Self-Love: We Pay it A Lot of Lip Service, But What Is It Really?

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Lately, I've been thinking about the idea of self-love. As a concept, self-love comes up a lot in my work and in my life. It's freaking everywhere! Our society is full of inspirational quotes about it, uplifting Instagram posts related to it, serene art images inspired by it. By the look of it, one would think that the US is fully of savvy self-love wizards who know exactly what it means to them and how to practice it in their lives. (If you are one of those savvy self-love wizards, I salute you!) 

In my work, when I ask clients what self-love means to them, their automatic response is that self-love is showing yourself love. Technically, that is 100% true. Self-love is showing yourself love. When I ask them what that means to them, they look at me like I'm being ridiculous. That's fair. I'm asking them to delve deeper into a concept that we all just supposed to know. 

At its root, what this reflexive answer says to me is that the mental health and wellness communities are not doing a good job of actually helping people explore their own ideas about self-love. We have the same shrug response that everyone else does, so we're perpetuating the myth that self-love is just this thing that we do, like breathing or thinking.

Well, tsk tsk to us.

Like most things, each person is going to have their own understanding of self-love. Some believe that it is a way for you to reconnect to who you were before you learned who you, "Should be." Others believe that self-love is showing yourself appreciation through actions. Still others believe that self-love is more akin to self-compassion. The important thing is to discover what you think! 

But how?

Let's break this down a bit further. 

In order to offer you a starting point, here's a definition that I've put together based on my work with women over the past few years:

Self-love is offering yourself the feelings that you deeply need in order to embrace your authentic self. 

Now, this may still seem floofy for people. 

(Cue the eye roll and the refrain: Feelings? Embracing your true self? Lauren, you are such a therapist.To which I say, fuck yes, I am.)

So here's a writing exercise to help you examine your idea of self-love:

Gather the materials you need to capture your ideas and find a space where you can be reflective. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Question to ask yourself: What are the feelings that I wish were most present in my life?(Alternatively: What are the feelings that I most deeply wish to feel about myself? What are the feelings that I see others embrace that I most wish I could?)
    • Example: Maybe you’re someone who has a hard time sharing your feelings with others. You definitely feel them. You meditate on them; you think a lot about them, but the idea of telling others about them makes you want to crawl into a hole. This protective reflex makes sense and can also be limiting and frustrating at times, so trust might be a feeling that you wish you had more of in your life. Generosity or grace might be others.
      • Action step: Take a moment to think more deeply about what these terms mean to you.
        • How will you know when these feelings are more present in your life?
        • Who is a person in your life who embodies one of these feelings? How do they do so?
  • Question to ask yourself: How do others already offer these feelings to me?
    • Example: Maybe you’re a confidante for others. You know their deepest wishes and struggles. They tell you that they’re so lucky to have a trustworthy and caring friend like you.
  • Question to ask yourself: How do I already offer these feelings to myself?
    • Example: Perhaps you’re someone who trusts yourself. You explore and know how you feel and why. You consistently show up for yourself by meeting your own needs and instituting boundaries as you wish to.    
  • Question to ask yourself: How can I feel these feelings more often?
    • Example: Maybe you need to stop telling yourself that others don’t want to hear your struggles, and you need to start telling yourself that seeking support doesn’t make you weak. Perhaps you need to stop feeding the, “I’m fine,” reflex and start telling people how your life is really going.
      • Action step: Take a moment to dig more deeply into this idea.
        • What is one thing that I need to stop telling myself in order to do so?
        • What is one thing that I need to start telling myself in order to do so?
        • What is one thing that I need to stop doing in order to make that happen?
        • What is one thing that I need to start doing in order to make that happen?
  • Question to ask yourself: What is one way that I can access one of these feelings over the next week?
    • Example: Over the next week, you could make it a point to answer honestly when one closer friend asks you how your day is. If you’re struggling with something, wishing that something were different, or just having a meh day, then you share that instead of answering with a general, “Good.”
      • Action step: Create a specific plan for following through.
        • Ways to do so: Make sure that your goal is realistic, schedule a time for it to happen, enlist a commitment buddy, limit the scope and amount of time needed for trying, purchase the things you need to make it happen, remind yourself that this is your first try and you will learn from the experience.
      • Action step: At the end of the week, check in with yourself:
        • What differences am I noticing?
        • How is my plan going?
        • What do I need to tweak in order to be even more successful?

I know that this looks nice and tidy in this blog post. Is self-love actually a simple thing to explore? No! This is a beginning point. Offer yourself multiple opportunities to engage with the activity. It is not a quick fix or an automatic shift. As you explore, you’ll have your own ideas and find ways that work better for you! What it does provide is the chance to really dig in and show ourselves some true acceptance, support, trust, and even love.

-          Lauren, HHT 

If Spring is Not Your Season, This Playlist is for You!

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It's May and things are feeling relatively Spring-tastic around here, so I'm back with the second installment in the series of EmPOWerment Playlists. Designed to help you kick butt throughout the year! 

