I write frequently about self-care and self-love because without it, we simply cannot live as fully, as richly or as deeply.
It’s a joy to welcome Counselling Psychologist Dr Chloe Paidoussis-Mitchell here, to share her wisdom on how to love ourselves. If there’s one post to read today, it’s this.
Over to Chloe.
It seems that at the heart of all of our lives and central to our ability to cope resiliently with Mental Health issues is the choice to be self-accepting and loving- something millions of people actually struggle with. The amazing Vicki Psarias has invited me to be a guest blogger on her site today to share with you my tips as a Psychologist on how to safeguard and nourish your mental and emotional wellbeing with humble and authentic self compassion and love. Recovery from all Mental Health difficulties is pivoted on learning to choose you, and what this actually means in practice is going to be explained below.
Before I continue, as some of you may not know me so let me introduce myself. I am Chloe, a UK based Counseling Psychologist with a background in Organisational Psychology and a Doctorate in Traumatic Grief. I work with private clients across the world to support them in their attempts to rise out of Depression, Anxiety, Self Harm, Eating Disorders, Trauma, Panic, Addictions, and Grief and in all my 18 years of practice, I have been humbled by bearing witness to the role that self-love plays in everyone’s recovery.
None of my clients are done with their therapy until they have reached the point where they know how to practice self-compassion and they learn how to invest their energy into that which gives them meaning, hope and the experience of self-love.
As a therapist, my goal is to help those who choose to connect with me, to discover how to use self-compassion as their compass to make meaningful and fulfilling life choices. Whatever these may be, differs from person to person. I hold an unconditional open space for them but at the heart of their process, is their relationship with themselves and their choice to engage lovingly with who they are and how they want to be. This is vital as it liberates them from self-doubt and self-criticism and it allows them to feel growth, expansion and the reassurance of resilience.
It doesn’t matter what the Mental Health condition is my patients are navigating, the process is the same: they reveal their lived experience to me, feel understood and valid and choose to use their new found self-knowledge to embrace themselves lovingly and compassionately. I cannot stress this enough.
When you suffer from a Mental Health condition you do not need fixing. You need loving!
Accepting and loving yourself is actually a toughie. We are all prone to criticising ourselves, comparing ourselves against some imaginary perfect version of who we think we ought to be and critically reducing our life to failure, because we think that the ‘brilliantly successful’people around us is actually a reality. Let me tell you. With 360 million people being diagnosed with Depression across the globe today (let alone all the other Mental Health conditions that are diagnoseable – 297 possibilities are listed in the Diagnostic Manual currently) – a huge number of those around us are in the same boat. In short: not really being very self-loving.
When I talk of self-compassion and self-love I don’t mean showy-offy, status anxious, pleasure-obsessed love. I mean unconditionally accepting love. The kind of love that allows you to feel valid and understood by yourself and in turn by those you choose to connect with.
I will illustrate what I mean with an example.
A lovely client of mine, a 35 year old single female, believed herself to be practising self-compassion because she allowed herself to eat lots of ‘treats’ – the usual chocolate, crisps, cakes, biscuits – basically whatever she craved, however much she craved and whenever she craved – and self-medicated her sadness with copious amounts of wine to help her get through her lonely evenings.
Unfortunately these choices actually affected her mental health negatively and did nothing to help her cope with her terrible depression and her constant critical thoughts of feeling ugly, fat, disgusting, revolting, horrible, nasty, un-likeable, unlovable and un-sexy. She was such a kind person but struggled to feel self -love, and lots of other circumstances had contributed to her Mental Health deteriorating.
She had a huge challenge and part of her therapeutic dilemma was acknowledging that her ideas of self-love and self-compassion were misguided. In fact they were evidence of the opposite. She recovered when she realised that she had choices to make – to choose to nourish her body healthily, and to start to trust that she was lovable and just right as she was.
