How do I Love Me? Let Me Count the Ways: Six Principles of Self-Love

This month, I have been diving into what ‘self-love’ means. Each year in February, i do a daily practice to honour what needs tending. It is a practice of self-love, and yet it remains a work in progress that is fluid and ever-changing.

This year, the pandemic has flipped the practice on its head. Not because it made it harder to do, as most of the exercises and rituals are things i do at home in private, but rather the need to do it was made even clearer.

This year has pushed so many of us to our edges. We are surviving a global pandemic, some are faring easier than others (privilege, geographic location and government decisions all play a role in this). We are also just getting by and now are finding that our survival and coping strategies are not enough for our bodies to sustain and thrive. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. And yet the cracks in our boats are starting to be felt.

I felt the initial shock of the pandemic very hard. I remember being in the fetal position, crying, and screaming more than i want to admit. I was one of the lucky ones – my job became an essential service as did my partner’s, and we could work at home. I found it hard as community is a big part of how i stay regulated in my body, and i was forced to shelter at home. Again, i am lucky to be home with family and yet i also need a break from them in order to get that balance. This is the epitome of mixed feelings that make us feel stuck in a hamster wheel of guilt and gratitude.

So, this past year, i have been noticing how practices of self-love can be that salve for our mind body and soul. I have been taking more time to myself, be it an early evening long bath, reading a lot, and intentionally reaching out to my community. It was with these commitments that i started to see how i practice self-love regularly, and have some principles that i adhere to.

Before i share them, i wanted to unpack the differences between all of these ‘self’ words – no wonder the ‘self-help’ industry is so abundant. It is also important to note that while work on our Self is a private and independent act, it thrives in community and co-regulation with others. The healing process of therapy is successful mainly because of the relationship; whereas self-help books done in isolation are not as productive. The concept of Self comes from various psychologists from yesteryear. Jung speaks of it and Schwartz (of Internal Family Systems) speaks of the Self and it’s 8 C’s – (check out this helpful PDF here.) I have adapted from these as well as my own work on my Self.

Self-Worth is seen as the way of holding yourself in high regard and worthy of respect and happiness, and Self-Esteem is how we see ourselves and relies on self-worth. Self-Love is the action that is behind the feeling and thought, and it requires some acceptance of our Self as we are. Each of these concepts do not exist in a bubble and are influenced by our community, culture, and connections to others. They are shaped by our early attachments and also can be healed when we are not shown love as children. This is why self-love work is so important for re-parenting that inner child who is wounded.

There is a shadow side to Self-Love, even more than the other selfs of worth and esteem, acceptance and compassion. We are taught to be modest, especially for those of us who identify as women. To have love or esteem for oneself is vain or immodest. This needs to change, and we need to reclaim that sense of holding our Self in high regard as not only sustainable but our birthright. Those of us in femme bodies especially struggle with this shadow side – White supremacy and patriarchy have benefited from capitalism’s profiting off the modernization of our way of living. Feminine Sensuality is very much a needed part of our herstory that needs tending to again. We must move away from a male-centred value system. But that is a topic for a later article…

As self-love gets a bad rap, i wanted to share quickly what it is NOT – being conceited and holding your needs as superior over others (we are all perfectly imperfect and valuable as is); giving yourself a free pass whenever things are hard or go wrong (love admits mistakes and working on them); remaining stuck and unchanging or being rigid in your routine and views (self-love is ever-changing, evolving, and learning), relying on other’s compliments to validate me (though i’m not entirely sure i need to love myself before others love me either); performative self-care acts or rules to follow just because (it is a felt-sense of something in the moment and looks differently as moments are fleeting).

Self-Love is sometimes connected to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, as a process of getting there after tending to body needs, safety, connection via self-awareness and then self-acceptance. I wonder if it’s more complex and non-linear than that. It incorporates the various parts of self – physical, spiritual, social, emotional, and mental realms. To me, Self-Love is an Intentional Commitment (gotta do the work!) that helps me get a felt sense of inner glow, empowerment, sovereignty and affection for my Self.

