About the Author: Shelley Abrams spent close to 25 years as a corporate technical writer before branching out on her own as a freelancer in 2010. She loves writing and doing research and enjoys the diversity being a freelancer offers. She has contributed to blogs on spirituality, personal development, mindfulness, and health and wellness. She has written and maintained philosophical and spiritually based content for a paid membership site. She is currently co-authoring a non-fiction book that offers a unique spin on history and geology. She also does analysis and report writing for a marketing research firm. She has an MBA, as well as, a certificate in non-fiction writing. When she’s not writing, she likes being out in nature or just reflecting in the quiet. She finds history, geography, philosophy and meta-physics fascinating. She also loves traveling, meeting new people and experiencing different cultures. To learn more about Ms. Abrams’ writing experiences, visit her website at www.write2spec.com.
February is the month everyone focuses on the important relationships in their lives, mostly with other people. We want people to accept us, to love us, so we do all we can to make ourselves “perfect” in their eyes. But isn’t the relationship you have with yourself the most important? After all, you are a part of everything you do, everything that happens to you and everything (and everyone) you engage with.
Doesn’t it make sense that if the relationship you have with yourself is the most important, you should spend time focused on it, nurturing it and embracing it? Most of us do the opposite. We put ourselves down, we judge everything we do or say, and our inner voice is often our own worst critic. We seek to quell our self-loathing and negative self-love by looking to others for approval. We bend over backwards to please them, even swearing to change for them! But is that really the way we should go about changing our opinion of ourselves? I think not!
As I said earlier, you are a part of everything that goes in your life! That means your relationship with yourself affects everything that goes on in your life. All relationships have their challenges. The relationship with yourself is no exception. It can even be scary! But if you want to make your life the best it can be, you must have a positive relationship with yourself.
So what’s the key to doing that? Self-acceptance - the unconditional “I accept myself for who I am, with all my faults and quirks” kind.
“You've got to be able to look at the mirror and smile at yourself. If you can't do that, you've got work to do. You have to learn to get along with yourself, to like yourself, to be proud of yourself. You've got to learn to celebrate yourself. You need to be able to love yourself before you can ever appreciate anyone else who does. You're worth it. Put the work in to have the best relationship with yourself that's possible.” ~ Akiroq Brost
Now, we’re not talking about stoking the ego or saying what’s bad about you is really good. No! It is about finding compassion within yourself to accept and love who you are – all of you. It isn’t about not wanting to change; it’s more about the reason to change. Instead of changing to please others, if you love and accept yourself, you willingly transform to become your best self!
"Accept everything about yourself--I mean everything. You are you and that is the beginning and the end--no apologies, no regrets." ~ Clark Moustakas
We all know the negative ramifications of being down on ourselves. Let’s look instead at the good stuff – the positive effects of loving and accepting yourself.
Self-acceptance is the key to happiness and emotional well-being
If you constantly complain about yourself, your situation or other things around you, how can you possibly be happy? If you constantly try to change yourself so that others will like you, you have tethered your own happiness to someone else’s opinion. How does that serve you? It doesn’t.
If you lack self-acceptance and self-love, you may try to “buy happiness” through excessive materialism, excessive stimulation or excessive approval-seeking behaviors. All these things feed into our negative self-image. But when all is said and done, you’ve overspent and made yourself unhealthier and miserable. Then, you begin the cycle of self-loathing and seeking happiness outside yourself all over again.
If you want happiness, you need to let go the negative self-talk, of trying to fit a mold that isn’t you. You need to become your authentic self. Become who you really are! When you can accept the whole of yourself, your happiness will increase exponentially.
“Your skin is your skin. Your legs are your legs. Your hair is your hair. Your smile is your smile. Your past is your past. You can waste your life hating these things, but you may as well learn to accept them. Both routes are difficult and full of pain, but with acceptance, you will be happy one day, while with hatred, you never will.” ~ Vironika Tugaleva
Self-acceptance is the key to good relationships
Many of us put our relationships with other people ahead of our relationship with ourselves. We expect them to accept and love us. Heck, we demand it through our actions and our thoughts. We bend over backwards to please others, even going so far as trying to change who we are into something others want us to be. And we expect the same of them!
