How I Started Loving Myself

How I started Loving Myself

A sister friend and I were talking the other day about struggling with low self esteem and feeling unappreciated and sometimes just ready to give up on life.  I shared with her how I could relate to those struggles. I’ve been there several times in my life and continuously struggled until I began to love myself. Her next question birthed this blog excerpt from my next book. Don’t ask me the name yet because I don’t have it. It is being birthed.  She asked the all-important question how do I start loving myself? What are the steps?  What do I need to do to get on the right track? How do I get started?  As I thought about the answer I was reminded of what it took for me to get out of the mindset that had me in one of the lowest places of my life. An abused woman continuously looking for others to love me, to validate me, to show me my worth.

The following are the five things that I had to do to break out of the bondage of low self-esteem and low self-worth.

The Awakening

At the tender age of 22 I was married and pregnant. I had just walked into my General Manager’s office and told him I wanted to be promoted to Reservations Manager at the hotel I worked for. I had three months of hospitality schooling, had been on the job for approximately six months, less than a year of college education and I was asking for this seasoned General Manager  to take a chance on me and put me in charge of his 337 room hotel and the entire reservations department, of which I had no experience.  He looked at me for a moment as if taken aback by the audacity of this young, black woman who had just announced that she was pregnant and wanted to be promoted at the same time. I will never forget  the look on his face. I think it was an out and out smirk and an outright laugh, but there was also something else there. I saw admiration. Maybe I saw what I wanted to see but when he invited me to sit down I know I had his ear and I was going for it.  I sat down at his invite and shared with him my goals and dreams. I told him that although I lacked professional management experience I would make up for it with hard work, determination, tenacity and sheer grit. I shared I had been watching him and observing him and he had become one of my unofficial mentors. I went on to say that I was not a quitter and if I did not work out in six months he could fire me. Boy did that girl have courage. I think back now smiling at how brave I was then.  Later on I found myself writing in my journal that courage was one of my best qualities.

Fast forward a year. My son is born. I am the new reservations manager. I got the job within a day of speaking to the GM.  Professionally, life is good. I am a woman to my word. I am getting the job done. My Front Office Manager and General Manager praised my work. I would go on later to be promoted several times in this hotel. But while my professional life is on 10, my personal life is falling apart. Simply put I am miserable.  I gained 70 pounds with my son. At 5’3, a 70 pound gain is not cute especially if you were not thin to begin with. I was always healthy for lack of a better word. I wasn’t fat. I was healthy. Thick as they say these days. During this time I am struggling getting rid of the weight with all of the responsibilities I now have. Motherhood is wonderful and tough at the same time. Being married is awful. I don’t feel like I am getting any support. I have no time to myself and every time I turn around my then husband wants to be intimate. I’m too tired to be intimate.   I don’t feel good about myself. My then husband didn’t feel good about me either and he let me know it in many ways. He’s frustrated and starts lashing out. By the way his lashing out didn’t just start. He was lashing out before we married but that’s another blog, another book.  Simply put I was an abused woman. It felt surreal, like this can’t be true. How did this happen to me?  I was verbally, mentally and physically abused. My self-esteem was so low it was hard to even measure.  I felt worthless and undeserving of love. I am always amazed as I tell this story of the two very different lives I led. On the job I was a fierce professional that got the job done. At home I was weak, needy and mad all the time. Looking back as a personal growth coach I can certainly see the cracks in my professional armour, but many who knew me did not.   I was avid about keeping my personal and professional life separate. I put my mask on and went to work and got the respect I didn’t receive at home. Thankfully, I had good mentors because had I not I would have been a terror and would not have lasted long in management. Through the grace of God I did not self-destruct on the job. I was winning on the job front. It was the home front where I was losing the battle.

This was a tough time in my life. I was overweight, mentally and physically abused. I was tired. This could not be my life. This is not what I planned.  It was not until my son was taken to another state at 10 months old by my EX. did I think of ending it all. The only thing I had to live for at that time was my son. Through and by the grace of God my husband at the time brought him back a week later,  and life took on a new meaning for me. I was WOKE! I thought to myself I would never put myself in that situation again. Whatever I had to do I would leave and not look back. From that moment I plotted my escape. I would be wise, meticulous and careful, but I would no longer live in misery. I was getting out and I was taking my son with me. Two years to the date of the birth of my son I left that abusive relationship. I wish I could tell you I didn’t’ look back. But the pathology of low self-esteem was ingrained. I had one weak moment some months later when I thought he had changed. Thankfully, I kept my living space and when our relationship was over this time, it was over for good.   From that point on I was on a journey of awakening.  Here’s what changed my life and perhaps it can change yours too.

