“In the midst of turmoil, this book comes as a breath of fresh air.
“The Love Mindset is one of those books that had me hook, line and sinker from the first chapter.”
“Vironika Tugaleva has written a vulnerable, relatable book with the potential to change lives. Infused with timeless wisdom and her personal experiences on the path from self-loathing to self-love, The Love Mindset offers hope, insight, and inspiration for healing and thriving. It’s profound, yet accessible—a must-read for anyone who feels alone, ashamed, or love-deprived.”
–Lori Deschene, author and founder of TinyBuddha
“An authentic, brave and beautiful guide to a more loving self and a more loving world. A great gift of words for anyone searching for the sacred place of self-acceptance, self-understanding and self-love.”
–Howard Falco, spiritual teacher and author of I AM: The Power of Discovering Who You Really Are
“If I had two words to describe The Love Mindset, they would be: fresh and powerful. This is because when I read it, something grabbed hold of me like it was the first time I’d seen a book in 5 years!”
–Reuben Lowe, Mindful Creation
“For anyone who’s tired of feeling angry, depressed, or hurt, this book is a beacon of hope!”
–Christina Rasmussen, bestselling author of Second Firsts
Love is the keynote of the universe –
The theme, the melody
Table of Contents
Starving For Love
What Love Is
Loving With the Mind
Addicted to Triggers
Feeding the Mind
You and I
Who You Really Are
Searching For Permanence
Looking at You
The Preacher and The Teacher
If someone would have told me several years ago that I would be writing a book about love, more so a spiritual one, I would have taken it as a joke. The message in The Love Mindset is not one that has arisen out of some religious conditioning, nor out of a lifetime pursuit in some discipline.
The pages of this book contain lessons about love from the fruit of my personal transformation that occurred after years of cynicism, self-loathing, and isolation. I have learned about love like our ancestors—as nomadic creatures—once learned about agriculture. I have found abundance simply through a lifetime of hunger and, now, if you would kindly invite me into your heart and mind, I would like to share with you what I have found to be, perhaps, the most important thing that any person can learn.
For most of my life, there were only a handful of things I had under control. I excelled at school, I had a way with words, and I knew how to convince people I was right. I spent my time talking about things as if I knew something about them, while slowly poisoning myself with anything I could get my hands on. The more it hurt, the more control I felt I had. I was spiralling blindly, armed with the power of shame-fuelled judgment and an arsenal of memories that I packaged conveniently into a “story.” All in all, I was a master of self-destruction, arrogance, and playing victim. When it came to love, I always fell short.
Like most 21st century women, I spent most of my life hating my body. I desperately wanted to be beautiful and hated myself because I thought I wasn’t. As an adult, I spent most of my hard-earned dollars removing, covering, altering, augmenting, decreasing, increasing, extending, and reducing. I cycled in and out of eating disorders for close to 10 years. When it wasn’t food, it was some other self-altering obsession. I lived in a constant, steady state of complete self-rejection. My overriding goal was to be someone I wasn’t. I wasn’t sure who exactly I wanted to be, but certainly not myself.
I changed my hair, my face, my body. I tried to turn myself into someone other people would respond to with awe or envy. I wanted women to want to be me and men to want to be with me. I wanted to be desired and admired. I spent years crafting the perfect mask, the perfect disguise, the perfect identity. Strutting down the street, I would exude an air of what I thought at the time was confidence, but I realize now only looked like shame.
Underneath my carefully concealed face lay the hideous monster of self-loathing. That monster knew that the façade wasn’t real. Every compliment for the mask was translated by the monster. Every bite of approval was digested into the idea that my real, authentic self was ugly. Every ounce of praise only added to the heaping pile of proof that said I needed to cover myself up. Every time someone said, “You’re beautiful,” I’d hear “You’re ugly, keep concealing.” Every time someone said, “You’re so great to be around,” I’d hear “You’re boring, keep lying.” Each compliment to the mask was a blow to my core. I, however, did not see the mask. All I saw was person after person who failed to make me feel loved.
