Self love–what does that mean?


As a therapist, I hear many accounts of individuals struggling with the idea of self love.  Many people confuse self love with self indulgence, a sense of entitlement, self absorption.  self centeredness, and frank narcissism.  “I bought that new purse because I deserve it.”  “After all, for how hard I work, I’m entitled to a vacation.”  “It’s an all-about-me day.”  Most often these indulgences do little to fill the bucket of self esteem or increase genuine love for self.

hiugging myself

Self love requires the ability to gain a little distance from oneself, to slip out of the current state of mind, particularly if that state of mind is loaded with emotion.  Self love requires being able to look at yourself from an outside perspective, and from that vantage point notice, admire, love, be curious about, the miracle of the unique individual you see there–as if you were the most adoring parent to the person you are today.

From that perspective loving yourself means being able to orient, guide, and provide what that person needs.  Ask yourself these questions from that appreciative perspective:

  • What are the experiences that make you thrive?
  • What inspires you?
  • What makes your heart sing?
  • What gives you energy?
  • What restores you?
  • What brings out the best in you?
  • What grows and expands you?
  • What are the challenges you need to bring forth your potential?


Being able to orient yourself toward nurturing, caring, and providing for this precious person who is you is what self love is all about.




More on the Inner Critic–and Saboteurs


I was at a leadership training when one of the stellar women of the group shared a delightfully wicked story she had written. It was about slaying the saboteurs, all those inner figures that hold us back, criticize us, demean us.  She wrote something like–slay the naysayer, strangle the perfectionist, take a machete to the chicken, asphyxiate the critic and whack the know-it-all to bits.  Ahhh, wouldn’t it be wonderful to get rid of those inhibiting, diminishing, killjoys!

In a previous post I wrote about identifying stowaways, those voices that aren’t really you, but belonged to others and now masquerade as you: parents, teachers, older siblings, coaches, etc. that snuck in and were so familiar they feel like a part of the self.

Some of the saboteurs I’m going to address are different, and for some, it’s just another angle on the same one.

Early in life we adapted strategies like:

  • Be vigilant and watch your parents mood so you know how to behave.
  • Keep your mouth shut so you don’t aggravate the big people.
  • Don’t show off.
  • Don’t try to appear smarter, funnier, prettier than your sister.
  • Always think of the other person first.
  • Be helpful so you will be loved.
  • Hide angry feelings.
  • Always stand up for yourself.
  • Never stand up for yourself


All these strategies that organize us came into being for good reason–survival.  Nothing is superfluous, unnecessary, or irrelevant. These inner critics, saboteurs, or gremlins evolved, were brilliant solutions in the treacherous world of childhood. Each of us grew up in a family situation that was our world.  The amazing and resourceful mind that each of us had as a child figured out strategies for being loved, remaining safe, and forging an identity and sense of self.  We did what we had to.

Later in life, we go out into the world with these survival strategies in place.  However–the world isn’t like the family we grew up in.  A much wider range of behaviors is acceptable, but unfortunately these early survival strategies don’t depart easily.

Often we learn to override them behaviorally by applying some extra effort. That can work instance by instance but overriding the saboteur doesn’t eliminate it.

To transform, it’s necessary to identify them as having helped you survive and THANK them for the excellent job they did.  Appreciate how brilliant they were in keeping you safe and gently let them know that the world isn’t exactly like it was in childhood, and you are now stronger, smarter, and more able to handle complex situations. These strategies are always built on some natural strength or gift.  Figure out what that was and decide how you are going to use that beautiful gift that belongs to you–now–differently.

The Inner Critic–Who’s That In My Head?


Most of us have voices chattering in our heads.  These are not hallucinations.  They are running commentaries–one of the most familiar is the inner critic.   He or she says things to us like:



“How could you be so stupid.”

“You’re so fat.”

“Wrong again.”

“You’ll never be any good.”

I was sitting in a circle with other writers at a workshop when one of the women lamented that she was stuck in her writing because she had an ogre who sat on her shoulder and babbled criticism and worries in her ear.  I jotted a note  to myself:  Tell Jenny about stowaways.”

What is stowaway?

In real life a stowaway is someone who boards a vehicle, vessel, or other mode of transportation secretly and undetected.  I like the term and use it often when I’m working with a client on the inner critic.   When she talks about the harsh and critical voice she hears, I ask her if she would say the same thing to someone she loves.  Most often she wouldn’t–EVER!  That’s the litmus test for whether the voice belongs to her or whether the voice is actually a stowaway–a voice that belongs to someone else who sneaked in.

If you heard something often enough growing up, it seeped into the psyche..Over time it began to feel like your own voice and you lost track of where it came from.  Over the years of practice, I’ve found this to be a really dangerous, insidious process.  It’s sort of like psychic cancer–where the immune system doesn’t recognize something as foreign.  The mind doesn’t recognize the stowaway voice as not belonging to me.

What to do about it?

To correct the situation you need to start paying close attention.  You don’t need to do anything, in fact, it’s better if you don’t.  What is important to do is to be diligent to notice, tag, name these words/feelings/thoughts as “not me.”  Over time as they become differentiated, things change–a lot.  You will be differentiating what is actually me from what is not-me.  The not-me will begin to quiet down as deep inside you begin to be more aware of those unwelcome stowaways.