Counseling Today, From the President

From the President: The importance of self-love

S. Kent Butler January 3, 2022

S. Kent Butler, ACA’s 70th president

Hotep, and happy New Year! Let’s promise to love ourselves fiercely throughout the year.

One of counseling’s most significant mantras is “Do no harm.” For the most part, counselors learn this right out of the box in their counselor education programs. Many counselors take this charge literally and go out of their way to not cause detriment to their clients, but they often overlook this very fact for themselves, leaving their own lives impaired. 

One possible explanation for this might be that a vast majority of people just want to be liked. The fear that they won’t be often causes harmful consequences. I think this is especially true for counselors, who typically prefer not to be in situations where others view them negatively. It’s not a terribly good feeling to be in a “disliked state of mind.” 

This is one of many reasons why it is important to practice self-care. When you embrace and unconditionally love the being you are, then no one can disrupt that narrative and take it away from you. No matter how hard they try, people will not be able to penetrate you with their lies, hatred or venom, which is meant only to psych you out or take you out of the game.

So, how do we build strong constitutions? Self-love! Truth be told, you do not need someone else’s permission or validation to unselfishly love yourself. I like to think of it as giving yourself grace.

To this end, we often inflict hate on ourselves. In such cases, we must remember this tidbit of information: YOU deserve better than YOU sometimes. You owe yourself better. Especially during those times when you can be your own worst enemy or critic. Give yourself grace!

I am reminded of a quote from For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf by playwright and poet Ntozake Shange: “i found god in myself and i loved her
i loved her fiercely.”

My wife practices a very simple but powerful saying as her everyday mantra: “You are enough!” Period! End of story! And in this case, positively stamped with an exclamation point!

Starting in the academy, I remember how I came to start loving and believing in myself more. It was after receiving one of my first student teaching evaluations: “I can’t believe my tuition dollars are paying his salary.” I was hurt by this jab because it wasn’t meant to provide constructive criticism as much as it was meant to knock me down. Time for a positive reframe. I could not let remarks like this take me away from my purpose or deflate my self-esteem.

Counselors don’t spew hate, right? Sure they do. They are human, and perhaps it’s just human nature to put someone down to lift oneself up. But that is backward thinking. Perhaps it is more advantageous to love yourself deeply, and in that space and time, you have no desire to hurt other people. Wounded people hurt other people.

In that vein, and some 20 years later, I recently received a training evaluation that likewise provided no constructive points to grow on. Prompted to share their aha moment, this person wrote (verbatim): “realized some people do not have much ego strength and take things too personally (any type of criticism is blamed on racism/discrimination etc.).” Not very reflective after undergoing diversity training, and deliberately stated to cause harm. Nowadays, anonymous digs never hit me as powerfully as the person who sends them thinks they will. The person may feel good writing them, but in reality, I immediately flick them off my shoulder to fall by the wayside to wither away and die.

Don’t let messy people steal your joy! If I had given up on my dream of being a successful professor, leader, social justice advocate and mentor, I would not be where I am today. 

Ego intact!

#ShakeItUp and #TapSomeoneIn.

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