What’s (Self) Love Got to Do With 2022?
February 1, 2022
by Kim Childs, CPPC
So here we are, in a new year that doesn’t feel quite so new yet as we remain a bit cooped up and careful, especially here in New England, seeing when and whether it feels safe to freely move about the planet again. It’s a little depressing and distressing, and I’m beginning to resonate with the term “pandemic fatigue.”
I also feel this ordeal has created a kind of leadership vacuum, as scientists, government officials and health professionals seek to understand and respond to the virus, keep people well and alive, and make recommendations, one development at a time. As a therapist friend of mine says, “There’s so much uncertainty and anxiety, and we have to figure it out for ourselves.”
In addition to following mandates, we’re each making our own choices about caring for our bodies, minds, and lagging spirits as the situation has dragged on. For me, it’s ranged from drumming, Tai Chi, gym workouts, and energy healing, to comfort food, cocktails, complaining, and couch-collapsing (remote in hand). “We may cope with anxiety and depression in less than healthy ways to self-medicate, and we need to have compassion for ourselves,” my friend adds. “We’re also going through it more alone, with fewer daily social interactions, small talk, and smiles, all of which have an enormous impact.”
Dr. Jeffrey Rutstein, a psychologist who specializes in trauma, echoes the observation that we’re all dealing with a traumatic experience without the usual supports, which makes it extra hard. “Trauma makes us feel different and alone to begin with, and we can’t do some of the things to self-regulate that we normally do,” Rutstein said in a recent interview. “And if we have a history of trauma, pandemic losses can trigger depression and anxiety – particularly for adults who live alone.”
Among other things, Rutstein recommends self-soothing techniques like deep breathing with an extended exhalation, or a specialized self-hug with one hand tucked into the armpit. While practices like these, as well as self-havening and EFT “tapping,” can calm the nervous system, they won’t necessarily boost our mood at this strange time. “We are languishing,” says Rutstein. “We may be okay, but not happy. We work, but don’t have our usual spark. We sleep, but it’s not as restful, and most of us are running on a pretty empty tank.”
Don’t blame yourself, he adds, because we’re not in charge of our fluctuating internal states. We can practice dis-identifying with them, however, and do things that bring us present, versus wallowing in the past or worrying about the future.
A simple way I do this is to place my hand on my heart, breathe in and out of that place, and offer myself loving kindness, forgiveness and compassion with messages like “I’m sorry you’re hurting right now, Kim” and “I love and appreciate you.” Author Tama Kieves recently wrote about the need for extra self-compassion at this strange time, reminding us, “Your heartbeat is right here. It can remind if you listen, that, no matter what, the love is here. The love is here. The love is here.”
As a close friend of mine used to say, “It’s hard being a person sometimes.” And that was before anyone had ever heard the word coronavirus!
There’s a concept in Buddhism known as the “second arrow.” It means that, when a situation is already painful and we react to it in self-critical or self-harming ways, we’re adding a second arrow.
That’s the one that can be avoided.
Acknowledging that this is a hard and unprecedented situation for us, and then treating ourselves with the same love and kindness we give others, removes one arrow and can bring us a closer to feeling better, with love.
Self-love is not taught in our culture, though, so we need to learn and practice it ourselves, imperfectly as we go. A client of mine reports that she began by interrupting her self-criticism. “Realizing that I talked to myself in a way that I would never, ever talk to another person helped me shake off that demon and start to heal,” she recalls. “Preparing to become a parent was also a big motivator. I could envision the kind of love, encouragement, and support I wanted to give my child, so I had to first learn how to give that love, encouragement, and support to myself.”
Another client says it begins with self-respect, self-forgiveness, and self-care. “To me, self-love is about being gentle with yourself and forgiving yourself, over and over, for what you may perceive as mistakes in the moment but usually will understand as lessons in retrospect,” she says. “It is about finding whatever it is that makes you feel safe, calm, and alive, and giving that to yourself…really seeing yourself as a precious being.”
Self-love includes keeping our “to do” lists reasonable, and making sure they include activities that truly nurture and nourish us. A recent client shares the advice, “Don’t get bent out of shape if you can’t finish everything on your list. Just put it down for another day, and give yourself more time to get things done – so you have more time to relax or play.”
Relax…play…perhaps those are invitations we can accept right now as we wait and see what’s going to happen in our world, and worlds. What would more play and relaxation look like for you? Think about it. Then, I invite you to do something about it.
As I mentioned to people that I was writing about self-love, someone reminded me of these lines from the poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann:
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And the right to appreciate and care for the wondrous, complex creature that you are, going through a challenging and uncertain time.
Kim Childs is a Boston-area certified life and career coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity, and midlife transitions. Click here to learn more and schedule a free phone consultation, or a sample coaching session in person or via Zoom.