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Aisha Gordon-Hiles: How To Learn To Finally Love Yourself

The last thing I would say that I do to maintain a connection and self-love with myself is to write for my well-being. I’m crazy about writing for wellbeing, it’s something I do workshops on, and everyone thinks it’s fantastic. I hope that you will learn to love it too! Now unless you’re in a structured workshop, there really isn’t a right or wrong way to do writing for wellbeing, you just need to do it. You can write about anything in the world, it doesn’t really matter. The beautiful thing about writing is that it will show you things about yourself that you may not have been able to access before.

As a part of our series about “How To Learn To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Aisha Gordon-Hiles.

Aisha Gordon-Hiles is an internationally sold author and accredited counsellor, with extensive experience working with adults, children, and young people. Her counselling work is trauma informed and heavily influenced by psychodynamic and humanistic principles. Through the sales of her book and her counselling work, she has helped thousands of individuals learn the tools they need to love and accept themselves, and she is on a mission to help thousands more.

Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.

I love this question, and if I’m honest, it found me. Growing up, I struggled with the cards that life had dealt me. I didn’t understand why I was going through the hardships that I was. On top of that, I hated the way I looked and would constantly compare myself to others. I couldn’t have been further away from self-acceptance if I tried.

I tried so many things to cope with the way that I felt. Harming myself physically and emotionally, comfort eating, mentally checking out of reality, extreme dieting and exercise, wearing tons of makeup and provocative clothing. The list is endless.

I didn’t realise back then, but I was doing these things to try and cope with the emotional turmoil inside, and what I didn’t realise was that all that I felt was preparing me for the position I would be in today. I knew how I felt, and I knew I didn’t want anyone else to feel the same way. So here I am!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?

Oh yes! I am always working on something. I can’t help it.

The first is a poetry book looking at a journey of healing through trauma. It is called sacred self-acceptance and is based on the journeys of all the people I have met. It takes you through the challenges of a young girl growing up through bullying, shame, heartbreak, loss, self-hatred, domestic violence, broken faith, and more, until finally, she reaches a place of self-acceptance.

The second is a handbook for managing the mentally damaging effects of using social media. For example, the pressure to be or look perfect, the tendency to compare yourself to others, and giving tools and techniques to help you conquer these things.

The third is an online coaching program helping people to understand themselves, their lives, and the people around them, to coach them into a place of self-acceptance! This one I’m really excited about!

Readers can sign up to my mailing list to make sure they are informed about all of these projects and more, here: https://www.subscribepage.com/selfforhelp

Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?

It’s funny, because I think like a lot of people, The Tipping Point for me came from grief. A breakdown in a relationship and losing someone that I wasn’t prepared to lose. Growing up, I always outwardly appeared to have a grandiose sense of self. People would always comment on my bright and lively nature, my confidence, and my ability to connect with others. But what they didn’t see was that a lot of that was filling in the cracks where I lacked self-understanding and self-love. What they didn’t know is that I couldn’t have been further from self-acceptance if I tried. Growing up, I hated the way I looked, I hated that I came from a split family, I had no understanding of my emotions and was extremely angry, but because I was appearing confident and able to handle everything that life threw at me, I was always seen as accepting of myself.

This lack of self-understanding and self-acceptance followed me throughout my life. My counselling training helped massively in terms of the self-understanding part, but interestingly enough, it took a lot to get me to the self-acceptance part. It took me being seen as the one thing that I had never wanted to be seen as (someone who hurt someone they cared about) for me to get to the self-acceptance part. I unintentionally hurt someone I cared about, and I lost them. I had no choice but to face my demons head-on. And I also had to acknowledge my needs, which was something I’d spent the majority of my life not doing. I had to come to terms with the fact that I had the capacity to do the thing that had been done to me so many times before, the thing that I had dedicated my life to ensuring didn’t happen. I unintentionally hurt someone, and I couldn’t hide from it. In the end, I had no choice but to forgive myself. That was a tipping point for me.

I’d also like to add that it is important to understand that self-love, self-compassion and self-acceptance are all journeys; there is no endpoint to any of these things. Some days will be more “successful” than others, and that’s okay. For me, self-acceptance is about accepting the good days and the bad days. I don’t expect myself or anyone else to strive for unrealistic standards of self-acceptance, where they do nothing but talk to themselves with love and kindness and look at themselves in that way every single minute and every second of every day. For me, that’s not self-acceptance.

Self-acceptance is rolling with the punches and meeting the challenges in the days that you feel less accepting head on, enjoying the journey, and embracing the process.

According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?

I am based in the UK, so I make these suggestions lightly because I cannot speak much of the culture in the US. However, one thing I do know is that the US has the highest number of users on platforms such as Instagram, and therefore, I would say this could be a very large contributing factor to people being unsatisfied with their appearance.