The years before the mask were even worse. As a young girl, I would compare myself to every woman I saw. Was she prettier, skinnier, more attractive? I would watch Jennifer Aniston on the television and feel my thighs sink into the couch as I either ate or starved myself to death. It didn’t matter if my stomach hurt from hunger or from gluttony. Either way, I still wasn’t her. I still wasn’t perfect. Through every show and every commercial break, envy would pour through me, hot and sickening. In public, it was even worse. At least on the television, I could fool myself by saying that they stretched the screen or used technology to edit the women’s bodies. In real life, however, I couldn’t hide behind those assumptions. The envy would bubble and burn within me, like a violent chemical reaction spilling all over my organs. Some days, it felt literally physically painful to stay in my own skin. The worst, however, the absolute worst, was facing my reflection. Often, I would avoid it at all costs. Other times, I’d stare purposefully, silently shouting insults at myself for every imperfection. My relationship with myself was the most verbally abusive relationship I’ve ever had.
One mid-June afternoon in my late teen years, I had my first eye-opening experience. Like most life-changing shifts in awareness, my first glimpse bred only confusion, not insight. It took years before I understood what really happened that sticky, humid afternoon. That Sunday, just like every other Sunday, my parents corralled me into their purple minivan with its nauseating leather-in-the-sunlight stench, and set off to the shopping mall. We weaved in and out of stores, my parents discussing the optimal amount of racks in a toaster oven while I wished myself invisible. We ended up in a large department store, navigating the bottom floor with its lemon-scented, tiled walkways lined by square floor-to-ceiling poles with mirrors on all sides. Department after department, I tried to keep my head down and my thoughts focused on avoiding the cracks in the tiles. I was really avoiding the silent judgment I felt radiating powerfully from the other shoppers.
There I was gliding awkwardly through the perfume department when I looked up and I saw a girl who immediately triggered that burning, raw envy. Like a shot of straight whiskey, it came down hard and washed its hot sickness into every part of my core. As she walked towards me, I eyed her skinny thighs and perfect breasts, wishing I had what she had. If only, I thought, if only I could have a body like that. Why couldn’t I have been born with a body like that? She came closer. I felt my heart beating faster as I imagined her eyes drilling through my enormous, unshapely frame, silently thanking her creator that, at least, she didn’t look like me. My face reddened. I felt my tense limbs surrender in helplessness. I just wanted it to stop. I just wanted to be her, and to stop being myself. I wanted to jump right out of my ugly, disgusting skin and settle into her comfortable, beautiful body.
Only when I was about to walk headfirst into the mirror did I realize that it was me. I envied myself. Confused and shocked, I walked out of the store in a strange daze. I didn’t understand what happened, though I thought about it compulsively for weeks on end trying to decode the message. After a while, my confusion faded as the intensity of the experience wore off and I settled back into familiar self-deprecating patterns. For some time, I considered that, maybe, it wasn’t necessary for me to hate myself so much. As the initial shock wore off, however, I just excused the memory of the incident as an illusion, an accident, a trick of the eye.
Less than half a decade later, I was unrecognizable. My hair had gone from my natural light brown to pitch black. My face was lathered in makeup and my skin infused with metal and ink. I no longer felt things like embarrassment or shame. I felt only cold distance and judgmental superiority. That self-hating girl never healed. I just pushed her down, telling her that I’d protect her by donning a protective shield. Within the mask, I was in an armoured fortress surrounded by several armies with cannons and guns. I was miles away from civilization—paranoid, cold, and hiding from the dangers that lay “out there.” I didn’t feel pain, but I also didn’t feel joy. I didn’t love anyone and I didn’t love myself. I only felt a black, gaping void that became larger each year, while I tried to stuff it with anything I could find. I pumped myself full of knowledge and money, philosophy and power, chocolate and chemicals. I would get into relationships and bare myself for just a moment, but then I’d retreat. In my trigger-happy, isolated fear, I drove away anyone who tried to love me, and then blamed them.
There were times when I would look at myself in the mirror and I’d see something hiding behind those judgmental, cold eyes—something innocent and pleading. Anytime I tried to access that part of me, it got ugly, fast. Each attempt to bypass my own defence mechanisms came with barrages of painful memories, self-destructive thoughts, and so much pain I could hardly move. And so, I drowned it out. I ran into every pair of open arms and into the embrace of every vice.
My mask, like every mask eventually must, began to split. Though I filled in the cracks as well as I could, my true self was suffocating, blue-faced, and gasping for air. The more I covered up, the harder she fought to get out. I didn’t understand what was happening. I felt a war going on deep inside of me. My inner self, like a caged animal, threatened to either burst out or destroy everything within. I began to contemplate suicide in-between bouts of self-destruction. Like a tornado, my self-hating thoughts and traumatic memories tore through me, sucking me deeper into where I dared not go, leading me to a place I would later call my mental breakdown, my rock bottom. A point came when I knew, suddenly and concretely, that I had to make a choice: change or die.
