Self-Love Is Easier than I Thought

Sometimes we must battle our own beliefs to accept ourselves

Amethysta Herrick
Amethysta Herrick
Young Ami looks in the mirror
Young Ami looks in the mirror - image by the author via Midjourney

My good friend Morgan Whitten responded to a photograph I posted to social media recently. She called me beautiful, and I had to stifle the desire to correct her. Instead, I thanked Morgan and told her I could use compliments like hers due to my lack of self-confidence.

Then Morgan corrected me. I must have self-confidence, she claimed - all I had to do was observe my life to see it. I write about my transgender journey - even the difficult parts. I wear the clothes that feel right to me - even before I felt comfortable wearing them. I post photographs of myself to social media - even when I don't believe I am beautiful. All of the above takes self-confidence.

I shrugged Morgan's admonition off. My self-confidence is only an act, I scoffed. I force myself to do what she observes. I don't choose to. My transgender life is aversion therapy, nothing more.

But Morgan made a fascinating observation. She asked me to consider how much confidence it must take to be who I am and to do what I do. Self-confidence comes not from being fearless, but in overcoming the limitations fear puts on us. We don't feel self-confident in order to act. We act and display self-confidence.

That stopped me. I told her I would process her observation. This article is the result.

Childhood labels

When Morgan claimed self-confidence is in our actions, I wondered how I had developed my perception of self-confidence. Had I been trained to believe I am not self-confident, much as I was trained to believe abusive relationships are loving?

A consistent theme in my life has been low self-confidence and low self-love - much of my body of writing centers around the theme. But do only I perceive their lack? Are my perceptions inaccurate?

When our son was young, my wife and I read a book in which the authors advised against labeling children for their behavior. Even applying positive labels to children - such as "intelligent," "motivated," or "beautiful" - forces an interpretation of their behavior that children must develop on their own.

Have I consistently misinterpreted my behavior because somebody long ago - perhaps my parents - told me I had low self-confidence?

When I moved to Georgia for graduate school, when I agreed to lead a software development team as my first job, as I worked with tools in fields I never had before - how did I succeed? In the past year, when I quit a job that paid well to write and to support my community, when I transitioned gender and risked losing family and friends, when I risked discrimination and being ostracized from society - what drove me?

I have confronted deep psychological fears and prejudices - in myself and in helping others. I have worked on creative efforts with no expectations. I achieved many goals in my life...but how?

Living is self-confidence

I believe Morgan is correct: self-confidence is not the act of believing I have self-confidence. Self-confidence isn't facing all situations with no fear. Self-confidence isn't doing everything I ever wanted to do and laughing at society as I do it.

In the end, self-confidence is only staring down the fear of wanting to do something difficult, then doing what is necessary to get it done. Self-confidence is moving in the direction we choose.

But moving in a direction doesn't mean knowing the destination in detail. The act of moving doesn't mean knowing we are capable of reaching the destination with our current map and compass.

Self-confidence means being fearful, not expecting perfect results, not knowing if it can be done, but trying and seeing what results. Self-confidence isn't a magical formula. It is only living your life.

What hath transition wrought?

The biggest change brought about by gender transition has been the ability to laugh at myself. When I was a man, I could not stand the thought of failure. I would do whatever I could not to fail.

While I viewed it then as a fear of failure, a more accurate view is fear of other people believing I was a failure. Failing in private hurt, but it hurt much less than anybody observing me fail.

Gender transition has not conquered my fear of failure. I don't know that I will succeed at everything I do. But I accept I may look like a fool...and that's totally all right.

Maybe I don't know a fact - fine. Perhaps I mess something up - darn. Could be I am not very good at some skill I never practiced - guess it's time to practice. But my fear isn't paralyzing any longer.

I still have a strong perfectionist streak in me. I still want things just the way I want them, and I don't like it when they are not. But now I am willing to try. Now I am willing to look like a fool for being wrong. More to the point, now I can laugh at myself.

The difference I see between my life before transition and my life today is striking. As a man, I focused on satisfying other people's definitions of success. I wanted - no, needed - other people's approval. But today, I focus on my definition of success.

Maybe other people won't approve of what I do. Maybe what I do will not be done perfectly. And maybe I don't give a rat's ass about perfect anything as long as I approve.

How liberating! To act for my benefit, even if it goes nowhere? To enjoy the silly stuff I do? I have now gone as far as to put myself into situations where I know I will look foolish, and I like it.

No. I don't like it. I love it. I make people laugh. I make myself laugh.

Loving yourself is like loving the foolish

Yes. Morgan is right. What I do exemplifies self-confidence. I do what I do because I need to do it. Or rather...I do what I do because I need to do it.

I was labeled long ago as a shy kid who was just too sensitive to live in a world as difficult as this one. I allowed that to be my narrative for more than 40 years.

But I do not accept that narrative any longer. I agree now: living my life the way I choose is an example of self-confidence. I declare now: the world will not break me.

I asked myself many times over the course of my life: how am I to develop self-confidence? How am I to learn self-love? Over and over, I wished only to be comfortable as who I am. The goal was nebulous and the process inscrutable.

How do I measure the results of my inner work? Assuming I can learn to love myself, can I check on my progress? When will I know I am successful?

Confidence is love is life

My questions have now been answered. No, I did not know it when I arrived at self-confidence and self-love. But yes, we can check our progress toward both.

What it takes to develop self-confidence and self-love is simple: start doing what makes you happy. As I transitioned, I did many things purely because I wanted to do them, and all I do that appears self-confident are acts of self-love.

Every time we do, say, believe, or feel in a way that aligns with our deeply-seated desires and motivations, it is an act of self-confidence. And more: it is an act of self-love.

A practical definition of "self-confidence" is "knowing I am worthy of self-love." And the circular definition of "self-love" is "having the confidence to do what we must for ourselves."

This definition is a major revelation for me. What I thought of only as "things I needed to do" was developing self-love. Doing the things I needed to do proved my self-confidence.

I don't need to wait for an undefined stage in my transition to begin developing self-confidence and self-love. I did it. I developed it. I just didn't realize it because I was too wrapped up thinking I could never have them.

But I am a confident woman. I love myself. I love the confident woman I have become.

Thank you, Morgan, my Sister.


Amethysta Herrick

Ami is a transgender woman dedicated to exploring identity and gender. She is Editor-in-Chief of Purplepaw Publications, LLC.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the offical policy or position of Purplepaw Publications, LLC. Please view the Disclaimer page for further information.