Written by S. Bowyer

 

     To love thyself is one of the most empowering things one can do. It means accepting yourself as a whole person, choosing a world that you love, giving up negative or weakening beliefs, changing what you dislike in your life, and putting your own best interests first. Many of these are considered paths to self-actualisation, which Humanistic psychologists believe is the primary goal of our existence as emotional, intellectual human beings. Self-actualisation means satisfaction, comfort, power, and finality of the whole self -- all parts working in harmony.

     But what does it mean to your typical homemaker, or office worker, or even student? What does self-love afford and how it is possible? What is the magical path to find it?

     Being someone who was in destructive relationships in the past, I found my inner thoughts were negative, and I felt disempowered. My emotional batteries were flat. However, I was in a holding pattern where I didn't know how to fix it. How did I stop feeling so bad about myself? How could I change my thoughts? Could I change it alone? I tried different methods, only to be disappointed. Ignoring it didn't work. Constantly remembering the events didn't help. Randomly telling myself to stop feeling bad certainly didn't move me forward. Thinking back to my teenage years, and early into adulthood, I remembered what it was that used to help me when I was struggling -- journal writing. I decided to research more into the art and how I might re-introduce it into my life. I had kept brief diaries, but I had slacked off to a few notes a day. It was not the emotional essays I used to write.

     Journals aren't your typical young-girl-with-a-grudge when used in a explorative way. The American Psychological Association state that expressive writing can boost your immune system, and the venting of stress and emotions will lower your anxiety and help you better understand your own thoughts and emotions. They warn, however, that the journal writing has to be done in the right way. 

     "People who talk about things over and over in the same ways aren't getting any better," says psychologist James Pennebaker, Ph.D. of the University of Texas . "There has to be growth or change in the way they view their experiences," 

     Helen Marlo, Ph.D. of Notre Dame De Namur University and private practitioner in California says, "I get concerned that if people just write about traumatic events, they get raw and opened up and aren't able to work through it on their own." Her study did not, however, provide evidence that writing poses any long-term risk to people.

     After journal writing for a while, I found no movement in my thoughts and wondered if I needed another answer. I began to research books on journal writing "courses," where there are specified written questions or assignments that are designed to focus on certain areas. I wanted a program that would focus on my self-esteem and internal thoughts and so began to browse my bookstore.

     Then I found it -- a book with a promise of self-love. At first the idea seemed absurd. How could a few writing exercises change how I felt about myself? Could it be that easy? When low self-esteem is such an epidemic in today's society, whether in high school students, high-priced professionals, homemakers, and everyone else in between. Society is all about competition, telling us we are too fat, not smart enough, not fast enough, too nice, not nice enough, and so on. It's estimated that 75% of girls with low self-esteem, for example, will indulge in negative behaviours like eating disorders, cutting, bullying, smoking, or drinking alcohol as compared to 25% with high self-esteem. Other effects of low self-esteem are depression, and increased risk of teenage pregnancy. 7 in 10 girls believe they are not good enough in some way either in looks, school performance, or in their relationships.

     Simplypsychology.org suggest that self-esteem should be looked at on a continuum, that will change with experiences and thoughts in our lives. 

     "Research has shown key differences between individuals with high and low self-esteem. For example, people with high self-esteem focus on growth and improvement, whereas people with low self-esteem focus on not making mistakes in life."

     "It is important to note that both high and low levels can be emotionally and socially harmful for the individual. Indeed it is thought an optimum level of self-esteem lies in the middle of the continuum. Individuals operating within this range are thought to be more socially dominant within relationships."

 

A Journey to Self Love

 

     Over the past two months I've been roadtesting the book, A Journey to Self-Love by Amy Tammen. At first the exercises seemed easy enough and I was yet to feel any movement. However, I was awakened to the changes by one assignment. When I started the book I would have struggled to write many good things about myself, and I wouldn't have believed I could ever write many positive things. Last weekend I was given a test in Chapter 12: Meditate and write 100 things I liked about myself.

     "I can't do that! I'd have to like myself to do that!" I thought.

      I did it. . . in 40 minutes. 

     A Journey to Self-Love is a book that is quite easy to work through. Each chapter gives either a writing or physical task for you to complete, which will focus on different aspects of your self-worth. There are no right answers, only questions or activities that make you explore your thoughts or how you might like to re-think something. Written by a life coach, the text is positive, encouraging and written from a perspective of emotional/spiritual connection with yourself. The book explains the processes in which our mind works without jargon or banality. 