Personal Growth Reading

Books have always been my out. As a kid I would read books and imagine I was the characters in the book. I would be the heroine or the adventurer.  Books can take you to places you otherwise would never go. And so started my love of books. As I got older I became an avid self-development, personal growth reader. I will read anything I can get my hands on that will help me grow. During that time I needed someone or something to help me see things from a different perspective so I began to voraciously devour books. Authors like Maya Angelou, Zora Neal Hurston, Sister Soldier and Iyanla Vanzant among others spoke to me.

Initially I also read the bible a lot, which helped me a great deal in coming to know who I was and how God loved me, not in spite of, but because of my flaws. Scriptures like, my favorite, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), helped me to understand that there was a purpose to what I was going through and that one day I would be able to share my story to help others. Even today, the bible is my constant companion and when I am feeling down, it is my go to for strength.

I remember very clearly reading phenomenal woman by Maya Angelou and it lit a fire inside of me. I began to see myself as that phenomenal woman walking just as cool as you please knowing who I am am and whose I am.

Say what you want about Iyanla Vanzant, but I am a fan. Iyanla Vanzant’s book In the Meantime Publisher: Simon & Schuster helped me through some pretty tough times (See link below if you would like to purchase this phenomenal book).  There were many books that I read during this time of personal growth but this one stands out to me. I think I read it a few times until I felt like I had learned the lesson of the meantime and understood that I had to go through the process to get to the other side. Iyanla opening up her personal life and personal development generated a deep filled desire in me.  I wanted to be able to help others that had been through the same things I had been through. I think that’s one of the reason I decided to become a personal growth coach. I decided that if I didn’t go all in and become a psychologist I would help others by coaching them in their personal growth and development.

Iyanla sharing her stories helped me to know that I was not alone, and I decided at that point that somehow I would do the same for others. Later, Peace  from Broken Pieces would speak to me as well(see link below). Not to belabor the point but reading how others overcame helped me to know that I too could overcome. Reading everything  I could get my hands on to make me feel better about my situation was probably  the most important part of  the healing process for me and helping me learn to love myself.



Now this is a big one. Now I knew I had to forgive because the bible says you must, but like most of us, I read but didn’t really meditate on it and understand that it was a MUST, not a must. So, I really didn’t know- know that I had to forgive until I begin to read and found that almost all of the personal growth authors spoke about forgiving. Now I have to be honest I didn’t want to forgive. Part of me wanted to hold in to that anger. Some days it just felt good to be mad. I felt I was justified in my anger. So why should I give it up? I soon learned why. It wasn’t about him or anyone that had wronged me. I had to forgive for ME. In fact I had to forgive ME. That’s a different blog. Different book.

But let me say it was a purely selfish decision and one of the best decisions I had made up to that point. If I loved myself I had to forgive. I could no longer carry the weight of anger around. Carrying that weight of un-forgiveness was detrimental to my heath, my attitude and outlook on life. I found that the angrier I stayed the more negative my outlook was on life. The energy I was expending was negative and therefore the energy I was getting back was even more negative. It was a pattern of negativity that followed me. Forgiveness was the key! It took me a minute to process all of this. I cannot tell you it happened overnight. I will share that process in another blog or book. But I eventually got to the point where I could forgive and a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. Life took on a new meaning. The skies were cleared and the days were brighter. I could breathe again. I was growing. I started to feel better about me. I could look myself in the mirror and I liked what I saw. I was getting there.

Positive affirmations

As the cloud of anger and self-pity was lifted my thoughts were even clearer now. The forgiveness process had taken me down this strange process of seeing things differently and taking accountability of my own actions. I stopped blaming and took back my power I had given to others. I tell you it was strange but it worked. After going through the laborious process of forgiving and all of the emotions that came with it I started reading about the power of affirmations. I began to create my own. In the early days and even some times now I still say the following. These were my first positive affirmations. Some of these can be found in my book Words of Inspiration Sister to Sister so then I learned(see link below).