Here are the 6 Ways i Practice Self-Love

Boundaries
While these are not in any order, I think it’s important to know the role of boundary setting in order to help us feel self-love. When we can say no to outside expectations, requests, demands, or assumptions, we are honouring our own needs. We deserve to honour our own time, body and decisions. We are putting our Self on our priority list. This is hard for many of us to do, and yet the reward is us tending to what is important – our safety, autonomy, time and voice. As social creatures, we thrive in community but sometimes that community is not safe or respectful of our boundaries. We need both time alone to rest and time in community to feel connected. We need breaks from devices and social media as well. As there are different types of boundaries, it helps to learn them – maybe you want to start with practicing saying No, or maybe a more energetic or emotional boundary that seems more attainable.
One Small Thing: Take stock of your friends and family and see who honour and respect your No

Self-Compassion
Self-love is the response to giving myself compassion and care, as i do for others. Self-Compassion and Self-care are the actions we take that help us embody the affection we have for our Self. So, it is the kind self-talk that intentionally works on forgiving myself for a mistake; it is the voice that quiets the judgement that sneaks in; it is the Permission Slips that remind me that i am perfectly imperfect like all humans. It is also the times i validate myself and take pride in what i do. This is how i hold space for myself and honour me, because if i don’t than this is what I’m modeling for others. This is where mindfulness of the here-in-now moment is sacred, slowing down and being present in my body is self-love.
One Small Thing: Write out some Permission Slips to have ahead of time – i.e. i give myself permission to make a mistake and then give myself a hug

Self-Trust
One of the benefits of learning more about self-care and self-compassion practices is the ability to learn how to trust our Self. When we listen to our needs, honour them, and are guided by our intuition and not our fear, we can then make confident decisions. Sometimes, that means also needing to learn how to NOT believe all i think as well. That may be a part of us showing up that is wounded, or the Inner Critic who is worried about making a mistake. When i start to listen more to my Self, i know where the worry is coming from: That is trust. Another important aspect of self-love is being able to work on our goals, dreams and plans – when we trust our Self, we see how the cycle of our life can impact our plan, instead of feeling hopeless or pessimistic. Knowing that i am working on my goals in general, and that my mood impacts my optimism is a big step to keeping on task with my dreams.
One Small Thing: Do a Needs Assessment for a day and honour some, be it a glass of water or changing stop scrolling through social media when it starts to hurt

Pleasure
We can’t have love without pleasure and playfulness. As Deb Dana talks about “glimmers and glow moments’ we need to have these examples to remind ourselves that we can be happy, present, and capable of pleasure. Self-love does mean giving ourselves a Gift sometimes, and taking stock of achievements. As the old commercial reminds us, we are worth it. This is where the ritual of gratitude is meaningful. When we see our achievements and our proud of ourselves, we feel empowered. When we find ways to play and be present, we are attuning to our heart’s desire. Is there a pet project you love to focus on for instance? To take it a step further, our Home life is also a reflection of this. Is there a space in your home that helps hold your pleasure practice? What rituals do you have honour that captures it.
One Small Thing: Create a Pleasure Corner with some cozy items in your home (think of a comfy chair, candles, a book and blanket to have on hand)

Know thy Self
After this past year, many of us have learned what our limits and needs are. We have been stretched to the max, exhausted, overwhelmed and afraid. When we learn more about our own nervous system and its capacity (also known as Window of Tolerance), then we can tend to our wants, likes and needs. It is so helpful to know when we are reacting in Fight Flight Freeze Fawn, and when we practice self-love, our needs are being respected. When we know if we are regulated or getting dysregulated, we can pull out the best resource from our ‘toy box’ of tools to tend to our Self. This is a sort of Love Map of my Self. Anyone who has endured trauma benefits greatly from this inner work, to heal and integrate the trauma and Shadow side (also called Fragmented Parts). Another important part of knowing our Self is to learn what our Attachment Styles and ancestral stories are, so that we can listen to the inner dialogue of our Parts that are trying to take up airspace, in order to help us be safe in the world, as well as what shaped us to become who we are and how we think about our selves and worth.
One Small Thing: Learn more about what you need to stay emotionally regulated and create a cheat sheet for when you need it

Body Attunement
Another part of self-love work that can be tricky is our relationship to our body. A lot of us were taught to be modest – to take compliments with grace, to not be vain, to not hold our appearance to the highest regard. This has lead to a disconnect between our Mind and Intellect to our Body and its appearance. Further, it has made our thinking brain the powerhouse to admire and be proud of, and puts our body in the shadows, especially when it comes to pleasure, ability and size. So, self-love rituals most include ways to move the body, listen to it, and do healing work (whether it is talk therapy, walks, yoga, massage, what you eat, etc). Move your body and then rest it, eat nourishing food, take breaks, have that bubble bath. When we reclaim Embodiment and Bodyfulness, we are more attuned to what our body is telling us – and it never lies: Listen to it.
One Small Thing: Put on some of your favourite music and see what your body does in response; try a 3 song minimum

Still unsure how self-love works? I had been finding the ritual of journaling to be so helpful – taking time to reflect, give myself a new perspective, as well as slow down and stay with my feelings is a powerful way to practice self-love. It is a way of holding space for myself.

So, if you are stuck on this concept, how about taking some time to reflect on some of these journal prompts:

*When did i show myself love this week?
*What is my favourite time of day and how to i linger in it?
*When do i feel happy? When have i felt happy – reflect on a time in your past.
*How do i feel connected to my needs?
*Write a love letter to myself from my Wise Self, or to my Inner Child Part
*What are 5 positive things to tell myself that i am proud of doing this past week?