As a therapist, I've noticed that each season can bring its own set of bleh-inducing moments. The colloquial idea of, "The winter blahs," comes to mind. (On a related note, click here for a link to my upbeat, booty shaking winter playlist.) Spring brings along images of flowers blooming, birds chirping, and people frolicking. While it can be a glorious time for some, for others it can be a season of heightened anxiety, pressures to create change, pollen-induced brain fog, and overwhelming moments of AHHH!!!! (Think: upcoming graduations, half the year is over, what am I doing with my life?) 

If Spring is not your favorite time of year (or this particular spring is sucking), this playlist is for you. 

Let's do this!

Meet Leah Shadwick, Owner of Birds Nest Acupuncture and Wonderful Human

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Everyone! Meet Leah Shadwick LAc, the warm, welcoming, engaging practitioner and owner of Birds Nest Acupuncture! Before becoming an amazing Austin acupuncturist, she was a New York City clothing stylist. We are SO lucky that she decided to make the transition. Her care for women is evident in her demeanor and her mission to help them address health issues is ever-present in her work. Makes my women’s-health-heart go pitter patter.  

Tell me about yourself and what you do?

I’m an acupuncturist, small business owner, wife, and mother.   I live with my sweet family in East Austin and my practice is Birds Nest Acupuncture, which  is centrally located in Austin.  In my acupuncture practice I specialize in treating mental health and women’s health issues.  My style of acupuncture is called alchemical, which means that I work with my clients to create transformation in their lives, that help them overcome obstacles to their optimal health and well being.  I use acupuncture to guide them through a process of healing that fosters self awareness, body awareness, and makes space for new possibilities to arise.  Acupuncture is a holistic medicine which balances body, mind, and soul.  It shifts our energy, also known as Qi,  and it is amazing what can happen when we do that… we almost always feel better!

What motivates you to do what you do?

I love the feeling I get when I start to see people look and feel better.  The day they walk into my office and I can just tell that they are changing and their health and vitality is improving.  I feel like too many people are walking around stressed, depressed, anxious, unsure of themselves, and not feeling well. This is not how we are supposed to feel!  All of these emotions and feelings have an impact on our physical health and can create disharmony, pain, and disease.  I genuinely love to help people, connect with them, and empower them to become the best version of themselves so they can follow their path in this lifetime.  Fortunately, my  job also fuels my passion for psychology, women’s health issues, mindfulness, and holistic medicine. Acupuncture can dramatically change a person’s life and I’m committed to spreading awareness about it's benefits.

Tell me about a moment when you felt truly awesome:

I feel pretty awesome these days because I’m cleansing and I’ve taken my home cooking to  a new level in my newly renovated kitchen.  

But if I think about my past, I would have to say it was right around the time I met my husband.  I had reached a really good point in my life. I was in my early thirties, in grad school for acupuncture, and on a big time path to self discovery and self love.  I dove deep into my studies and personal  growth.  I was doing tons of yoga, reading, reflecting, and learning about myself and my place in the world.  I had given up on my attachment to meeting “the one” I would marry.  Instead I was trying to focus on all the positive aspects of being a single and independent woman.  In that moment I just decided to trust that what was meant to be would be.   Then all of a sudden… when I truly let go… I met my husband. Ha! That was awesome!  It just felt like a time period when everything was just falling into place and I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

How do you get through periods of self doubt?

I meditate, I pray, or I call my mom.  Sometimes I just need to stop my over-thinking mind and try to listen to that voice inside me that knows best.  Sometimes I need a reminder that I’m okay and some reflection back that my thoughts are irrational- my mom is good at that.  There is a part of myself that tries to bully me and tell me that everything needs to be perfect, and that is just not true.  I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to be MYSELF.  I try to remind myself to do the things that “feel good” as opposed to what I think I should be doing.  I think that if you continue to do what feels right for you, then you naturally live into the places that foster self confidence.

What do you want other women to know about self-acceptance and self-celebration?

Trust in yourself!  Learn to trust your inner voice and guidance.  It is there, I promise!  

If we all take some time to stop the mental chatter and listen for a moment, we would be amazed at what we heard.  I believe we all have a path and purpose in this world.  We should all learn to follow our own path and stop worrying about what others are doing.  We can absolutely be inspired by others, but we should always remember that we are own individual person and we have something unique to offer this world.  My son has this children’s book that talks about this exact sentiment and I have always liked it.  It’s titled On The Night You Were Born and my favorite line is “Life will never be the same.  Because there had never been anyone like you...ever in the world.”  Kids can naturally feel how special they are and we should learn from them and try to feel the same way.

See what I mean? Leah is so cool. I am going to take away many things from this interview, especially the ideas of creating the life you want, doing what feels right for you, and recognizing what makes you feel special. YES! Check out her work at Birds Nest Acupuncture by clicking here.

If you want emotional guidance in creating the life that you want and embracing your unique qualities, email me to schedule an individual therapy consultation!

