A long time ago, I had a psychic reading with Erin Pavlina that changed my life. You can read about it in my autobiographical book, Stubborn Soul. (Hint!)
One thing that Erin told me was, “It’s all about self love and self forgiveness. All of it.” At the time, this phrase really didn’t resonate with me. Though I was primed to believe what Erin told me, since so much of what she was saying was hitting home, I think part of me might have suspected this to be just an empty platitude.
I did try to think about self love, but at the time, I hit a wall. What does self love actually mean?, I asked myself. I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t feel a part of myself that was self loving or self hating.
I tried looking at myself in the mirror and saying “I love you”. I just felt terribly awkward. I couldn’t feel like I was making any progress and still didn’t feel sure that there was really anything to make progress in.
And then, I heard Eckhart Tolle saying that the concept of self-love is an illusion because that implies two people: one who loves, and the other who is loved. At that point, I was inclined to believe him.
Unconsciously Hurting Myself
Meanwhile, however, the information I got through psychic channels kept repeating Erin’s original message. I still didn’t get it for a while. After all, psychics are not always right. But after I spent a day walking on tarmac barefoot, and got some reiki from a friend to patch me up, he channelled a message from my guides: “You need to stop this attitude of self punishment.” For the first time, this felt vaguely poignant for me. Could it be, that walking barefoot could have been something other than just a lifestyle experiment? Did I somehow do it to intentionally hurt myself?
Looking back, there are so many times when I did just that. I once tried living homeless without spending any of the money I had while walking the Way of Saint James and eating only raw food and carrying a very heavy backpack, for instance. Written like that, it does seem like I made things hard for myself on purpose, doesn’t it? But at the time, all I thought was that I was putting myself through an interesting personal challenge.
And I think there were many other less extreme examples. Times when I basically put too much on my plate, where I did things that were unnecessarily hard, where I simply didn’t stop to perform some self care. I was often very rigid with what I demanded of myself. For example, when I followed the raw food diet, I simply did not allow myself to fail, or to try only a partially raw diet, or even to try transitioning to raw slowly. The raw diet was the right one, I believed, so I had to conform to it. Immediately.
While eating raw, I spent a ridiculously long time not realising that certain fruits made me sick in large quantities. I think if I had cared more about myself, or about something other than rigidly adhering to an idea, that fact would have been clear. In single sittings I drank ten-banana smoothies — when I know these days that a single large banana can give me a stomach upset. Looking back, it feels like madness.
Self Love Through Gender Transition
Erin gave me my psychic reading when I was seventeen. For five years, I think I mostly just acted out my excessively harsh attitude towards myself almost entirely unconsciously. I didn’t realise what I was doing; I had reasons for whatever I did, and never believed that self punishment might be secretly one of them. If I evolved (regarding this issue) during this time, it was only in that I slowly began to get some perspective, and this may have laid the groundwork for me becoming conscious later.
One thing that I think moved me along in this process was my gender transition. Well, I undertook my gender transition in a harsh way, without practising adequate self-care, as always. But, after transitioning, I could finally see myself in the mirror. I could start to have some kind of actual relationship with myself without reeling from discord just because of the gender discrepancy.
I know the tendency of many people is to assume that something so big as being transgender could be the cause of everything that was wrong with me. It wasn’t. I had self love issues mostly from being abused as a child, as well as having been brought up in a society where self-care is patently not a value that is encouraged of us. Yet, being unable to recognise my own gender formed a barrier, I think, that prevented progress. This was the first thing that had to change.
For a while, before hormones had caused my chest to grow, I had the habit of lying in bed with my hands cupping my pectorals. The pressure from my hands seemed to reassure me that they really were breasts, which gave me a palpable sense of rightness that I find hard to fully explain.
One day, I was lying in just this position and some words escaped my lips in a whisper. “I love myself.” Suddenly, I was startled by my own words. I had never felt the spontaneous urge to say that, no matter how many times I had stood in front of the mirror and forced myself to affirm it.
Progress In The Last Year
I believe that I have made real progress in self love in about the last year, which happens to be the third year of my transition. Supposing the act of starting transition was truly the thing that made it possible to advance, then I suppose I actually achieved something in the third year simply because that was the first year I was able to focus on something other than transitioning itself.
Progress for me so far has largely involved simply becoming aware that I do have some kind of relationship with myself, and that I’m treating myself cruelly. From there, I feel more able to choose something different.
I made a breakthrough while working on my philosophy of Unjobbing, actually. To give you a basic idea, the concept of Unjobbing is that I should not motivate myself by “discipline” or beating myself up, but that I should find an alternative, positive source of motivation.
I started out in this journey by asking myself questions such as, “What do I want to do?” in order to see things in a different way. Asking what you want to do bypasses the internalised authority in your head, and gives you full autonomy. However, despite redefining “want” to include things like “I want to work” (because I want the end result of that), I often found that invoking “wanting” tended to bias me to a more frivolous sort of motivation, as it didn’t automatically distinguish between higher level and lower level wants.