Remember, self-love is a powerful way of reclaiming sovereignty over yourself – itself a radical act of self-care so be gentle with your Self: we are all a work in progress. It is your birth rite after all.

Parts of a Mother

My kids have been wanting to paint the walls. And not just figuratively, which they surely have been doing during this pandemic. They have been admiring the graffiti and street art in our city, and need to look no further than our own alleyway. Some artwork merits a smile and blush, others are thought-provoking, and some are eye-rolling.

We had the opportunity to fulfill this summer bucket wish last week. Our neighbour wanted to put her own tag on the wall and cover up some questionable artwork. So, luckily i was able to share with her that my daughter’s wish all summer was to use spray paint. What a good mom i am, right?

We were at the right place at the right time – paint in hand and ready to be accomplices, or rather apprentices, depending on your stance on graffiti art. I supervised the endeavour. I was happy to oblige my kids and a part of me was excited about the opportunity. And then i noticed the various parts of me that showed up alongside this joyful moment. Some were invited like the Good Mom. Others were a surprise like the Enforcer. And one happy surprise was the Inner Child who happily and tentatively held a bottle and made her mark.

After a while of being sous chefs, the kids were allowed to go wild and paint to their hearts content. They wrote lovely mantras like “love yourself” and “Me cool, you cool, we cool.” They were silly and they were in the moment. They were happy. And yet, i was surprised to notice my own voice barking at them, instructing them to not take up too much space. To not hog the space or take over. To not waste the paint. To not make a mess. I was able to notice it, and i apologized to the other adults whose project it was originally, to only notice later that who i needed to say sorry to was the kids because THEY weren’t doing anything wrong (and yes i know that graffiti is technically illegal). I felt guilty for them taking up too much space on the wall; i was directive and bossy and deferred to my neighbour as a way to people please – that other Part of me that gets exiled because i want to be assertive and confident, and yet she visits because i want to be liked and included. And like most of us, i have stories to tell from my youth of not fitting in and being bullied, and being afraid of conflict. I’m a work in progress too, and it’s taken years to notice that I withdraw from conflict and fawn to that person who is holding the reigns: It’s a safety survival reflex.

Internal Family System is a therapy modality that uses our parts of our Self that have become embedded in who we are. They are formed over our years of living our life, as tools to help us during a hard or scary moment. Typically, we have Manager, Fire Fighter and Exiled parts. We then have wounded parts that have become exiled and only show up when we are being triggered or if that part thinks we need their help. As a Feminist Therapist, i like to look at all these parts of my Self as my Archetypes – the Inner Goddess, Child, Warrior, Wise Woman, Apprentice, etc. Each of these has a role to play and our hope is that they get integrated into our true full Self, the person we are becoming and is our authentic wholeness. Think of your Inner Critic voice – from what Part do you think that comes from?

Our Parts are a bit different from the roles we play – i am a woman, partner, therapist, parent. I am also embodying all of these roles in my own unique way. For instance, let me take being a parent as a reference. In a given moment, my Perfectionist, the Inner Fraud, the Nurse, or maybe the Researcher or Governess shows up. Preparing my kids for school during a pandemic is definitely activating a few Parts so my Researcher hat is helping guide me. When i feel overwhelmed by my daughter’s messy room, my Perfectionist Part is kicked in gear. She’s there to try to help make sense of things and calm my nerves that get triggered by mess. It takes some time to notice what presents for you, and it can be helpful as it gives a way in to see what may need to change. When we notice the parts of us that show up in a harder moment, we get to engage in our own infrastructure. We also get to Reparent what is needed now, as well as what i needed back then.

Re-parenting my Self is a practice of self-compassion. And it’s indulgent because it is a way of building a secure attachment for the first time. We are working on meeting our need for nurturance and attention, sometimes for the first time. When we take time to learn how this looks for us, we are able to practice meeting our needs and getting to a place of a fuller, more happy life.

What are some parts you notice in you? What are some that you intentionally bring up to support you? Do you have an angry part that helps you when you need to address someone who’s being an asshole. Do you have an artsy side that helps you when you are stuck on something to wear? Name them – give them a voice so you can also talk back to them. These parts may need the same compassion your friends need. Thank them for trying to help you, remind them that you want to do try first and you well reach out to them if you need them. Send them a Dear John letter!

