How can a person with little to no self-worth learn to love herself?
She needs to find self-confidence. She has to get herself out there and learn who she is and what she’s capable of—and she has to love herself for it. But how can she get out there if she’s painfully shy?
This is the story of how dancing helped me over the seemingly insurmountable obstacle of social anxiety, and helped show me just how healing love really is.
My sense of self-worth was destroyed by long-term emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is a difficult thing. It’s difficult to see, difficult to talk about, and difficult to endure. It becomes such a normal part of a person’s life that it’s nearly invisible, and the wounds it leaves are also invisible. It has a way of cutting a person down until she feels as worthless as a piece of trash tossed into a corner. I know, because that’s the image I so often used, in my mind, to describe myself.
All the romantic comedies I watched (over and over again) told me I needed a man to find my self-worth. It took me many years to unlearn that lie. I realized that I needed to figure out who I was and learn to love myself without depending on anyone else to help me do so.
But how does someone with a poor self-image learn to love herself? It was a conundrum I wasn’t able to fully solve until I set out on my own.
I moved to the city, and I was excited for the opportunity to start over.
It sounded great in theory. In practice, it was a disaster. I wanted to get out there, but that meant I had to meet new people—but I had a crippling fear of actually meeting new people!
It was another conundrum: My low self-worth made me incredibly self-conscious and insecure, which in turn made me socially anxious—it’s difficult to meet new people when you’re terrified of what they’re thinking of you.
I was always a shy person and an introvert, but I can’t even describe the fear I felt whenever I had to try to introduce myself to someone new. My brain forgot all the words I’d ever learned, and my tongue didn’t work. This only served to make me feel even worse about myself.
Needless to say, social groups were nightmares for me. I forced myself to attend them for a while, but I didn’t enjoy them all that much.
But it was through one of these social groups that I would discover the thing that would finally help me out of my socially anxious shell and find some self-confidence: swing dancing.
Friday night was social dancing night, and it always started with an hour-long Lindy Hop lesson for beginners. The best thing about it was I didn’t need to bring a partner; we partnered up during the lesson, and we changed partners every few minutes.
For a shy, introverted, and socially anxious person, this was the easiest way to meet new people because the focus wasn’t on talking, it was on dancing. I was hooked from the first dance. This was a social event I didn’t have to fear. I quickly signed up for lessons and, over the course of a couple of years, learned all kinds of swing dancing. And in the process, I met all kinds of people, and even made some friends. I hardly recognized myself!
When people started to tell me I was a good dancer, that’s when my world changed. I’d finally found something that got me out of my shell, that I was good at, and that I could love myself for. I wasn’t the best dancer on the floor, and I actually didn’t make it past the auditions for the upper level classes when I first tried. But that’s how I knew I’d reached a new level of confidence, because it didn’t matter to me. I was having fun where I was. I’d begun to restore my self-worth.
And wouldn’t you know it, the Friday night social dance was where I met my husband. It wasn’t until I was confident in myself that I could see he was the right man for me. I know this because it took me two tries to realize it. But that’s a different story.
Developing self-confidence and fighting social anxiety are like dancing: You have to keep practicing in order to remain good at them. My wounds from emotional abuse run deep, and insecurity is still a struggle, though it’s a little easier now that I’ve cleared the first hurdle of finding my self-worth on my own.
After many years of learning how to love myself for my strengths and weaknesses, I’m surprised to find that it’s my husband’s love that’s the most healing. It’s the most amazing medicine every time he says even the simplest thing, like, “You look pretty.” I can actually feel the wounds being stitched up. And that’s why I believe in love, because love—self-love and the love of a good man—heals.