A therapist’s advice on self love

An interview by All Things Hair

During the pandemic, looking after our mental health has become more important than ever, with self love becoming less of a fad and more of a priority. We asked psychosynthesis therapist, Recha Gries, what her approach to self love is, from a counselling perspective: 

What is psychosynthesis, in a nutshell?

Psychosynthesis is an integrative style of counselling; a therapeutic approach that focuses on personal growth and development. Practitioners of psychosynthesis consider it a psychology of hope, with its eye not only on the client’s history, but also on a purposeful future, giving individuals the capacity to reorient their lives in the direction of meaning and values. Psychosynthesis counselling shines a light on all the different aspects of ourselves, including what we consider the good, the bad and the ugly. If nurtured and strengthened with compassionate attention (a.k.a. self love), this deeper knowledge of ourselves can be used to our advantage. In doing this, we learn to accept even our bad bits and rediscover aspects of ourselves that might be powerful and wise. We experience ourselves as more of a whole and develop a stronger sense of self with which to meet the world more confidently.

What’s your interpretation of self love?

I think self love is really a deep sense of self acceptance, with the aim of eventually becoming love. In the same way that we (in the ideal case scenario) experience unconditional love as children, the idea is to get back to that place or to give ourselves the unconditional love we never had from our caregivers. We could look at self love as loving ourselves like we would love a child. I like the idea that ‘it’s never too late to lead a happy childhood.’ It helps to be humorous about our shortcomings and accepting them. The whole lot boils down to being a good parent to your inner child, considering what you actually need in certain situations. For example, if you’re stressed, rather than smoking or drinking lots and pushing yourself harder in job situations, what you might really need is to take some time off, let yourself off the hook and look after yourself in more nourishing ways.

Can self love be taught?

Self love is a process, not something you can tick off. It’s a lifelong goal and journey. In one moment you might do it well, but at other times it’s less easy. The important thing is to remember to meet yourself with kindness. It’s an illusion to think other people hold it together much better than you. In counselling, I have clients from all ranges of life with so many different ways of meeting the world and I can guarantee you that everyone has their struggles, just like every individual will have different triggers. Counselling helps to recognise these triggers and find the best way of looking after ourselves when we are triggered.

How does self love work in relationships with others?

If we have our own back when insecurities creep in, we are more able to be honest about them to other people in our lives and are more inclined to only allow people who also accept every part of who we are into our lives. If we are with someone who tries to reject some aspects of us, making us feel as if we are not loveable, then the ultimate act of self love is to move on. Take yourself by the hand and away from something that’s not good for you. Drawing healthy boundaries is one of the main aspects of showing yourself self love.

Some critics say self love is a form of narcissism, is this true?

No, I would say self love is the opposite of narcissism. You can assume that a narcissist has been deeply wounded in childhood, a lack of love and not being seen is what gives them a distorted view of love. They may develop a persona that craves the limelight and a wish to be seen, to give them what they missed out on and fill the void, in the same way an addict tries to fill the void with excess. We can’t, of course, meaningfully fill the void in this way, but we can look at the void in an adult way. Self love is about looking after the void, feeding it in a way that is caring and not depending on others. It is about finding out the messages we were given that hinder us from feeling positive about ourselves and addressing them now, to create a life we don’t need to escape from.

What causes a lack of self love?

Not being shown how to love ourselves in childhood, not being accepted for who we are. We learn, instead, to scrutinise ourselves and make unhealthy assumptions about what other people may think of us. We may engage in unhealthy self-soothing, compare ourselves unfairly to others, undervalue ourselves and not stand up for our needs. Some people subconsciously take up roles they think they should play to be loved, like the “good girl” or the “helper” – playing a role to serve others that’s unlikely to serve themselves.

What advice would you give to those wishing to pursue self love?

The moment you start thinking about it is the first step; the idea of self love is attractive probably because you feel that you could do with some. Start by looking personally at what it means and what it doesn’t – in which aspects of your lives do you really feel yourself and what are the conditions that you need for that to happen? In which situations are you less true to yourself, and why? Consider what your life would look like if you were to make radical decisions in your own favour. A mantra I often use is: ‘will this choice enlarge or diminish me?’

Assess which voices you’ve inherited that distort your sense of self and the picture of yourself that you have, and really address and speak back at those voices. For example, at school, you may have been led to believe that you are stupid. As an adult, reassess the truth in these messages and search for the proof that says otherwise. Think of how your friends would describe you. Look at what doesn’t serve you anymore and discard old unwanted roles you played.

We all have an inner voice, our instinctive and most reliable adviser. Often, due to experiences while growing up, this point of reference becomes clouded and unclear. We start looking to others for reference and start listening to their expectations and demands more than our inner voice, even though it knows what is best for us. To find and speak your inner voice can be the difference between feeling in control of your life or being controlled by your life. Part of having a good relationship with yourself is creating an environment where you are able to access your inner voice, the source of your inner wisdom but also your own creativity and intuition. And remember to go on this journey with a sackful of compassion.

Interview by All Things Hair

About Recha Gries

Recha Gries is a qualified BACP registered Psychosynthesis Counsellor and uses a variety of models within her counselling work. She tailors her approach to work with what her clients need at the time, helping to address their problems in a positive way by helping clarify issues, explore options, develop strategies and increase their confidence in tackling life better. 

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