Moving towards Radical Self-Love

by Rosie Harris, Lecturer on TA Psychotherapy Foundation Course

Moving Towards Radical Self-Love (1)

The theme of this year’s mental health awareness week is Movement: moving more for our mental health. 

The more time I have spent in personal psychotherapy, the more I have realised that the deepest work I can do is with my body. After years of talking, I genuinely think that the best work I can do now is with my felt-self, the very youngest version of me – which I think exists in my physical form. We know the body keeps the score. Therefore, everything that I do for my body is an act of pouring love, care, attention and attunement into my very earliest self. I think of this as an act of radical self-love and healing. 

This can take many forms. I have fallen in love with sport later in my life, having never really had any luck with it as a child. This has helped me to do more ‘body restorative’ stuff - stretching, yoga, saunas, massage, physiotherapy and good diet and rest. I think a lot about the more basic ways I can love my body – through dog walking, through warm showers and sea swims, through Epsom salt scrubs and soft sheets. 

Finding time for our bodies is hard in a demanding, overwhelming and more-digital-than-ever world. I think we can become detached from our physical selves if we aren’t cautious. I often think I am equivalent to a spaniel that needs two long walks to sleep well at night. But I have a job that involves hours of sitting! Earlier on the month, I wondered what a day dedicated to just attending to my body’s basic needs might look like… yoga in the morning, lovely food, a swim, an early night! And I realised I almost never put my body’s needs at the top of my To Do list. I can almost forget to attend to it at all, unless I am in pain or something is wrong. 

Whenever my clients are hard on themselves I think about how we can offer compassion around a perceived failure or deficit rather than judgement. And I try very hard to do that for myself too. If our bodies are neglected – how can we re-engage with them without a sense of guilt or shame about what hasn’t been done? Or what we still might not feel up for doing? Moreover, what is our bodies defy us? Pain, chronic illness, injury, and poor mental health can all get in the way of building a loving relationship with our physical selves. Equally, we might have a lot of history around what we think about our bodies and how good they are, how good we are when we use them or don’t use them. What we put in them or don’t put in them. The world can erect so many barriers between us and our physical needs: work, stress, obligations, and commitments. With all that, it might seem unfathomable to make a relationship with our physical selves that seems nurturing, restorative, or kind. Our bodies carry the emotional weight of what we tolerate in the world, and we can build this up into something that can feel intolerable. Unfixable. Too much to begin to think about. 

If things don’t feel so insurmountable The Mental Health Week website has some simple suggestions which might be useful: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/public-engagement/mental-health-awareness-week/boost-your-mental-health-moving-more. With something more complex I think it can be reductive to offer advice. 

What I wanted to share instead was the process that I often use on myself when I find I have neglected myself, or when I have deliberately been putting my needs to one side for one reason or another. 

I tell myself:

  • Simple things fall apart when I am running out of my Adult-self or my capacity to think well.
  • I know that I cannot bully or force myself (indefinitely) into being more productive and will inevitably burnt out if I try.
  • So before I do anything I begin with some kindness and compassion for why I am starting where I am (which might feel very far behind where I’d like to be) I like these two resources, you might not: https://self-compassion.org/self-compassion-practices/ and https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/Resources/Looking-After-Yourself/Self-Compassion)
  • I also tell myself the story (with as much honesty as possible) as to why I am there. I don’t think we can heal if we don’t understand why something bad has happened. So, I try to account for why I feel I’ve missed out on getting it right for myself. And I probably have some good reasons and some more questionable ones.
  • And finally, I give myself permission to do whatever I want. Making it joyful, or comforting, or safe, or new. Whatever feels right. Tiny things. Bigger steps. Maybe nothing at all right now.
  • Over time I have built up a little collection of ways I can get it right for myself physically. Sometimes I add something new in. Sometimes I go back to something very old. All of it is important, I think.

I always try to go gently and with love. I don’t think we can go wildly wrong if that is where we are coming from. If it feels hard to get there, I think that’s when talking helps. 

Mental Health Awareness Week happens every year, and it's the biggest opportunity for the whole of the UK to come together to focus on getting good mental health. The week aims to tackle stigma and help people understand and prioritise their and others' mental health. Above all, it keeps up the pressure for change so that we collectively prioritise the UK’s mental health, prevent mental health problems and take action to make sure we live in a society that values and promotes good mental health for all. 

Rosie Harris 
Lecturer on the TA Psychotherapy Foundation Course

Written May 2024



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