But isn’t this backwards? How can you possibly expect others around you to accept you if you don’t accept yourself first? How can anyone know you if you are constantly trying to fit an image someone else has of you rather than the image of who you truly are?
Sure, it can be downright scary to show our real selves to the world. To expose who we are. But it’s an essential step if we want to have healthy, solid relationships with everyone around us – not just our families or significant others, but our co-workers, our neighbors and even strangers we come across every day.
If you want to strengthen your relationships, first be compassionate with yourself! Forgive yourself. Accept yourself. If you engage in all relationships from a position of self-acceptance and self-love, you’ll find it much easier to maneuver the relationship maze and have unconditional love for everyone who crosses your path! You’ll also feel more confident and loving. Most importantly, it becomes your new normal. And others will respond to that in kind.
Because one believes in oneself, one doesn't try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn't need others' approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” ~ Lao Tzu
Self-acceptance is the key to good physical and mental health
Being constantly down on yourself is stressful and a drain on your energy. What impact do you think that has on your health? Negative energy affects your body and your mind at a cellular level. This ultimately manifests itself in illness – temporary or chronic.
Many people in the scientific and spiritual community say “you are what you think”. From a physical and mental health standpoint, they are right! If you have a poor attitude about yourself and constantly talk to yourself in a negative way, you are feeding the bad energy and making yourself sick. Feed it positive words - and believe them. It can literally turn an illness on its head and improve your health in ways you cannot imagine. Forgive your body for being ill, love it, and see what happens!
"There is much documented proof that the mind and body are connected, so acceptance of your body is not only essential for your emotional well-being, it is essential for your physical health as well. Denying your body complete acceptance can lead to illness, whereas practicing acceptance can heal disease." ~ Andrew Adler
This all sounds good, you say, but how do I do it? Here are some tips that may help:
About the Author: Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW is a colorfully creative journalist, inspiring transformational speaker, licensed social worker, interfaith minister, editor, radio host, BLISS coach, event producer, Cosmic Concierge, the author of The Bliss Mistress Guide To Transforming The Ordinary Into The Extraordinary and co-author of Embraced By the Divine: The Emerging Woman’s Gateway to Power, Passion and Purpose. She has also contributed to several anthologies and personal growth books. Edie has interviewed such notables as Ram Dass, Wayne Dyer, Debbie Ford, don Miguel Ruiz, don Miguel Ruiz, Jr. Marianne Williamson, Grover Washington, Jr. Noah Levine, Shirley MacLaine, Dennis Weaver, Ben and Jerry and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She calls herself an Opti-mystic who sees the world through the eyes of possibility. Edie writes for The Huffington Post, Psych Central, Beliefnet, Elephant Journal, The Good Men Project, Expanded Family, Meaningful Mom, Bucks Happening, Montco Happening, Hunterdon Happening, as well as a growing number of other venues. Edie is the founder of Hug Mobsters Armed With Love, which offers FREE HUGS events on a planned and spontaneous basis. www.opti-mystical.com
Human beings are, by nature, social creatures. Even those who live alone, work in isolated settings or don’t claim to be ‘touchy feely people,’ still require some sort of contact. Sadly, in many cases, touch is either coerced, limited, sexual, violent or absent. That leaves people feeling touched deprived and seeking other outlets for human needs that may fall into the category of addiction.
Since our skin is our single biggest organ, it is essential that we experience nurturing touch. What can be referred to as ‘skin hunger,’ is as an important a need to feed as physiological hunger. Without it, studies have shown that babies fail to thrive. Without it, adults do as well. We live in such a touch-deprived and touch-negative society. According to Virginia Satir, ‘we need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
According to Matt Hertenstein, an experimental psychologist at DePauw University in Indiana, “Hand-holding or hugging also results in a decrease of the stress hormone cortisol.”
"Having this friendly touch, just somebody simply touching our arm and holding it, buffers the physiological consequences of this stressful response," Hertenstein adds.
This kind of skin to skin contact raises the level of oxytocin, known as ‘the cuddle hormone,’ that kicks in when mothers nurse their babies, when orgasm takes place and when people get all cozy, even without sexual interaction. I like to add that “More oxytocin means less oxycontin.”
