Apologies for slight lack of posts of late. As most will be aware, I’m currently undertaking the pretty gargantuan task of completing a course of EMDR therapy, all while planning a wedding – no biggie.
It’s tough. No lies about that one. I’ll update you all more fully when I finish the therapy in July – I’m having 18 sessions all together. I thought about doing a half way update, but I think it’s safer to wait until I’m fully through, though I can say after 7 sessions, it’s making the biggest difference in my health in over a decade – so obviously that’s positive and long may it continue to improve.
However, I do want to post on a related topic, as one of the things that has come up time and time again during my therapy is the practice of self love and rebuilding self esteem.
Who knew that the majority of my problems actually stem from my belief system around myself. Obviously that sense of self has been cultivated over the years by a number of unfortunate experiences, but my biggest task isn’t to forgive those who wronged and hurt me, I did that quite easily, but to train my brain into accepting that said experiences don’t make me a bad, incomplete, or unloveable person; and that has been rather more difficult.
So, with the help of some of my favourite poets and philosophers, I’m writing this as a reminder to myself, but also to other people who may be struggling with a similar set of anxieties about how the world, and the mirror, perceives them – that there are things you can do to rid yourself of some of the negative cognitions you carry around every day – and to help you learn the most valuable lesson of all: That you are worth the world, and you should always be your own number one priority.
1) Don’t fall into the trap of thinking self love is selfish. It is not.
I don’t know about you, but one of the worst insults that used to be thrown around when I was younger was this: ‘OH SHE LOVES HERSELF.‘ as if having inner confidence and belief in your abilities is somehow a negative personality trait. Can we just cut this societal bullshit once and for all?
Everything in your life is built from your relationship with yourself. If you don’t treat yourself as someone worthy of respect, gratitude, love, kindness and honesty – how on earth are you ever going to replicate those intentions for other people, or expect others to look at you positively?
Imagine for a second, critiquing a friend, the same way you do yourself – quite quickly I reckon you’d be pretty lonely, and most certainly friendless. But guess what, you’re probably already lonely even in a room full of people if you’re constantly putting yourself down.
If you forgive others easily, if you put them first (constantly), if you sacrifice yourself and your happiness in the name of others – not only will you end up becoming resentful of the very people you are trying to connect with, but you’ll never actually find fulfilment, because believe me, there is always someone in need of help before you’ll turn the attention on yourself.
And actually, most people never put much energy into their relationship with themselves. You say of your best friend, your family, your partner ‘I LOVE THEM WITH ALL MY HEART’ – but can you say you’ve ever truly felt like that about yourself?
I’ve spent countless years manipulating myself into believing I’m not worthy. Recently my therapist called it ‘double suffering syndrome’ – I feel anxious about relationships, social situations, the way people view me, and then when something positive happens in said situation – I somehow make myself believe there will be a negative consequence, so I can’t even enjoy positive experiences, baffling huh?!
So this is all about embracing your humanity. Allowing yourself to make mistakes, learn from them, and become a better person. How could that in any way be construed as selfish?
2) Self care comes in many guises.
Find balance points in your life, and prioritise them! I appreciate this can be really difficult for a number of reasons – but make sure you are mindful of the things that nurture you from the inside out, and then give them the precedence they deserve.
For me, prioritising enough sleep to help me function, a healthy diet to give me the nutrition to feel strong and supported in my daily tasks, and a daily mindfulness check in to reflect on the day, are the three things that I refuse to compromise on when it comes to my mental health.
Hobbies and exercise are other common forms of self care.
Ask yourself what you’ve prioritised today.
3) It isn’t always easy, it takes time, and commitment, and there will be set backs.
The journey to self love isn’t complete and never will be. Hence why it’s a journey not a destination. I was careful to title this blog ‘practicing’ because above anything – it requires a lot of effort, courage, and trust in the process – it’s hard, but the best things in life often are.
Sometimes you may even have to go to some pretty dark places to appreciate the joy on the other side. We all suffer – and we shouldn’t deny this. Sometimes being broken is allowed – don’t be afraid to be afraid. Be true to who you are in the moment. Ugly crying can be rather cathartic.
4) Be responsible for your actions, but not those of others.
It’s important to own and take responsibility for your actions.
You’re not a robot. You fuck up from time to time and you’re perfectly entitled to. If you’re reading this then you are probably someone who forgives and trusts other quite easily, but will beat yourself up over minor mistakes you make, like not saying thank you to the petrol station cashier in Sainsbury’s after a rotten day at work. Release yourself from guilt, mainly by being prepared to own up to your misgivings and learn from them.
Humans can be complete shit heads, they can think horrible things, they can do horrid things. But remember no-one is immune from this behaviour – so when you act in this way – you’re not alone. The difference comes in being bold enough to stick your hands up, apologise, grow from the mistakes and have compassion for yourself and others, so you can be less of a shit head in the future.
However, while you may be on this path of growth and reflection, others may not. Rule number one in self care – you cannot control other human behaviour. It ain’t your fault. If you go into a situation with the intention of controlling the other person’s behaviour or response – it’s only you that will end up blowing a fuse. I remember having a rather intense conversation with a friend about an illness I was suffering – which had made me a bit erratic TBH. I was convinced when I told them how ill I had been, they would accept my apology and my shitty behaviour and we could sort it out. They didn’t. Cue me feeling angry at them, worthless in myself, and breaking the line of communication even further. Fact is, only they have to live with the way they behaved & in hindsight I’m pretty happy with the way I dealt with things, while the things I don’t think I managed very well I have worked on and learnt from – and that’s all I need to sleep at night.
5) It’s ok to have boundaries, expectations and standards.
Are you allowing toxic people, activities, or habits into your life?
Setting limits and saying no is sometimes far more important than being present for everyone except yourself! Engaging in activities, people, places and work that drain you either physically or emotionally will come back to bite you in the end.
Will Smith sums it up perfectly with the help of Rumi.
If you’re so hard on yourself and your behaviours – why accept it in other people? Sometimes space can help you really see those who fan your flames, and those who throw cold water all over them. Dedicate your time to those who lift you up, not weigh you down.
Toxic habits can be personal too though: Think of all the times you were cruel to yourself in a way you wouldn’t be cruel to a loved one. Think of all the times you got hung up on a storyline that misrepresented reality and left you feeling unnecessarily anxious, scared or upset. Think of all the times you blamed yourself for a traumatic event when in reality you were let down by a caretaker. We all beat ourselves up; we all get confused; but ultimately, we all owe ourselves the compassion we so readily give to others.
6) Live with purpose and intention.
Finally, when you live with purpose, you’ll naturally make decisions that support your intentions. Before committing to something or someone ask yourself why you are doing certain things, and continuing relationships with certain people.
If those intentions continue to be positive and well meaning – your behaviour will reflect this. If you’re going into a task with a negative outlook – your outcome will doubtless be negative too.
Above all, if you set an intention to live a healthy, happy and meaningful life – you’ll be bolder in cutting off all that keep you from your goals.
Ultimately, as you grow closer to yourself your final task is simple: use everything you have in service of yourself and in service of others. Share your gift.