     "Life can only love you as much as you allow yourself to be loved. It all starts with you. The essence of becoming whole is making your needs, desires, wants, aspirations and self-care your number one priorities. Loving yourself is a statement of expectation. It is an intention. It is your energetic way of affirming to the Universe that you matter," Amy writes.

     "Self-love requires the same commitment and intention. Your ability to love who you are is based on the way you treat yourself. When you fully love yourself, you are taking care of, appreciating and respecting you. Being who you really are becomes your source to all things wonderful."

     One of the first rules of this adventure is to start right. Firstly, Tammen suggests getting a journal or place to write or vent that is going to inspire you to write. A place that is physically appealing. Go on, you're worth a little spoiling! Consider a beautiful diary from the stationery store with your favourite flower, a PC diary program that has a really pretty skin, a pretty blue voice recorder, or even an art sketch pad where you can draw your favourite animals or posies on the left pages. The journal must remain sacred, meaning kept separate from your typical venting journal of negativity. And write for you -- keep it safely from others if you share a household with those you don't trust enough to read it. 

     The chapters in the book take you through different elements of your self and many helpful skills, such as: 

        • * The chief of self-sabotage, the inner critic who thinks they're doing the right thing reminding you of all your mistakes and potential mistakes, who is actually holding you back. 
    • * The ways we contribute to self-dislike and maintain it.
    • * How we define and act out love and self-neglect.
    • * How we measure ourselves and acknowledge our good qualities.
    • * Our committments to deciding if we matter or not.
    • * Our inner scripts and how they help us or hurt us, and how we can rewrite them to be true, and not full of irrational or unfair beliefs.
    • * Our plans in life and how we could improve by having more defined goals and vision of where we want to be.
    • * Spending time with ourselves to learn to enjoy our own company and learn to enjoy without guilt.
    • * Setting boundaries on our thoughts when negativity starts to sneak in.
    • * Setting goals that are in our best interest, not that of others.
    • * Setting a list of to-dos that supports who we are and what we are truly about.
    • * Using self-care as a way of showing love and allowing ourselves some special time.
    • * Meditation or quiet time focusing.
    • * Using praise to empower ourselves, rather than waiting for it from others.
    • * Forgiveness for our mistakes to relieve the risk of causing future negative thinking.
    • * Signs that affect our thoughts and how to understand them. Supestitions we hold, so to speak.
    • * Feeling secure to allow things to happen, rather than anxiously awaiting.
    • * Having faith in ourselves and trusting in it.
    • * Your favourite things and how they can nourish you in more ways.
    • * Opening your heart to find more joy. This means doing intrinsic (internal gratification) activities that are meaningful.
    • * Indulging in activities you find spiritually fulfilling. (Spiritual in the way of spiritually recharging -- doesn't have to be specifically of a religious nature.)
    • * Affirmations that give you strength and energy.

     The book aims to be both a current treatment and teaches the reader preventative methods from slipping back into negativity. Because the reader is writing down the exercises, they can also revisit exercises if ever they feel the need to. I found the journaling questions quite interesting and creative. It didn't feel like I was being worked on, more experiencing or re-assessing thought patterns. The accompanying writing wasn't too involved, preachy, or technical, and I found it quite encouraging. 

     Of course, there are many other titles that aim to do the same thing which can be picked up from stores. Additionally, there are writing prompt books that offer a more passive alternative than this directive approach. These books give writing ideas to help start you on your writing journey. They might not offer specific goals as do program books, but will still start the process for the bashful writer looking for personal growth through writing. They will include suggestions like: 

     What are the three things for which you are most grateful today?

     If you suddenly were unable to work at your present job for a month and had no savings, spouse, or other support system, how would you survive?

     Who was your first crush and what made them special?

     Write about something you now know, that you wish you knew earlier in life. How could this knowledge have helped you?

* Taken from 412 Journaling Exercises and Prompts for Personal Growth by Meredith Lane.

 

     Self-esteem is such an important part of who we are as people and can often take a knock. How does yours feel? Could you write 100 things you appreciate about yourself? Try! 

     A Journey to Self-Love is available in print and e-book editions at many great bookstores.

 

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