- Lauren, HHT

 

Meet Katie Vitale, bad ass Producer of Issues for Your Tissues on KOOP Radio

Y'all, I was lucky enough to meet with Katie Vitale, bad ass producer of Issues for Your Tissues on KOOP Radio. If you are not familiar. this radio show is AMAZING! (Right now, you can catch it on KOOP Austin 91.7 Thursdays at 6pm.) Each week, Katie explores a topic related to women's health and reproductive justice. This is not an easy job in Texas, and Katie does it with passion. High five to you Madame! Her inspiring interview is below, and it is a must read!

Tell me about yourself and what you do:

Since graduating from UT 12 years ago, I’ve worked, advocated, and volunteered for women’s health and reproductive justice. In 2007 my radio show, Issues for Your Tissues, earned its spot on the KOOP Radio schedule. It’s been my not-so-secret joy to bring women’s health topics onto the air and out into the open. I produce, engineer, and host the show weekly, and serve on the board of KOOP Radio. In producing the show one of the many goals is for it to be a nexus for the reproductive justice community here in Austin and beyond. Many women contribute to this justice, and they all deserve a place to be recognized and to recognize each other.

What motivates you to do what you do?

The need for medically-accurate, direct honest talk about women’s health, sexual well-being, and reproductive justice has grown. There are a number of reasons leading to this growth. One contributing factor could be the reduction in comprehensive sex education among young adults in Texas; abstinence-only education leaves more questions than answers for young Texans. Another factor could be the increasing sexualization of pop culture. This isn’t to be necessarily lamented, but it spurs any number of conversations about sex that I can’t imagine having faced 15 years ago. Who ever thought we’d be wondering what “truffle butter” had to do with sex? It could probably be argued that more sexual health knowledge is leading to the rising sexuality in pop culture. Either way we need more medically-accurate information out there.

I love thinking about women listening to the show and then broaching these topics with people they might not have otherwise or delving deeper into these topics with their friends. The conversations we have break down the stigma shrouding these issues. Communication is key to health. Increasing health literacy, or the courage to advocate for your own healthcare, or the gumption to ask your partner for what you need is only possible when we feel empowered and equipped to take on what may feel risky at first. I hope Issues for Your Tissues equips and empowers its listeners to think about and then talk about things outside their comfort zones.

Tell me about a moment when you felt truly awesome:

One time I was out on the town with friends and met some friends of theirs. A woman from the group told me I looked very familiar to her, but I didn’t recognize her. Later in the evening she told me that I had been her counselor when she had her abortion years before. She told me that I had made the experience a positive one for her. That was meaningful for me because my goal in counseling was to give clear, supportive, and accurate information to women the day of their abortion. Normalizing the experience breaks down stigma and shame. She felt good enough about her experience that day to tell me and everyone in the group that night that she had had that abortion and it was positive. In my work there, I never really knew how close I had come to reaching that goal. Was I sex-positive enough? Did I sound at all judgmental? Could I have supported her by sharing the information differently? While all women are unique and I cannot definitively claim that I made all their lives better, knowing that I had done a good job of supporting her and normalizing her abortion made me feel successful. I reflect on this experience when I need to remind myself why I do what I do. I bet each of us have a story that can connect us to our purpose--even if we haven’t identified it yet.

How do you get through periods of self-doubt?

There are plenty of potential sources of self-doubt. Whether it’s something I have no control over or a situation I created for myself, some scheduled, regular self-care keeps me functional. This can be but is not limited to a massage once in a while. Whether taking time to read some fiction or a magazine, a weekend nap, a day without my cell phone, a long dinner with a friend, self-care isn’t relegated to the spa. All these activities that sustain us, but are not directly supporting our purpose are good self-care. Go to that movie, spend time on your playlist, or whatever it is to make your life richer [here’s the crucial part] without feeling guilty for it.

It’s really easy for me to look at my to-do list and become overwhelmed, doubtful of my capacity to do everything I tell myself I want to do. The most helpful thing for me to do, and it’s hard because you can get trapped in perfection paralysis, is to employ a little awareness, broaden my perspective, and remind myself of all of the things I have completed, accomplished, or checked off of that same list at another point in time. It’s not always the best motivator, but it really squashes the self-doubt. We’ve all done something that took tons of time and every one of our skills. Remember that thing. You did that.

What do you want other women to know about self-acceptance and self-celebration?

Too many times I’ve seen people get so down on themselves, berate themselves in ways they would never berate another living person. Let’s treat ourselves as we would treat our friends, speak to ourselves as we would to our besties. We cannot rely or wait for the validation from others to accept ourselves or expect anyone else to give us that which we won’t give ourselves.

There are so many wonderful truths in this interview. It's hard to narrow them down, but I will pick a few: 1. Pursue your passion even in tough political and social climates, 2. Recognize that your work has an impact on others, 3. Remember that skills gained from past successes can help tame perfectionism, 4. Talk to yourself like you would a best friend. Hell. Yes!

If you want help taming your inner perfectionist and connecting with your inner bad ass, check out my offerings for individual therapy

- Lauren, HHT