Tell us about your journey to self-love.
My first serious relationship was with a funny, charming, seemingly confident guy. I felt lucky to have him. It became apparent within a year or so that he had some very deep self-esteem issues, these issues which would become my own problems. Because it was my first "proper" boyfriend, I had no idea that the way he treated me, and subsequently the person I became because of this treatment, was not at all normal.
I remember having to write long texts about what I loved about him, every single feature of his body and his personality had to be mentioned. I too would ask him to do the same because I thought it was what you do when you love someone, and I was lacking in my own self-love. After school, he would pressure me into performing sexual acts in public but in reasonably discreet places. I was uncomfortable with this, but his emotional manipulation convinced me that it was normal teenage fun. Now I see that it was not love at all.
Soon enough, I started to become suspicious and paranoid of his unfaithfulness. It wasn't long before he confessed to cheating on me, with multiple other girls, and over a lengthy period. That relationship left me humiliated, angry, and depressed. But luckily I was nearing the end of high school and had an exciting gap year planned to the United Kingdom.
I said to myself, "no f**king way will I ever let someone treat me like that ever again"
You can pretty much guess that I did.
Far away from home, missing my friends and family, I thought I had found love with an older guy. Again, he was confident, charming, funny, and he filled the loneliness that being overseas had created. His cheating started off as a one-time thing, and he promised it would never happen again. But it happened again, in fact, history repeated itself multiple times. But I forgave him because I thought I'd found the one (saying that just makes me want to do a massive eye roll at my then-self). The arguments that we’d have would result in a lot of yelling and name-calling. I wasn't happy in this relationship at all.
After my visa ended, I returned home with the promise to him that I would save my money and move back to the U.K to be with him. In the few months after returning home, I was a mess. The control continued via Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and email. I felt chained to my phone.
I remember being angry at everyone, constantly paranoid about what he might be doing. Eventually I pushed my friends and family away from me, they were right - he was treating me like sh*t and I didn't want to believe it. Instead, I defended his actions, trying so desperately to convince myself that he had good intentions and it was all in my head.
I know now how wrong I had it. I've learned the difference between paranoia and a gut-feeling. Paranoia might be more easily dismissed, but the gut-feeling that says 'No, this is not right' is never wrong. It's a source of truth that I should've relied on.
To be quite honest, it was very hard to recognise the relationship as emotionally abusive. It became apparent when little things would set me off. I remember my best friends and my Mum asking gentle questions here and there about how I was feeling. The fact that I felt the need to defend the relationship was a huge red flag for me.
I never realised how much I neglected myself and pushed away the people that I love. I don't know if I ever properly apologised to my Mum for the way that I spoke to her, and for the constant support and love that she showed me despite my actions. It was my Mum and best friends who helped me to leave the relationship. They supported me when I blocked all contact on social media and made the choice to start focusing on myself again.
Learning to practice self-love is one of the best things I've done for me. I started with counselling, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. I began training in Muay Thai kickboxing. Kickboxing not only kicked (quite literally) my ass into shape, but it allowed me to train my mind to push through a challenge. Being able to let everything out onto a pad or a bag felt like I was taking off a backpack filled bricks. Suddenly, my mind was clear, I could see goals ahead and they no longer revolved around someone else. I was finally showing myself the love that no one else could show me.
Practicing self-love taught me to no longer question my worth. I realised that I am in control of my own life and surround myself with people who I value. Having the ability to choose the people I wanted to have in my life was liberating in ways I hadn’t imagined.
Now, I'm inspired by people like my Mum. I think a lot of Mums are taken for granted, especially when they manage to balance work, family, and their personal health. Seeing how successful my Mum is at work, and how intelligent she is makes me feel like I too can be like her.
I love writing my goals down and figuring out how I'm going to achieve them. By putting my thoughts onto paper I find myself excited at the prospects in front of me, but it also makes everything feel realistic.
Today, I have the most wonderful boyfriend who has taught me so much about love and trust. These days my greatest relationship worries are what we should order on UberEats.
By focusing on relationships that bring me most value I've learned so much. Nowadays, if something is challenging me I talk to people who I love and trust.
I want to take this chance to thank my three best friends Jordan, Grace, and Emma, my amazing boyfriend Conor, and most of all my Mum. Mum, you really know what unconditional love is.
What does self-love mean to you?
I think that being able to appreciate your self-worth is the foundation of self-love.
It is so important to learn self-love because it's the self-love that you practice which will equip you for challenges that life throws your way.
When I say self-love, I think it's an inside job. There's too much attention is focussed on self-love as though it's our appearance. Self-love needs to be a process within an individual focussed on wellbeing and personal needs.
For me, I love to write lists, and I feel so much more driven when I have a clear set of goals. I take the time to sit down on a Sunday night and plan the week ahead. It helps clear my mind and means stress is more manageable and goals are achievable.
Sometimes self-love is treating myself and other times it’s simply having a day in bed watching my favourite Netflix programmes and eating my favourite foods. Finding the balance between hard work and relaxation is one of the best tools of self-love.
What makes you proud of the woman you are today?
I feel that I'm better able to recognise when I need help. Understanding that admitting to my fears, sadness, and other emotions don't make me weak. I'm proud of how far I've come with my mental health. I have days when it all gets on top of me, but I manage to accept and move past those days because I'm more accepting of the help that's offered to me.
I’m currently in my second year of a degree I’ve found something that I know isn’t just a degree, but is a passion of mine which prompted me to tell my story.
What values are important to you when it comes to love?
My firm belief is that trust is fundamental in any loving relationship. Along with this, it's important to know where your values lie. What do you stand for? If there's something you believe in, then you should be able to communicate this to your partner in a non-judgmental way.
What does a healthy relationship look like to you?
A healthy relationship to me is one where you're comfortable in your own company. I believe that being able to enjoy your own life, and also the life you share with your partner says that not only do you trust them but that your life has other valuable aspects.
Most importantly, a healthy relationship should be fun, and make you feel loved and safe. Nothing beats that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you look at the person you love.
What advice would you give to our readers?
The best piece of advice I can offer is to speak up if something you're experiencing is making you uncomfortable, or confused. Having a family member or friend that you know you can trust is the most invaluable asset to your life. It sounds easier said than done, but remembering what makes you feel happy and safe are good reminders of what you are entitled to in any healthy relationship!
Inspired by Sophia's story? Ready to share your own? We'd love to hear from you!