#100loveletters: Writing Through Self-Hate
(This post is part of the #100loveletters challenge, which started June 21. The challenge is open to anyone, at no cost! It’s really easy, and really hard – for 100 days, from June 21 to September 29, or 100 days from whenever you start, write yourself a love letter. It can be short, it can be long, it can be a stick figure or a sonnet or a flower or a song. It can be written down, or it can be an act of love. Share your pictures, comments, thoughts, and stories in the hashtag #100loveletters on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or in your blog, and find a community of people practicing a summer of daily self-love, or participate offline. You can also enter to win a hand-written letter by emailing me. I’ll be drawing a random name every twenty days over the course of the challenge. You can also join the email list to receive writing prompts, encouragement, and success stories.)
I interviewed Stasha at the beginning of the 100 Love Letters challenge, since she was the inspiration for the challenge.
Now, three weeks into the challenge, I was lucky enough to interview her again on the topic of writing ourselves love letters when we’re in the middle of feeling shame, anger, fear, or self-hate. This is a topic that has come up again and again for challenge participants, and it’s worth digging into. So, here we go.
Stasha – Question the first?
Tiffany – Yes! Excellent. In our first interview, we talked a lot about the beginnings of the project, and what it offered you in terms of that deep well of self-loving actions and accumulated evidence – I loved the image you shared of having that big stack of love letters to look back on.
We’re into the #100loveletters challenge now, and quite a few people have sent me messages asking about how to write a love letter when you’re hating yourself. My answers have mostly been “just start with whatever you have available, even if it’s just a walk or a post-it note or a mug of tea” but I wondered if you had wisdom about this, since you’ve been through the full 100 days.
How do you write – WHAT do you write – when you’re feeling self-hate?
Stasha – I’m just looking through my letters because I felt a lot of self-hate during the process…
One example, I was feeling really rejected, which is a feeling that I can get easily stuck in. So, I tried to think of the opposite of rejection and wrote those words around my heart. Another time I did the same about interrupting, because I was trying to listen better.
Tiffany – Oh, I like that a lot. That fits with the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy skills I’ve been working on in my own life – looking for opposites, and intentionally choosing an opposite and incompatible word/thought/action.
Stasha – Oooo yes dbt forever! I love the story of dbt creation and I try to fight the professionalization of the system of dbt. (Tiffany’s note: The New York Times recently ran a profile on Marsha Linehan, the creator of DBT. Her work is particularly important because it came out of her own experiences of borderline personality disorder – still such a stigmatized condition – and extreme self-harm. If “nothing about us without us” is your rallying cry, her work is worth exploring.)
Stasha – I externalize things like anger monsters for my coping/healing work all the time, so I used that to try and remind myself of good. Example: I get to be in the same world as this tree. One externalizing technique about love letters is that even if you were really disappointed in someone you loved, you could probably still summon a love letter for them. I kept going because I wanted to show myself the same care.
Tiffany – One thing I’m thinking about, that I’m not sure how to talk about… So, forgive the awkwardness/uncertainty of this.
Stasha – Uncomfortable is required to learn, so I’m ready.
Tiffany – But I have had times in my life when a project like this would have hurt so much, because I just could not summon anything resembling a love letter for myself. I think that some of the people who have been watching the project develop, and have been wanting to participate, may be in that space. Right now, I can do this challenge. I have spent years working on self-compassion and on being able to act with love even when I don’t feel love.
The reason I find this so tough to talk about is because I want this to be a tool that is accessible to everyone – we can all show ourselves care even when we don’t feel it! We can all invest this time in ourselves! – but as I speak with people, and as I think through my own history, I am recognizing that there are times when this really isn’t possible. And I want to acknowledge that, without framing it as failure, and also offer some hope or some alternatives.
Do you have any insight or thoughts for people who maybe want to do this now but are really struggling with it?
Stasha – Yes. This is so important. Me too.
One thing that I do, that many professionals define as a symptom of trauma, is pick up treasure like a crow. Bits of glass or rusty things or worm-eaten wood.
Tiffany – I love that image. Corvids forever.
Stasha – In my love letters the symbol of the crow is recurring and was a way for me to have this as a positive image while I gathered that summer’s treasures together in a copper pot.
Nowadays I get rid of the treasures by giving them to the river in the fall, before I kept them. I knew that I was going to reengage this coping mechanism, even though I had not done it for awhile. So, I summoned my corvid power and listed the pros of crows when I couldn’t list them about myself.
Tiffany – Oh, I really love that. Having something you associate with yourself (like the crow for you, for me it would be fae folk), that you can list beloved or positive traits about even when you can’t list them about yourself.
Using your patronus / alter-ego / animal friends in your love letters
- What do you associate with yourself? If could be an animal, a character, an idea, an object. Think of the Patronus idea from Harry Potter – something powerful, associated with who you are as a person, that can be summoned to protect you.
- What are your favourite things about the animal/object/idea you associate with yourself?
- What makes that creature/concept/thing so cool?
- What is one story or myth or memory associated with that animal/object/idea that you treasure?
Stasha – When I felt broken or as if I had a giant hole in my spirit I would weave paper and fabric into a letter. I learned that one year at Equinox Vigil, a really neat Calgary event about the need for public mourning of grief of all kinds.
Tiffany – That sounds like a valuable tool, too. (And I am thinking a lot about sensory stuff as I build the summer course – registration is still open for one more week! – I love how that practice of weaving a bandaging or healing letter would blend tactile and visual senses with fine motor skills – bridging left and right brain selves, and helping both from a narrative perspective and also from a physical perspective.)
Stasha – Yes to mind melding our own minds!
I used the metaphor of growing A LOT. And home. I wanted to be home and safe when I was with myself. Big difference between with myself and by myself. That meant confronting the shit.
