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Using Writing to Cultivate Self-Love

An author shares tips on how writing can be a catalyst for mental wellness

The concept of self-love is not novel; however, it has gained popularity in recent years. We are in an era in which people are finally realizing that cultivating love within us is key in being able to love and be loved by others. While it can certainly be challenging, it is an empowering and worthwhile practice, especially as it relates to improvements in mental health. I have utilized the Self-Love Workbook in my private practice for years and have seen how this investment often serves as a cornerstone for transitioning from struggling with mental illness to thriving with mental wellness. Individuals who hone their self-love often experience benefits such as improved confidence, motivation, and happiness as well as decreased anxiety, depression, and suicidality.

One of the many tricky aspects of self-love is inherent to the term: It pertains to the self. What self-love looks like for me may not be what it looks like for you. The increasing popularity of self-love has been helpful in highlighting the concept, but the trend is that we often explore self-love as it relates to mental health, and therefore, suggested strategies parallel common methods within the scope of counseling and psychology (e.g., meditation, gratitude, reframing). In this series of posts, I am exploring creative methods of fostering self-love through interviews with experts in their respective fields including a deeper reflection on how to draw on their creative strategies to cultivate self-love.

Photo used with permission from Elizabeth Jaikaran
Source: Photo used with permission from Elizabeth Jaikaran

Elizabeth Jaikaran, an author and lawyer, began writing at the age 8, and since then, has published fiction, non-fiction, legal commentary, poetry, and comedy. She is the proud child of Guyanese immigrants, born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Queens. Her writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, Playboy, The Higgs Weldon, Brown Girl Magazine, Drunk Magazine, SILENT Magazine, Defunkt Magazine, The Muslim Observer, Bruk Out Media, PREE Lit, Human/Kind Journal, The Jurist, and the New York Law Journal. She is the author of Trauma: A Collection of Short Stories and Nothing You Could Do. Her upcoming poetry collection, Waiting for a Name, will be released later this year.

Can you share a little about your mental wellness journey?

I think it's still a very new journey. For much of my life, I've operated from the vantage point of delayed happiness. I've always looked at happiness and self-care as a transactional thing, like, what have I done to deserve this? Once I get this degree, I can be happy and I can do something for myself; once I lose 5 pounds, I can do something for myself. That's not to say I never felt happiness between those goalposts, but just that I felt like I didn't deserve it, and I didn't deserve to do things to take care of myself. Now I realize just how important it is to experience everyday wellness and joy.

I have learned that it is important to engage with negative emotions in a healthy way because that's self-care as well. After finishing law school, I realized I was going to need something to help me feel balanced, especially in this career, so I decided to start writing. Writing has done wonders for me because it offers a whole other use of my brain. It exercises a set of mental muscles that I don’t necessarily get to use in my career as an attorney. When it comes to professional writing, I enjoy the excitement of receiving a new task followed by the reward and gratification when someone values what I have written.

What does self-love mean to you?

Honoring your desires and your boundaries. It has been a push and pull in my journey. Today, I see it as pursuing the things that light a fire inside me, and setting the parameters to make that possible. Self-love is when I design a life that I love, and the continued pursuit gives me peace.

How does this show up in your work?

In many work systems, such as my own, boundaries are premade for you. Finding an outlet that allows me to create my own boundaries has been important for my mental health. When I am writing, I set and manage my own parameters. This gives me a sense of balance.

Self-love encompasses honesty with myself and others. At work, it is important to be honest with my needs. Not only does this allow me to be authentic, but it also lessens my stress. Last year for Ramadan, for example, I decided to be transparent with my colleagues about my decision to observe this religious month. Being forthcoming allowed me to manage expectations for myself and others for how I would be showing up in that time. Allowing others to help can be an important part of self-love, and this is only made possible by creating transparency and setting healthy boundaries that are supportive of your needs.

What can people use from your field of work to improve their self-love and well-being?

1. Allow yourself variety. As a writer, you may have a style that you gravitate toward, but that does not mean that you have to pigeonhole yourself. You can be true to yourself while exploring other realms. Don’t be afraid to engage with different crafts. This can allow you to flex untouched creative muscles and unlock ideas and emotions that were otherwise hidden. Variety really does bring about a balance to daily life, and that balance is critical to self-love. With respect to personal writing, just the act of writing itself can provide variety in your life if your career and other hobbies are focused on other crafts or skillsets. If you work in highly technical or diagnostic fields, engaging with any kind of writing can bring some balance into your life by allowing you to flex creative muscles and utilize your voice in a way to which you are unaccustomed. Allowing yourself to engage with entirely new skills and crafts will aid in achieving balance and fulfillment.

2. Speak your truth. As morbid as this sounds, consider writing as though everyone you care about is dead. No one will read it; you have nothing to worry about. Now, what’s your honest truth? Just go ahead and say it. Unrepressed expression is an important step in self-love, as it requires you to honor your own thoughts without the filters of expectations and third-party judgments.

3. Free-write to process and plan. Even if you are not a professional writer, I think there are huge benefits to personal writing that can be helpful in any self-love pursuit. Before I began writing professionally, personal writing was part of my daily life. There is a misunderstanding that you need to write at a certain level to write at all, or that you need an arsenal of clever metaphors and multi-syllabic words. This is incorrect. When you write for yourself, your own voice is the only tool you need. Simply free-writing for a few minutes about a topic, about a problem, or about your day can allow you to process your feelings on complicated matters and neatly organize thoughts that were more or less tangled in your mind. Free-writing can help you develop ideas still in their infancy and, when it comes to emotionally charged subjects, is especially valuable as a tool for release. After all, when you write, no one can interrupt you or misquote you. This can be such a freeing and clarifying experience, and one that can contribute so much to the exercise of self-love.

More from Shainna Ali Ph.D., LMHC, NCC
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