  • I am beautiful inside and out
  • I am special
  • I am precious
  • I am worthy and deserving of love
  • I love myself unconditionally
  • I am the masterpiece of God
  • I am a phenomenal woman

As I said these affirmations I would look in the mirror. At first it was hard to stay focused. My eyes would always wander because I was not used to saying good things TO myself. I think it was just hard to believe. Sometimes I would tear up. Sometimes I would out and out ball like a baby, but I kept saying them even through the tears. With practice I started believing and would even smile when I said them. I knew then I was getting more comfortable with loving me. I knew then that I didn’t need someone else to love me. I had the love I needed inside of me. Pretty soon I started treating myself better. Because my love for me demanded I do so. I started to exercise and take better care of myself. I started taking myself out to lunch or dinner. Let me tell you it felt so weird in the beginning, but the more I did it the more comfortable I became with me.

One day I took out my journal and begin to write down all of the positive qualities I could think of.  I think Iyanla said to do that in one of her books. The first time I read those words I had a hard time coming up with good things about me. This time I was able to almost fill a page. I was now able to see myself in a different light and I was beautiful and amazing. Let me tell you the weight starting coming off. At one point I had gotten down to a size six. I was feeling GREAT!


The final thing I will share that I think was very instrumental in me getting to the place of loving myself is beginning to respect myself. You might think to yourself that’s a weird thing to say in learning to love yourself. But let me tell you I would have put this first if I could have, but that’s not how it happened for me. I don’t think I could have respected myself in the place that I was. I had to get to a place to start respecting myself. Here’s the thing, if you don’t respect yourself how you can expect others to respect you. I was looking for others to do something for me or to me that I was not willing or could not do for myself.

Here’s another thing ladies. Any woman with self-respect will not allow anyone to disrespect her in word or deed.  One time is one time too may. Because I failed to hold up high standards and have boundaries my ex-husband and others I dated during those tumultuous years found an easy target. Let me tell you the first time someone shows you who they are believe them. Don’t question. Don’t doubt. Don’t pray about it. Simply believe them and decide is this how you want to be treated. In all transparency abuse escalates. It develops. But it’s still abuse. It typically does not start out on a physical level but the more we take the verbal abuse, the calling names, the cursing out, the spitting in your face, the slap, the choke and then the beat down and you are in a full blown abusive situation . WRONG!  You were in a full blown abusive situation the minute you were disrespected as a woman. The first time that I really knew something was terribly wrong was when I was spit on. Yes, spit on and I wasn’t even married. You would think I would have walked away. I thought so too.

Of course hind sight is 20/20. But here’s the deal, there was a longing and emotional need/weakness that I had long before I met my ex. He was simply drawn to some of the same issues he was dealing with. Ladies remember this. Hurt People– Hurt People. You can’t fix hurt unless you are a clinical psychologist or Jesus. I had to learn this. I had no clinical training in trying to fix folks. Even as a Coach now I make sure  I tell my clients  I don’t fix hurt, they have to go to therapy to deal with hurt and then I help them deal with the here and now and move towards their future. Stop trying to be a savior. There is only one and that is Jesus.

Here’s to being transparent. My low self-esteem didn’t start with my Ex. but the bad relationship certainly escalated the issues I was already facing. I was longing for love long before I met my Ex., I didn’t find love in him I found love in ME.

I hope my sharing a little bit of my story has helped you. These are the steps it took me to get to loving myself and living my best life. . It may take you a different process. As I coach others and share these steps I find that many have had positive results. So what can it hurt? What’s the worst that can happen if you start your awakening journey and become a voracious personal growth reader, forgive all of those that have hurt you, starting with yourself, and begin to speak to yourself positively and start respecting yourself and putting up boundaries of respect?

What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe, perhaps you just might find yourself in a good place and starting to love yourself and love life again.


God Bless You,

Empowering you to live your best life,

Coach Tonya White Johnson

Dr. Tonya White Johnson is the founder of Exclusively you Coaching. She is a professor of marketing, certified personal development coach, speaker and author. Coach Tonya  is passionate about empowering others to live their best lives. She specializes in personal and professional growth, building self esteem, career management  and developing leadership skills. Dr. Johnson’s  mission is to inspire your spirit, empower you to live your best life and impact your life in a positive way.  For your FREE 30 minute consultation to start living your best life now please contact Coach Tonya White Johnson at


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