Everything is a balancing act. On good days, it’s easier to maintain a routine, but it’s different for everyone, and even good days these days can be hard to manage. Now, we’re trying to balance the daily intricacies of work and leisure, relationships with self and others, against a backdrop of fairly constant terror, sadness, and rage. This isn’t the beginning, but more and more folks are conscious of this pain now.
You — like me, like many of us — are probably now trying to fit in calling your representatives, writing calls to action, sharing safety tips, and marches or other forms of protest within your day to day activities. Life has taken on a sharply strange texture. For the most part, our personal joys and tragedies still exist — books or movies coming out that we’ve been waiting for, mundane workplace disappointments, little moments with loved ones that remind us why all of this matters. Yet we exist in this constant state of churning disasters, peeking at the news through our fingers or after taking a deep breath before the plunge — for those of us who are privileged enough to find out secondhand, at least. How can we maintain any sort of personal balance in such a state?
There isn’t one answer, but it is encompassed, for the most part, in self-care and self-love. That’s why we’re here, that’s a big part of why we at TBINAA do this work, and that’s why you’re reading this. We’re here to fight for radical self-love — to work to end body terrorism in all its incarnations, to end the violence of the state against the people, which includes the systems which encourage self-hate, trauma, and internalized bigotry.
Is Your Self Love At the Expense of Others?
That said, the baseline of self-love on its own…isn’t inherently radical. Fighting to love yourself in a vacuum is a first step — useless on its own — because we do not live in a vacuum. We live in a series of imbalanced power structures, of which we are all a part. Radical self-love embodies an awareness of these systems of power.
Radical self-love needs to be conscious of privilege. It is never appropriate to striate oppressions (to participate in “oppression olympics,” to use an accessible term I hate). It can, of course, be just as challenging to come to a place of self-love for a well-to-do cishet white person as it is for someone who does not share those privileges. However, just because the self-love journey is just as challenging, it doesn’t mean they do not have those privileges. You don’t need to be constantly aware that someone else somewhere else in the world “has it worse” than you…but you should be conscious, not only of that fact, but of the systems of power that maintain that imbalance.
Be aware that for many of us, these issues are violently personal, and we do not have the privilege of tuning out. Lives are at stake.
Radical self-love cannot exist at the expense of others. Compartmentalization is a familiar, and often unavoidable, response to trauma. Sometimes, it is radical self-love and self-care to turn off the news, to ask your friends to change the subject. But do not roll your eyes and dismiss their need to talk, to vent, to share, to uncover more information or unpack issues. You are perfectly in the right to prioritize your own self-care, but communicate to them why you need a break. If you can, try to direct them to another person or outlet — don’t leave them alone. If for you, it’s an issue of trauma, you don’t need to go into detail — just ensure they know that you do not intend to invalidate their emotions. This can be tough to balance. You do not owe anyone emotional labor at your expense, but you must be conscious of the emotional labor that your dismissal may be asking them to perform. Conversely, before you open up to someone, ask if them if they are in the right headspace to share your pain. “Do you mind if I unload right now?” “Hey, when you get the chance, can I vent about some stuff?” It might sound cheesy, but we’re not necessarily equipped to cope with this much trauma all the time. Sometimes, you’re not in the right headspace to hear about certain triggers, and then the experience will leave both of you more uncomfortable. Sometimes, sharing the actual logistics can wait, and you can either choose someone else to talk to or simply understand where they’re coming from and be there for each other in other ways: a hug, a gesture, a movie, etc. You need to be honest about what you can give and what you need.
Are You Owning Up to Your Own Mistakes?
Ask yourself — does your feminist icon have a history of racism? Are your calls to action inclusive of disabilities, physical and mental? How can your work become more consciously intersectional? This includes examining your past thoughts and actions and recognizing unchecked errors and ignorance.
Radical self-love means owning up to your mistakes. It is not easy. It can be embarrassing, and painful. Sometimes, it should be, it really should be. We are never going to dismantle these structures unless we work to fully recognize how they manifest in ourselves and consciously endeavor to change. We’re never going to change the minds of others until we can be held accountable for our own errors.
Radical self-love is not letting your end of teamwork fall by the wayside without communicating to your peers.
Radical self-love is not demanding that your loved ones perform one-sided emotional labor for you.
Radical self-love is not imagining that someone else is doing the work to change the world.
None of us are perfect. We’re not working to be “the perfect activist,” or to love ourselves in some perfect way that will heal the world. We’re here to listen. To learn. To grow. To try, and fail, and apologize, and do it better, and highlight those who are doing it too. We’re here to support each other.
Are You Assuming You Know What’s Best for Another Person?
Radical self-love is not one-size-fits-all. It does not look the same for every person. Don’t expect it to. Don’t assume that you know what’s best for another person.
For some, self-love is bubble baths and Netflix. For others, it’s cooking with their loved ones. For others, it’s gardening; yet others, writing poetry, focusing on completing their next project, fishing, researching ways forward, talking to their friends, or all or none of the above. I encourage self-love, in whatever way suits you best. I only ask that you be aware of what you’re asking of yourself and others — to be aware of where you’re coming from, and the context you’re coming into. It’s a hard balance to strike, but once you become aware of what you’re working towards, some of the shame and fear falls away — and it’s absolutely necessary.
Wherever you’re coming from, whatever you’re going through, your journey and your path to radical self-love is absolutely unique — but you are not alone.
[Feature Image: A grey scale photo of a person’s face. They have long dark bangs that cover part of their face. They have teal eye shadow and pink lip gloss. They are wearing a plaid jacket. They are looking downward. Source: Brunno Gastaldo]