I was fortunate to have been raised in a family where nurturing touch was plentiful and by consent. Hugs, cuddles and massage were regular occurrences in my home and when I was a teenager, I was involved in a youth group where we would sometimes hang out together in puppy piles at weekend retreats.
Hugs meet skin hunger needs, which are just as vital for wellbeing as food hunger. Without nurturing, non-sexual touch, by consent, we fail to thrive. Touch need not be shared only or primarily between sexually intimate partners. It is not only possible but indeed, enjoyable to cuddle/hug with platonic friends. I have ‘cuddle buddies,’ of all genders who help meet those needs.
One of my friends had asked awhile back about my HQ; which she identified as Hug Quality. I like to think it is stellar since I do it so much. One of my regular activities is organizing and engaging in FREE Hugs events. I am one of those daring people who stand on street corners with a sign that lets folks know I am offering them. Most say yes, some decline and I respect that as I encourage them to hug someone, even themselves. I began doing this on Valentines’ Day weekend 2014 when I gathered a group of friends at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, colloquially known as The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, for a FREE Hugs Flash mob. In an hours’ time we hugged over 100 people who were making their way through. One was an Iraq War vet who told us that he was the only survivor of his platoon and he had contemplated suicide until he met us, since we gave him hope. He asked if he could join us. We gladly gave him a FREE Hugs sign and soon he was on his way, handing out hugs. Friends started calling us ‘Hugmobsters’ and I added the tag line ‘armed with love,’ to counteract the image of mobsters as violent.
In June of that year, at the age of 55, I had a heart attack. As part of my cardiac rehab, I did a lot of walking through my small suburban Philly town called Doylestown. Since hugs are heart healthy, I decided to combine the two activities. Now, nearly four years later, I estimate that I have hugged thousands of people, on the streets of DC, NY, Portland, OR, in airports, in other train stations, at athletic events, at street fairs, in restaurants, at my polling place on Election Day 2016 and many other locales since then. When I hug people, I don’t know what their political beliefs are. I encourage kindness and acceptance. Hugs bring people together across all divides.
When I hug people, I slow down and breathe with them. I am fully present, if only for 20 seconds. Longer is preferable. I feel a mutual heartbeat. When we step away, we carry a piece of each other, a strand of love. Sometimes they cry. Sometimes I do. We each smile and often laugh. We allow ourselves to be fully human. I have been asked how it feels to hug strangers. I respond that once we have hugged, we are no longer strangers. I also have been asked if I feel rejected if people turn down hugs. I don’t since I know that everyone’s touch needs are different.
Another conversation arises when there are children present. I always ask the parent, “If it is okay with you AND okay with your child, may I offer them a hug?” If the child says no, I respect that. Too often, children are told, “Go hug Aunt so and so,” when they really don’t want to. It is about body sovereignty. If children are taught that that they have a choice, it could prevent a new generation from facing the onslaught of unwanted touch. In the wave of #metoo, it is even more important to claim that right.
I also facilitate a workshop for adults, called Cuddle Party which teaches communication, boundary setting and offers nurturing, non-sexual touch, by consent. Some objections to this experience which was founded in 2004, is “Eew, icky strangers. Who wants to cuddle with strangers?” Even if people don’t know each other at the beginning of our time together, they may leave feeling like family of choice. “Why should I pay to cuddle?” I tell them that the workshop is about learning skills that enhance relationships and that the touch aspect is a bonus of those interactions. “Only lonely losers need this.” People of all walks of life attend, from business people to therapists, from students, to CEOs of corporations, from moms and dads to grandparents, from Marines to teachers. Some are in relationships with partners who are not as affectionate and encourage them to attend. Some are single. In the 12 years I have been a certified facilitator, I have cuddled people from all around the world, and lost count of how many I have facilitated; estimating over 300. One at which I assisted, held at a conference in the DC area, had around 400 people in attendance. Normally, they are far smaller, from 10-30 people.
Why touch matters:
Love is contagious, with healthy, nurturing touch as a carrier.
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This Guest Blog will feature contributions from experts & other advocates on topics that speak to integration of mind, body & spirit wellness.