However, one day I worked out a better question, one that seemed to get to the root of the problem: “What is the kindest thing I can do for myself?”, or simply, “Am I being kind to myself right now?”
Perhaps it should be clear that “whipping” yourself to work is a form of self cruelty. But our society tends to teach us to ignore this piece of common sense. Apparently, being cruel to yourself is okay if you have a reason.
After all, we raise our children with rewards and punishments. My own childhood abuse was rationalised as a punishment, in fact. It may have been worse than what most children go through, but I believe the essence is about the same. The idea is that if we hurt children when we judge them as bad, they will learn to do good… as opposed to what actually happens: the children judge themselves to be bad, probably just as arbitrarily as their parents did, and hurt themselves.
We internalise the cruelty of our parents, and internalise the message that this cruelty is necessary. So self cruelty is deeply linked with the idea of “self discipline”, or violent self motivation, and “discipline”, which is submission to violent external motivation.
“Am I being kind to myself right now?”
So I reached a breakthrough in my understanding of Unjobbing. The key is to focus on self kindness! After this discovery, I started to frequently ask myself “Am I being kind to myself right now?”. And more and more, I’m now able to notice when I’m not being kind to myself. The great thing is, when I do notice, I’m usually able to choose something different. The impulse to hurt myself becomes evidently wrong, and I can ignore it.
I notice when I’m being unkind to myself through my choice of actions, or inaction. Sometimes I’ll force myself to work when I need to rest. Or sometimes I’ll lie about in bed when I should be doing things to take care of myself. Asking myself if I’m being kind to myself allows me to access an impulse that is more connected to my needs.
Interestingly, in my case a lot of impulses one might connect with depression seem to go away when I ask myself “Am I being kind to myself right now?”. The lethargy of depression seems to have something to do with a desire to hurt myself through lack of self care.
There’s something else I have been doing simultaneously to this which has helped my progress. I’ve been attempting to heal my childhood trauma.
Though 99% of the work I do on myself is solo, I do occasionally see the need for outside help. In this case, I didn’t feel strong enough to delve into my trauma alone, so I asked for the help of my therapist.
I think I’ve had three sessions with her regarding this topic, all similarly difficult. In the first session, my therapist guided me to talk to my child self. Spontaneously, without premeditation, I said to my child self: “I hate you.”
It proved incredibly difficult to get close to my child self. In each of these therapy sessions, I felt so much pain just attempting it, that it was basically impossible to make progress. I was immobilised by crying. My therapist suggested I try this exercise at home, but I soon realised that I was unable to do it without her help.
I had my last session with her a couple of months back, and then she had to stop working because of pregnancy. But I feel like I’ve been making some progress alone. Through introspection, I discovered that I felt hatred towards my child self because this allowed me to create a barrier between myself and the pain of abuse. In turn, this is probably why I hate my adult self.
I recently had a dream where I held my baby self in my arms. My mother, twenty-odd years younger, was there too. I felt a deep sense of peace and comfort. I felt like something was healing, there. After all, my mother, at least, didn’t abuse me when I was a child. I had the impression that through her, I could access some part of my childhood that was okay, and thereby, reconnect with my child self.
I feel that the path for me is twofold: getting to the root of my self hate in my childhood, and healing it; and becoming aware of how I’m treating myself in the present. As I become aware, I’m also able to choose new ways of treating myself. Of course, if I remain unconscious, then I can do nothing, because I don’t realise I’m being cruel to myself in the first place.
Of course, I shouldn’t just not hate myself. I should love myself. I’ve started thinking about trying to think of myself like I would a romantic partner. When I’m with a romantic partner, I focus on their wonderful sides, and pay little attention to their negative sides, unless there’s something that needs to be addressed. I feel that they are beautiful. I adore them. I do what I can to take care of them. I do little things to show them my love. I would think, that the same sort of attitude would be good to have towards myself.
I notice in particular that when I focus on all the cool aspects of myself, e.g. “You’re so good at this!” or, “You look so great today!”, I come up against the default way I have of seeing myself, which has become so normal to me it’s unconscious. Normally, I would focus on all my most negative aspects. If I repeated those thoughts aloud, it’d be obvious that I have an abusive relationship with myself. (I believe most people think this way, incidentally).
Though I haven’t gone very far with this, this also seems like a good way of challenging my attitude of self-cruelty. Again, I must become aware of how I am treating myself unconsciously, before I can choose a new way of acting.
I still have a long way to go. But I do believe that from now on, I will advance much faster, as I’m finally able to actually see my patterns.
Erin said that it’s all about self love. I see that now. I see how I’ve held myself back in so many things, just because I don’t want to be kind to myself. I could have escaped the pit of poverty long ago if it weren’t for the fact that I didn’t ultimately want a comfortable life situation for myself. I could have avoided a large part of the pain and mental health issues which I associated with my gender transition if only I had cared enough to transition in a way that was kind towards me.
I will finally take down those internal blocks, and I feel like life will become much better for me in the coming years.