Making Time for You: Using Creativity to Cultivate Self-Love by Sarah Frank Jarvis, LMFT, ATR-BC, CGP

As a therapist I often encounter people who struggle with putting everything before themselves including partners, family, friends, work, children, deadlines, volunteering, and social media.  Loving others comes easily for most of us but when it comes to showing ourselves some love, this tends to fall to last in line (and only if there’s time or energy left).  Some of us wouldn’t even include ourselves on the list at all. We may have deeply ingrained core beliefs that tell us we are not worthy of love, from ourselves or from others. This is a tragedy and often at the root of many mental health issues including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and addiction. 

As a human, I believe we all not only have the capacity to love ourselves but that this is crucial to our happiness and ability to internalize the love of others. If you do not love yourself, how can you truly accept the love of another person without doubting its validity? I know this may seem a tall order and I want to reassure anyone reading this that you are not expected to wake up tomorrow and suddenly only feel love and acceptance towards yourself, this is cultivated through action and practice over time. For many this can start in therapy where you are scheduling time for yourself (a self-love action) to engage in a process of exploring where your views of self come from, how they have been reinforced, and how they might change with new insight. 

The most important precaution I give is to start small, look at what you can realistically work into your day or week that puts you as the top priority in the moment. I suggest the bite-sized-pieces approach because the last thing you want is to get overwhelmed before you’ve had time to acclimate to what may be a vastly new and different way of living. As humans we tend to stick with what is comfortable and routine (even if it’s unhealthy) and we will quickly revert to what’s familiar when pulled too suddenly out of our comfort zones. (In instances of severe imbalance, however, including risky, impulsive, or life-threatening behaviors or moods you should seek out immediate professional help of course).

As an artist, I have found that being creative helps me to loosen up and approach my problems in different ways. I first started exploring art when I was in high school and struggling with fitting in and figuring out who I was, apart from other people. I learned about photography and printed my own black and white photos in a run-down public school darkroom, listening to the Smiths on my walkman, with mostly expired chemicals that almost always left my photos stained a dingy purpley-brown color. And it was awesome! What I created showed me that I was unique and had my own way of seeing the world that I could share with others (if I felt like it). From that point on I started to see and value myself through art-making. Allotting time for creativity has helped me to continually self-reflect and appreciate who I am.

I’m not recommending you go out and enroll in a photography class (unless that sounds appealing), but just consider what creative opportunities you may have around you already. Creativity can take many forms and is certainly not limited to the visual arts. The main objective here to intentionally spend time with yourself and be open to what is there. Whether it’s through meditation, journaling, dance, listening to music, or making crafts, you can experience enjoyment through self-expression and build a more meaningful connection to yourself.

Elana Clark-Faler
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