easy. Every time I hit the publish button I’m overcome with the fear and worry that nobody will read or appreciate what I have to say. It’s a lonely experience oftentimes, even though I do get tremendous joy out of it. So hearing encouragements from readers like you make me feel energized to keep going.

      Reply
  6. Hi Sabrina! I typed in self-love into Pinterest and found your article. Thank you so much for your story. I don’t think I could have found it at a better time. I’ll count this one as win for sure. Thank you thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi Cami, thanks for reading and leaving me such a lovely reply. Glad you found this article useful and hope you keep coming back for more!

      Reply
  7. Thank you bunches for this article and you sharing your story. I’m trying to be a better person even though I don’t believe I deserve unconditional love and a good decent life. Sorry just one of those days but I’m glad I have self help articles to read to better myself. Thank you for a great blog and advice.

    Reply
    • Hello Tonya, thank you for reading my post and your kind words. We all have moments where we think we don’t deserve a good life or we’re not worth it, but always remember that out of 200 million sperm cells competing for life at the same time we won the race. We’re already winners with the first breath we took in this life. There’s so much power in us to make our lives the best they can be, even if we don’t believe we have that power just yet. Have faith that one day you’ll have that unconditional love for yourself even if it seems out of reach right now. All great superheroes go through a journey to learn and believe in their powers. 🙂

      Reply
  8. You have been through a lot and honestly I sometimes consider myself unlucky and unfortunate for the things i don’t have and I would always be like “poor me” but reading this gave me two ideas.
    1)I’m stupid to think I’m unfortunate 2)Change doesn’t come to you over night you just have to work on it step by step…
    This was an eye opening experience for me (your story) and I want to immensly thank you for sharing such experiences.
    All the best to you and all you work and family!

    Reply
    • Hi Nichola, thanks for your comments. Don’t think you’re stupid for thinking you’re unfortunate! Gratitude is something a lot of us struggle to cultivate so you’re definitely not alone in having those thoughts. And you’re absolutely right in that change is a step by step process, some may be painfully slow but we just need to remember that a positive change is worth the patience and effort!

      Reply
    • Thank you Krista, for your kind words and support. It is encouragements like yours that make me glad I found my voice and the courage to write.

      Reply

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