For hours, I sat on my bedroom floor contemplating this choice. Like Hamlet, I weighed the pros and cons of ending my life. Somehow, I found a shred of hope, a dose of strength I didn’t know I had. I chose to change. As I let go, the self-loathing I had been burying within me burst out and tore through every muscle in my body. Exhausted and blinded by pain, I went to bed. Nothing could have prepared me for what came next.
The following day, I tried to carry on as usual, but I could not. I sat down to do my makeup and my hand would not move. I stared at myself, my face bare, naked. I realized for the first time that, mask or no mask, I hated myself. Why was I covering up? Who was I covering up for? If I was going to hate myself anyway, I thought, I might as well hate my real self. I took out my piercings. I left the makeup in the bag. I stripped the colour out of my hair. As I removed each layer of external protection, my disgust at myself persisted. I began to realize that this battle within me did not originate from my appearance, from my lack of beauty, from my eyebrows or my thighs. It came from my mind. It came from my thoughts about myself.
In the weeks that followed, years of repressed self-hatred pumped through my veins as I faced my bare reflection in the mirror. Everything from the pigment of my skin to the colour of my eyebrows screamed obscenities at me. I surrendered. I took the screams like inner blows, allowing them to penetrate me. For the first time in many years, I didn’t drown out my feelings or cover them up. I just let them happen, and then I went on with my day. For weeks, I became gradually weaker and weaker. Taking those beatings from myself was hard and, at the time, I wasn’t sure that it would all be okay. I just knew I had to do it.
The inside of my mind became a horror film. All the walls, gates, and blocks that I had put up against my thoughts were down. I had no protection from the ghosts of my past or the shadows of my psyche. The truth felt like a jagged little pill, a cruel poison. I drank it down and, no matter how much I cried or screamed, I came back for more.
One day, three or four weeks after my fateful breakdown, I came in front of the mirror with my head down. I approached like this so I could relax before I looked. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t brace myself against what would come. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t try to fight it. After all, I’d been fighting it for so long. Though I was weak, I took a deep breath, relaxed my shoulders, and looked up into the eyes of the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. At that moment, I suddenly remembered that one day at the department store—the only other day I’d seen anyone like her. I’ve never cried like I cried that day.
And then, there was peace. There was beauty, love, and quiet, beautiful peace. For the first time in my life, there was silence. I knew that something had changed. My mind had changed. My eyes had changed. I went out that day onto a busy train and felt like I was in a magical, magnificent universe. I looked at the faces of all the strangers around me and they were just so beautiful. Every chin, collarbone, and wrist. Every shape, size, race, and gender. I was surrounded by dozens of beautiful, brilliant creatures. Among them, there was no ugliness and there was no mediocrity. Everyone was transcendent. I’d never lived in such a world with such people.
I realized, early on, that I was experiencing love, but I had no idea what love was. For a long time, I couldn’t understand what had happened or how to hold onto it. I would get that feeling and then I would lose it. I would love myself and, then, I’d come crashing down. I’d have moments of peace and, then, I’d feel the war coming on again. I’d search for that feeling in my relationships with others, but the harder I looked, the less I found. This was the second part of my journey. It was my exploration into the meaning of love and the nature of it. I wanted to know what had happened to me and how I could give that experience as a gift not only to myself, but also to the world.
This was how The Love Mindset was born. Its conception came during a long and transformational journey throughout which I realized that my struggle with love—both for myself and for others—had nothing to do with love’s availability. It had nothing to do with me either. It had nothing to do with how many pounds I weighed or whether the man across from me thought my cheeks were too big. I realized that what was really crucial about love was not me or him, you or them, today or tomorrow. The answers to love, I found, lie in the mind. The questions about love, I also found, lie within all of us, and yet we’re so afraid to ask that we settle for any answer we’re given.
I hope that reading this book will be as enlightening for you to read as it was for me to write. I feel honoured and privileged to be invited on your journey of healing and happiness. If you, like me, have run dry from searching for love inside romantic relationships and searching for peace in the darkness of your vices, I am glad we have found each other. Thank you for choosing me to show you the truth about who you are and what you’re capable of. I am excited to share with you some insight into why you’ve been suffering, what love really is, and how you can, finally, live the life you want.
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