Tanya Wyatt, Happy Valley pond

How do I love myself? Let me count the ways… gluten-free chocolate cake from Vovo (when they have it in); a really good book (when I have the time for it); a manicure (on my birthday); a good movie (when I’m able to stay awake long enough to watch it). Shit, hang on. I’m not sure about this “loving self” thing. My expectations aren’t that high and even then it doesn’t seem to come around very often…putting ME first?

 Centre of my universe

This was me before I even had a kid. And then I fell pregnant (planned and welcomed). While my bun was slow-baking in the oven, I started noticing other moms – watching them with their kids. So many of them seemed to (literally) lay down their lives for their little nippers; I decided there and then that I’d be buggered if my child was going to be the centre of my universe! Important, cherished, loved, adored for sure, but not worshipped to the extent that my life (and identity) was going to come to a grinding halt. I was absolutely determined it wouldn’t happen to me.

Well, the joke was on me since my life did just that – it ground to an extremely tedious, repetitive and not-very-stimulating halt. Like pushing a pram through fast-drying cement. In fact, I took a sabbatical from self-loving for quite a few years before I kicked my arse into gear and started unpacking just what this concept meant, in the context of family life as a woman, mom and partner.

My childhood

I’d grown up in a typically middle class, (UK) English speaking/acting/thinking family. My parents were baby boomers and had been raised themselves in a typically disciplinarian English be-seen-and-not-heard manner, which left them perhaps “slightly deficient” in the self-love department. This meant there was never a strong philosophy of self-value, self-esteem and self-worth running through the lessons I learned as a kid. Perfectionism, yes; self-love, no. So be it – such were the cards I was dealt and it would only be much later in my life that I’d be able to swop my joker for the Queen of Hearts.

As a young adult I became a lay counsellor for a well-known emergency counselling organisation. Subsequently, through my training (which included personal therapy) I came to realise that I was operating according to someone else’s idea (my family) of who I was. It was a total “aha” moment – the realisation that I’d been living my life unaware of the externally “gifted” box with its neat label that guided my behaviour.

The new me

Slowly but surely, as I learnt to separate out the personal “me” from my inherited parental (and family) “me”, a truer and more honest person emerged. It’s been a tough but fascinating journey getting to know what I value, what I hold to be true, and then trusting that this me is good enough to be loved. The script I now live by is mine. I’ve kept the bits from my parents that I agree with (it turns out not everything they said was crap), but who I am is the true me, not me trying to be the person others want me to be.

I often find myself encouraging clients to go through the same process. Healthy bodies are founded on healthy self-images and so much of the work of the Happy Body lies in the mind. In attempting to explain what they can expect, I think (in a nutshell), it goes like so…

Sorting out your shit

First, try to understand what it is that makes you tick (always easiest with a good therapist sitting opposite you); then unpack what belongs to you vs what belongs to others in terms of beliefs/views/philosophies/opinions (this is mine; that’s yours and never the twain shall meet). The next step is to try to sort through the various roles you’ve been assigned (and you accepted) in your lifetime (the responsible one; the clown; the reliable/sensitive/caring one, the peace-keeper, blah blah fishpaste) and then decide whether or not they fit, according to your ideas of self in this new conscious state. Ha, then – when you have all this lovely info tucked under your belt – it’s about becoming true to yourself in ways you never previously imagined! A friendly caution – it’s a moving target.

The me of today, isn’t the me of ten years ago, or the potential me in ten years time.  Just in case you thought this “loving me” thing was easy.

Fine print

There’s some fine print to this putting-you-first contract. It’s called KIDS. No sooner have you broken free of your old box, before your kids do their best to fit you into a new one. And how do you put yourself first now? The standard question I ask my (usually female) clients is “how do you teach your kids (or significant other) to love themselves?” “Oh well, I tell them regularly how wonderful they are; I put them first as often as I can; I give them a better life than I had.” Ah. Okay (indeed, big spinning ambulance lights start flashing). And why would you putting them first so that they can have a better life help them learn to love themselves, I ask?

A better life

“Mom, I forgot to tell you that Jenny’s mom’s first cousin from outer space is arriving today and I must, I must be there to welcome her/it. I just HAVE to be there.”

“Oh, I’m sorry my sweetheart but I made a plan to go to gym this afternoon so any alien landings will just have to wait until I’m done.”

How’s that for self-love? I show you that I’m important to me (yes, taking care of your body is one of those self-love moments), which ultimately gives you permission to be important to you.

How about, “Mom, have you made my lunch yet?”

“Oh, darling apple of my eye. My day is jam-packed and I need a few quiet moments before it all gets bat-shit crazy, so how about you put your own lunch together. I trust you to do it well.”

How’s that for instilling confidence in even the littlest of people? Now you’re showing self-love and developing confidence in the little sausage at the same time. “If mom trusts me to do it well, I must be trustworthy and capable.”

Knowing who I am

You see, hanging upside down on a pole (my passion is fitness pole dancing) – resisting gravity’s pull to put me in the ultimate box, has helped a little in gaining perspective on this expected-vs-genuine me. My limits, my capabilities are mine. If I pretend to be anything else the pole, gravity and the ground have a great way of bringing me back down to earth.

“What? NO, honey – Marmite, jam and fishpaste won’t make a great combo!”

Sorry, have to dash…