Image sharing social media platforms are known for personal pictures of people’s faces and bodies being more popular, and with the increase of sharing such images, we human beings are likely to compare ourselves to others in a search for safety and security. You see, we are wired to avoid threat, and not fitting in is perceived by our wiring as a threat. Therefore, when we see others, we assess our safety and security, and the level of threat, by comparing ourselves to them.

We are also meaning-makers, and make sense of the world through patterns. If we continuously see images of people that don’t look like us, those images become what’s “acceptable” and we fall outside of that. Unfortunately, the world we live in knows this about us and plays on it.

To some, the concept of learning to truly understand and “love yourself,” may seem like a cheesy or trite concept. But it is not. Can you share with our readers a few reasons why learning to love yourself it’s truly so important?

The easiest and most effective way to explain this is for me to ask you what it feels like to not love yourself. Think about the way you feel about yourself right now. Consider the negative thoughts and images you have about yourself. Then consider how those make you feel. How they impact the way you go about your day, the way you see and treat others.

Now, imagine what it would be like to go about your day without those thoughts. Without the heaviness on your shoulders. Without thinking that everyone was judging you, or thinking you are worthless.

Think about how you would feel on holidays, such as Valentine’s Day, when the concept of love is literally shoved into your face at every given moment.

How nice would it feel to feel internally safe? For your internal world to feel like a giant warm hug, rather than laying on an ice cold block?

Like with everything good for you in life, society monopolises this (self-love), and turns it into a cliché. But don’t let this steer you away from the message that is still very real and very true. Learning to love yourself is important, because it impacts everything you think, see, and do.

Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?

I think it depends. The word mediocre means something different to everyone, but generally speaking, it usually comes down to a lack of understanding or acknowledgment of their needs. What I mean by that is, (as I said earlier) we are wired for safety and security, and so when in relationships, we can often fall into the trap of not acknowledging or expressing our needs in the fear of being rejected, which is the opposite of safety and security. This coupled with the fact that usually, people who tend to do this in relationships are people pleasers, and or perfectionists due to their childhood upbringing, makes it very difficult for them to see the value in having their needs met.

My advice to anyone who relates to this would be to start slow. Shaking things up in a relationship that you feel is good for you or that you want to be in can often take the other person by surprise, and can be detrimental to the relationship.

Now obviously, I’m only speaking about healthy relationships when I say this. Start allowing yourself to have needs by sharing your opinions, thoughts, feelings, and desires about the little things. For example, what you’re going to have for dinner, or what film you watch. Rather than saying I don’t mind or jumping in to let the other person choose, take a second to ask yourself, what do I want in this situation? Reassure yourself by telling yourself that it is okay for you to have wants. And then don’t forget to congratulate yourself after you’ve done it.

If you feel that your partner will not like these changes, or will reject you for expressing your needs, then it would be good to engage in some honest self-reflection about why that is. Is it coming from you or them? Then use the basis of that to make your next decisions.

When I talk about self-love and understanding, I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better, not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?

So, I’m going to refer back to the tipping point, that story I gave you earlier, as I said I had to face my demons. Go to those shadow parts of myself that weren’t “the prettiest” and say hello to them. And I think for the readers, if you want to access those parts without having to hurt somebody and go through a process of grief or loss, then an easy way to do it is to look at the things that you can’t stand about other people.

Now, you might think that I’ve made a mistake in what I’ve said here, but I haven’t. Often the things that we can’t stand in others are the things that are secret desires of our own or things that are inside of us, and there’s some sort of fear keeping them pushed down inside us. Now, it may not be the exact thing that is in the other person, but it’s likely to be a variation or manifestation of it. So, ask yourself, what can’t I stand about other people? That’s if you’re ready to take the leap that is.

There’s also a really lovely exercise in coaching called the Johari’s window. This tool can help you to analyse the different parts of yourself and get you to reflect on the bits that you try to hide from people around you and even yourself. It’s a really tough exercise, but what I like about it is there’s also space for you to gain feedback from somebody else. Now, this is something that most people will struggle with. We are connection craving beings. We don’t want to receive negative feedback from anyone that we care about or want to keep in our lives, but negative feedback doesn’t have to be negative. If you change your relationship to feedback, you can change its impact on your life. Feedback can become a tool for growth and development, rather than something that is feared and avoided.

Then lastly, the toughest question you can ask yourself is “why”. If you’ve ever been around little children, you’ll notice that there are some children who are just so inquisitive, and their inquisitiveness can be annoying. Think of the child that just constantly asks “but why”, “but why”, “but why“. Nine times out of ten we get annoyed because they are tapping into somewhere that we don’t want to go. We might actually not know the answer to the question, and it triggers us to feel inadequate. Or maybe we do know the answer, and that triggers us to face a demon or fear. The repetitive why is one of the toughest questions you can ask yourself, because it forces you to cut through all of the defense mechanisms and get down with the nitty-gritty. So, I encourage you to be curious and ask yourself why. Once you’ve done that, ask again, and again, and again. If you feel that this exercise would be too triggering for you, then I would encourage you to do it with a professional who can help you contain and manage your triggers.