My journey to inner work is both one for myself as well as for the people i support. I’ve found such insight in books so i wanted to share some resources with you that may be helpful if you also want to learn more about Inner Parts work:
Recovery of Your Inner Child by Lucia Capachhione, a renowned art therapist
– Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to Your Inner life by Tom Holmes
– books by Richard Schwartz, Frank Anderson, or Bonnie J Weiss
– this lovely deck of cards that i use in sessions and for myself; sometimes i pull a card to help me reflect on how to channel or nurture that Part, or sometimes it’s a way for me to guide my day with intention.

How do you say hello to the possibly long forgotten Inner Child Part? Do you notice any glee or happy shriek in your body as you skip with a skipping rope, or catch bubbles, or play with clay? Taking a ride on “Party Island” at the cottage has always been a happy place for me, as it gets me back in tune with my Inner Pre-teen Surfer wanna-be.

During this pandemic, I’ve been intentionally saying hello to my own Inner Child. I had one mantra that guided me: Get outside, laugh and move my body every day. It has helped me get through the harder days. I’ve been doing crafts I love like macrame and drawing, dancing on my own, eating comfort food, napping, playing in water. Earlier on, we had sleepovers as a family and watched a lot of classic movie marathons. These moments are not to escape this reality but rather finding a way to slow down and notice what my body is needing to balance this scary time. It’s also a way to capture what supported me as a child when times were hard: Life goes on.

New Moon Self-Care Series – Inner Child Letter

This month brings darkness mixed with celebration. It then doesn’t come as a surprise that this feelings get internalized in us. It’s a perfect time to turn inward intentionally and take care of the shadows and darkness that lingers in you.

As this is the final Fall New Moon Self-Care Series month, i wanted to give you a gift to yourself that is all about connecting to this new moon and planting a seed of future wisdom and self-compassion. This is a time to set an intention of a new path and time to get closure from last month.

This New Moon falls in a busy week – December 6 is the Montreal Massacre, December 7 is National Letter Writing Day and the New Moon in December. In a few weeks, we celebrate the Winter Solstice which is the longest night of the year. With this in mind, I’m hoping you can spend a few minutes this week in a letter you write to yourself.

As this month seems to be catered to the young and young at heart, it brings up hard feelings for us as adults, especially for those of us that have childhood traumas or more recent traumatic experiences in our life. The holiday season definitely comes with some hard/mixed feelings for a lot of us. Mothers especially need to balance their own needs while nurturing all the wishes and hopes of their wee ones.

So, this month, I’m encouraging you to write a letter to that Inner Child – that version of you that you want to recall or create. Whether they exist only in a memory or a hope, write a letter to that young version of yourself and what you hope for them to receive this month. Think about ideas that allow space for joy, happiness, surprise, eager excitement. You may not have these memories stored as real ones, and that’S okay. This is a time to recreate the memory you wished you had as well.

Steps to Intentional Journal Writing

1) Get into a cozy spot that allows you to writing uninterrupted for a about 10-20 minutes. Light a candle or incense for some mindful soothing smells. It’s now time to slow down a bit. Sit comfortably and chose a writing medium that shakes to you – it can be a journal or piece of paper and good writing pen.

One thing that may help you get in the best writing zone is to listen to a guided meditation on Inner Child work. I like this one a lot – thought it is longer and not just on Inner Child, she calls upon our inner council.

2) Take some deep cleansing breaths and then visualize yourself at a door. The door has some festive greenery and smells like a Pine forest. Knock on the door and see a young child answer. This is the young you. She is excited to see you and grabs your hand, pulling you inside. Once on the other side, you notice the room is covered in silks, trees and the space feels more like an enchanted forest than a room. Everything about it feels right and that it is where you belong.

Your Inner Child gives you a tour and asks you to sit and join her. She is ready for play and to celebrate this time of year with you. What is it that you are doing? What is it that she is excited to show you? Listen without judgement, vulnerability and shyness. You are eager to participate. Finish the visualization by thanking your Inner Child when it is time to leave. Give her a hug and walk back through the threshold.

3) Immediately after this, write a letter to this version of you. Thank her for the visit and time together. Think of words that are an extension of what you just did with her. Recount what she told you, and how you felt as you played with her. What is it that brought you joy, happiness and a youthful spirit? Do not stop to question it rationally or with a logical brain. Stay in the flow of emotional free writing. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling mistakes. Feel free to sketch or draw what you saw. It may be a fun further challenge to write this letter with your non-dominant hand. There is something cathartic about doing the exercise this way.

4) Finish the letter by signing it, and enclosing it in an envelope. Place it somewhere it can be seen by you so that you can give yourself the first gift of Winter – a moment to play and be joyfully present.

I believe that journaling can be a very therapeutic tool and a lot of struggle with it. This exercise is just a suggestion – if you don’t feel safe or ready to meet your Inner Child, feel free to journal about what you hope to do this winter. It is a great tool to plant seeds like this on a New Moon – especially as Winter begins later this month.