Choice is available and in therapy people start to recognise how self-judgement and self-loathing creeps in rather insidiously. For example many of my clients turn up to therapy reporting that they have failed in life because they are struggling with Mental Health, that there is something wrong with them and they ask to be fixed because they feel faulty. None of these attitudes and self-beliefs is evidence of self-compassion. Sadly, some report feeling like a waste of space and a burden to those in their lives–another devastating aspect of having no self-compassion.
To get my clients on a journey into themselves – which is what all therapy is actually about – one of my very early questions is this: ‘What is your relationship with yourself like?’ In almost every case the answer is either, ‘I haven’t ever thought about that’ or ‘I don’t know. I just don’t like myself very much’.
So think about this. What is the story you are weaving about yourself? Would you knock your friends and family down with similar tones of judgement as you so readily practice towards yourself? Would you say such things to a little child who is in pain? I am sure you wouldn’t. So what is it about you that means you choose to be so hard and harsh? This is a choice. You don’t have to be so rejecting.
You can choose compassion. Even in the darkest hours and the most devastating of life circumstances, you can choose self-love. For example you can say to yourself: ‘What I feel is valid. It is really tough and I do not want to go through this alone. I need to get support. I am going to get through this. I am facing this pain with dignity and courage. I trust that through this pain I will learn to find meaning. Life is always open to be meaningful to me. I trust in my own process’.
Compassion to oneself goes such a long way to help you heal from any mental and emotional distress. I believe it is the number one ingredient that we therapists guide our clients towards.
Without it no recovery happens.
If you spend your hours taking your meds, doing your exercises, getting to work and meeting all of your responsibilities but at the end of the day you think harshly of yourself and criticise your choices, then you have not found a way to heal. You are still in self-judgement mode.
Of course everyone has up and downs and we must appreciate that Mental Health issues emerge for a multitude of reasons. It is however vital to acknowledge that when coping with such suffering, a positive mindset, which eventually leads to positive feelings and thoughts and the practice of self-love and compassion, are essential ingredients for any recovery and help to resist the catastrophic aspect of Mental Health.
Practising self-compassion and learning to accept who you are is hugely significant. I have been humbled and inspired by the human spirit which can be brought to its knees by tragedy and distress but can also rise in the face of it, finding a meaningful response to tragedy and pain and navigating fear with dignity, courage and hope. There is nothing more awesome than the person who has been knocked in life but yet has found a way to resiliently resist being self-loathing and can take small steps to self acceptance and care.
Many people ask me what this actually means in practice. The advice below is your guide to start practising self-compassion and self-love. Take from it whatever you find speaks to your spirit and your heart!
- Mindset is everything. So start to reflect on what you tell yourself about yourself and monitor how critical you are being.
- Reflect on what would help you feel a little kinder towards yourself.
- Trust that it is OK for you to not be OK.
- Trust in your ability to rise out of anything life throws at you.
- Accept that you are lovable.
- Offer yourself positive affirmations to rewire your critical brain and open your heart to healing.
- Reflect on what you are grateful for in your life.
- Pay attention to your here and now. The moments matter.
- Invest in your relationship with yourself. This means recognising what gives you hope, meaning, purpose and joy and make time for it.
- Look after your body and nourish it joyfully, positively and healthily.
- Notice the natural world around you and remind yourself of the wonder of being. Life is a privilege and a gift. Make time to connect with something bigger than yourself.
- Engage and connect with people who get you, whom you respect and respect you lovingly back.
- Find meaningful life projects. This is so important. Whatever it is for you, accept it and make time for it.
- Safeguard your mental and emotional well being with good self-care everyday.
- If you need help and support, ask for it!
- Do not isolate yourself. You matter. Tell yourself that!
What I have learned throughout my time as a therapist is that self-love can be taught and the practice of self-compassion is strengthened through habit, repetition and an openness to hold onto a positive mindset.
I hope that taking the time to read my post today has inspired you to think about being self-loving and has given you useful ideas to embark on that journey into a more fulfilling experience of being you. Remember: You matter. You’ve got this. You are loved!
Dr Chloe Paidoussis-Mitchell, CPsychol, AFBPsS
BPS Chartered Counselling Psychologist