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.

The Alchemy of Resilience

It is week 10 of Pandemic Living: As we are settling into a routine of sorts, it comes with resistance as this is not the life I want to be living. I want to see my friends in person and hug them, and i miss my everyday life of going to my office to work, getting groceries, and picking my kids up from school.

And yet, like all change, I was in denial at first, and am moving into a place of acceptance. It hasn’t been easy, and at times it has been mixed with grief, anger, fear, and such sadness. My Window of Tolerance is shorter than ever before and being stuck at home (a place i love typically and know i am very privileged to have) makes it hard to settle into this life.
But like a butterfly, we are going through these stages of Metamorphosis. At first, we were defiant and messy in adapting to this new life, then we worked on a new plan to accept the transition (called Liminal Stage). As we are starting to accept that this life during a pandemic is nowhere near as short-lived as we hoped, we need to start working on what comes next. Transition is the time to claim the life I want. It’s when I need to turn inward and practice Introspection. When we are asked to do this during a pandemic with no clear end in sight, this transition is more challenging.

Once we start accepting the reality, we have reached the Integration stage. This Initiation process means we are moving closer to our true Self and move to a version that is hopefully better than before. When we reach integration, that means we are more able to bounce back and seek out things we love to balance the shit and hard times of this so-called life.

A big part of how we adjust to change, both Rites of Passage like parenthood or unexpected change like a pandemic is Resilience. We all go through change but some of us adapt and bounce back better. I know this is a buzz word, and yet when we are living through a massive global change, resilience is a necessary tool to help us get to the other side of that rainbow we keep seeing everywhere.

Not only are we experiencing a pandemic, it is also a collective trauma, as I have mentioned before. Trauma is not just something that hurt us, but also something where we were not able to experience the good stuff that we were looking forward to. This is where grief comes in about things we have lost during this time. Children look to their adult caregivers to help support the healing after trauma. This helps them build resilience and immunity from future trauma. But how do we offer this to others when we are still struggling too?

There is hope.

Resilience is how we weather the storm. It happens when we tap into our own inner strength, believe it’s there, and use it when things are hard. This is our Sense of Self.

Some definitions of resilience include 1) the ability to restore balance and come back to your centre 2) the ability to overcome difficulty and move through trauma or adversity, 3) the capacity to recover quickly so that you can take in pleasure and have a healthy nervous system response and 4) resilience is acceptance of adversity. It is not just about how we recover from a challenge but also accepting when we cannot change something. That’s how we integrate and move on.

Alchemy is the magical way of combining ingredients to get to an even better new item. As a student of resilience, it is a big part of my work as a trauma therapist. Here, I’ve curated a recipe of sorts to help build your resilience.

6 Factors of Resilience
* REST – Find more peace and strengthen your relationship with your Self; learn to self-sooth, regulate and manage your thoughts; nurture yourself with good food, practice self-care and self-compassion; access those old resources that worked in the past; take news and social media breaks; get outside to be in nature; sleep as well as you can.
* Acknowledge your FEELINGS – Be mindful in moments to slow down the overwhelm; learn tools for worry brain or anxious mind; notice you sensations in your body and respond to them; be honest with yourself and your family about how you are feeling; allow time to feel your feelings and let others do the same, notice your fears specifically and help yourself get to the end of the fear by naming it – this helps lessen its effect on you.
* GRATITUDE – Kindness for self and others; intentionally notice the good in the day; notice how much of the news you can take in; share things you are grateful for in a journal or with a loved one; seek out the things that you appreciate now.
* Reach out for SUPPORT and Connection – Connect with others; hold space, empathy, listen without trying to fix; find new ways to connect by also respecting boundaries and safety; find the shared experience instead of the ways you are struggling more.
* PLAY – Be creative and find joy; do things you enjoy and have been meaning to do so that there are things you look forward to and are proud of; laugh and have pleasure in your body; being creative and curious helps us build resilience as it shows our brain that we are not stuck in flight or fight response; find ways to move your body (song, dance, throw a ball, get outside)
* Have a ROUTINE – You don’t need to over-schedule yourself, in fact the opposite is true. When you have a rhythm that your body recognizes, it experience that bounce back quality. Find things you can control to help balance the overwhelm and uncertainty in your body; cook or do thins in your home that you know you can do. This certainty helps deepen your adaptability and helps get to a place of radical ACCEPTANCE.

Mother told us to pause and retreat. So retreat with nourishment and reflect. Go inward. Danielle LePorte

Collective Resilience
We are all enduring this experience of the pandemic, albeit in different boats. Common threads coming up include a heightened sense of fear and anxiety, the social disconnection from being forced to distance can increase loneliness or at worst violence in the home, and the overarching thread of the unknown. ((Cue Into Unknown song in Frozen here))

This then impacts our health – our individual health, the interrelatedness to others in our personal life, as well as our collective larger community. When we seek out ways to practice enhancing our resilience, we are not only helping ourselves but our community. As humans, we are built to survive and also thrive. As i mentioned in a previous article, our brain has 3 systems, Defense, Social Engagement and Drive: This is where our Drive comes in, which is our uniquely human brain’s capacity to thrive.

This is the time for intentional pause so we can commit to a Sacred re-prioritization. We need to root in the earth instead of be unearthed by this massive change that was dumped on us. We need discomfort to grow. Danielle Laporte recently shared that this is not about going back to the way things were, but rather transforming from my heart-centred place. It’s about an ego death, hence the opportunity to re-prioritize your values from your true Self.

Here are some journal prompts that may help you unpack this further:

Journal Prompts
1) How can I live my life according to my values? If not all day but some time with each day, how can i practice this?
2) What is my Passion Project – these fuel the fire within. It allows your mind to still, to become clear and helps you focus on something to look forward to. Spend some time imagining this and putting it on paper, even in draft form it helps get the wheels turning.
3) Shapeshifter Visualization – who do i want to be after this? How can i evolve into a different version of myself. How can i accept that nature has its course to take as well.
4) Create a manifesting collage (or “Wombifesting” thanks to Latham Thomas’ reclaiming of the word to allow things to happen versus mange them happen). Get your old magazines and glue sticks out and create a vision board of who you want to be 6 months from now. Two years from now.
5) What’s the thing you’ve been wanting and what’s the fear you’ve had that has come up now again? What’s standing in the way? What armour do you need do build up your strength to challenge your fear?
6) For those of us working a lot and now working at home – notice how you can work from home and order things online. How is this helping or harming your life plan? Ask yourself: Am I living the life i love? What can I change to be more aligned with it?
7) Looking at the above list of ingredients for resilience, What can you add or change to your practice to ensure more opportunity for resilience?

When we experience something traumatic, we are not doomed for it to take over us indefinitely. There is always potential for growth and recovery. So, as not a lot is in our control now due to the pandemic, we can still review our Locus of Control, and identify what is within our realm of control. This is where we can make choices for wellbeing. A new identity is forming now so it’s a good time to ask yourself why am i here? What do i want in my life now? This is about taking the opportunity for EVOLUTION, that than bouncing back to what was.

We are not on the other side of the rainbow just yet. As we are learning more about ourselves and what works for us, when we make intentional choices to do things that comfort us and balance the harder feelings, that is resilience. We are not on the post-traumatic side of this new reality, and yet post-traumatic growth is itself a journey of resilience. What you do now will help you recover in the new world post-pandemic.

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.