One love letter was a rock with a hole through it from persistent water drops.
Tiffany – Oh, that is lovely. And I love how fluid and flexible your definition of love letter is. I think that’s something I could definitely improve for myself. Or, maybe to put it more gently, that could be an invitation to more flexibility in my own thinking.
How much time did you spend on this project per day? Did you find the time commitment overwhelming? How did you carve out and protect the space for that?
Stasha – Ha! Gentle is good. I usually would write the love letter in the morning, so it could be based on what I needed for that day, and then at night I wrote 3 things that weren’t terrible about that day. I love structure for my healing, so those bookends really helped me to accomplish my other goals.
Tiffany – I like that idea. I might try that for myself, because the last-thing-at-night love letters don’t feel so good for me – they feel like avoidance and dismissal, you know? And it’s funny – even though I feel that, I haven’t shifted it. But I like your idea of bookends and of the love letter giving you what you need for the day.
Stasha – I showed myself evidence that other people loved me, when I felt less able to do it myself. I drew stick figure me and cut out my name from birthday cards to show myself that I was surrounded by love.
Dear Tiffany, If you need some material for your love letters you can look into concepts such as Radical Hope, which you demonstrate every single day. You could interview someone who loves you about your great qualities, even though it is scary. – Stasha
Tiffany – I love that so much. Thank you!
I have been struggling with that concept of “deserving” all week. I have been avoiding writing my letters – I usually write them ten minutes before bed, long after my brain wants to be done, and if I weren’t running this challenge publicly, I don’t think I would be doing them. They feel indulgent and … “bad” – selfish, ridiculous, foolish, arrogant.
Stasha – So write them to the fairies and fae. Write them to the crows and elf leaders.
Tiffany – Yes. I love that idea! And maybe we can invite others to help us see ourselves through a loving mirror, when we’re not able to do that for ourselves.
Interview Questions to ask someone who loves you when you’re struggling to write your own love letter (you can use this template as-is, or adapt it):
Hi, I would like to ask you some questions. It’s totally okay if you’re not able or don’t have time to answer. This is challenging for me to ask, because I’m struggling with not liking myself a lot right now. I’m asking you because I trust you, and I trust your insight and your ability to see me clearly. I know that you love me. I appreciate you taking the time to answer these for me.
- What comes to mind when you think about me?
- What is your favourite memory involving me?
- Can you think of a time when I did something well?
- Can you share a story that demonstrates something you admire or enjoy about me?
Tiffany – Do you have any other thoughts on the topic of doing this project while experiencing self-hate?
Stasha – I do all my projects while experiencing self-hate. I think a shocking number of us do. I think I drew brick walls 3 times in my letters, not as barriers but as symbols of the cumulative effort required to get that shit voice* to also listen to compassion.
Tiffany – It is so common. So, so common. I think you’re right
Stasha – My 100th letter I painted a life size tree, while naked. I took lots of pictures of that PROCESS, because that was the gift to myself: the wonderful process of fucking up, exhibiting symptoms, lying to myself about my worth, and listing 1-3 non-crap things per day. Otherwise known as messy healing, the most sacred of love spells.
Now this process of seeing other people struggle within this same process, is so validating and healing. Because sometimes I forget how awesome I am or the amazingness of the things that I have tried. Just like you and you and you. It is really nice to try stuff together.
Tiffany – One thing that comes up repeatedly in the narrative therapy training that I’m doing, is the idea that people need to know that their experiences and knowledges can help others. Maybe one motivation for getting through the 100 Love Letters challenge is so that in a year or two years or ten years, when we have someone else in our life struggling, we can draw on these experiences and offer them hope and help.
Just like you are doing now, because you ARE amazing and badass and wise and resilient!
Stasha – Awwww thanks friend. Pulling knowledge out of pain is the original chocolate chips* out of shit! Just like YOU are doing now. Part of my 100 love letters process was to do it for me instead of for other people.
Tiffany – One thing that I did a few years ago was to give myself stickers for every positive or useful thing that happened or I did in the day. I think it was a similar process. It helped me start to see myself as competent and worthy, at a time when I did not experience myself as either of those things. I don’t even know where I got that I idea, but I used it to claw myself up out of one of the darkest holes I’ve been in.
I think that we are often so much more resilient, and so much more wily in our survival strategies, than we give ourselves credit for.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom about this! And for sharing this project. It’s a good one!
Stasha – Wily af! Thank you for building on it, there has been so much learning, and it is early still in the process!!
Tiffany – I know!! We are not even a fifth of the way through, and already so much wisdom and generosity has been shared. I’m excited to see the project continue!
Stasha – Way to grow!
* Stasha’s Chocolate Chip Wisdom (note on this section for discussion of eating shit)
Stasha – Now. Everyone loves chocolate chips.
Ok not everyone, but many do.
I describe this process [of finding self-love in the middle of self-hate] as picking chocolate chips out of a pile of shit.
It has been my direct experience that kids who are coping with abuse from primary caregivers, particularly neglect – are really, really good at picking chocolate chips out of piles of shit.
So we like chocolate. But when you are picking your chocolate out of shit, you are going to also eat a lot of shit.
And this shit will get inside you. And this shit will give you a mean belittling voice that will tell you that you are no good.
Sometimes this shit will destroy you or tell you to destroy yourself. It will always tell you that you are no good. That you don’t deserve 100 love letters.
I think though that I found a loop hole here, because the shit will never tell you not to write 100 love letters, only to not write them to yourself!
It is sad because everyone except us knows that we deserve this love. That shit gets in the way.
(Running the #100loveletters challenge is possible because of the amazing support of my community, especially my Patreon patrons. If you’d like to keep this work going, consider checking out my Patreon, or liking my Facebook page, or following me on Instagram.)