So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?

Oooh! I could talk about this topic for ages. In fact, as I mentioned before, just a few weeks ago I made the decision to go away alone for a week, and the benefits of that have shocked me. I have so much more clarity, I am focussed, dedicated, more in touch with my emotional self, and have made many positive changes in my life since being back.

Being alone and being lonely are two completely different things that can intertwine with each other. Being alone is scary, depending on where you are in your journey. And I think it’s okay to be afraid of being alone. Being alone allows our biggest insecurities and deepest darkest thoughts to look us straight in the face. When we are alone, there’s nowhere to hide. No one to distract us. But on the flip side of that, being alone gives us the space and time to reflect on our interactions with others and ourselves. It gives us the opportunity to process our experiences and learn and grow from them. It gives us the chance to reset and revive ourselves, and most of all, that helps us to be comfortable with the thing that most of us are petrified of. By practising being alone and having the right tools to get you through the difficulties of it, you no longer fear being alone.

As you can see, being alone has positives and negatives attached to it. To be honest, I think everything in life does. For me, the positives you gain outweigh the negatives, and obviously individual circumstances come into play here. Not everyone will be ready for a week-long hiatus on their own. However, with help and support, you can start to learn the appropriate loneliness practices to your individual circumstances, that will help you no longer fear being alone, and reap the benefits of that.

How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?

When I was training to become a counsellor, one of my lecturers said to the class, “you can only take your clients as far as you are willing to go yourself”. This has impacted my life more than my teacher will ever know. I mention it here because I offer the same quote to you reading this article. But instead, I say “you can only take your relationships with others as far as you’re willing to go yourself”. If you look at the different types of friendships and relationships you have, in terms of who you’re closer to, who you’ve got a deeper connection to, who is a friend over an associate. All of the reasons for why you are close or not will in some way be connected to the depth of the relationship. They will explain how intimately, psychologically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually connected you are with that person. When you lack self-understanding and self-love, it’s like putting a stopper in a bath or sink. The water I cannot flow through into the depth of the Earth when a stopper is in place. Your relationships cannot flow and become deep when a stopper is in place. Without self-love and self-understanding, we fear getting to know other people, we fear that they will leave us, we fear we are not good enough, we don’t know how to act or be around people. We don’t get too deep in our relationships with the people that we want to the most.

In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?

I think the answer to this question is quite simple, but it’s probably one of the hardest asks. and that is to talk. If everyone talked more, there would be much greater levels of self-acceptance. Think about it, if there’s something that you’ve been worrying about for sometime. Maybe it’s something physical, maybe it’s something you said all you did. The moment you hear somebody else say they have done that thing or they’ve said that thing, the relief that encompasses your entire body physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually is like nothing else in the world. So, when asking what individuals and society can do to help people better accept themselves, this would be the simplest tool with the biggest impact. I actually have an eBook for people who want to learn to accept themselves, which you can download for free from my website.

When thinking about understanding ourselves, my advice would kind of be opposite to the advice for self-acceptance. If individuals want to learn to understand themselves better, they have to learn to spend time with themselves. They have to learn to go inside and be curious about themselves. For society to help people understand themselves, it needs to encourage these behaviours. Our systems and processes need to change within our society, so that they allow for time and space to reflect. So that they allow for time and space to be with oneself, but also it (society) needs to remind us to do these things. How amazing would it be if every organisation in the world had scheduled breaks where all staff were to take time to do something that benefits their understanding of themselves? That could be meditation, it could be journaling, it could be questioning oneself or reflection, it could be asking a colleague, friend, or family member for feedback on their behaviour. The list is endless.

Here is the main question of our discussion. What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?

I am excited to share these with you, mostly because the majority of them are simple and free!

Alright! So in no particular order, here goes,

1. The first is actually something I only implemented recently, but will do for the rest of my life. And I am aware this will be like the third time I have mentioned it, but this should show you just how impactful it was! And that is to spend one week of the year completely alone. I recently took a trip over to the Isle of Wight and stayed in a lovely holiday resort for a week on my own. Now, I chose to do it because it was the new year, and I felt like it would be a good thing to do to reconnect with myself, reflect and reset. However, I could not have anticipated how magnificent that time would be and how much it would change my life when I got back. All I did during that week was eat, sleep, spend time outside in nature, read and reflect, and I felt completely at peace. Not only that, when I came back, I felt completely refreshed and so much more able to look inwards and assess the things in my life around me.

2. The next thing is something that happened on the trip away, and that is to spend time in silence. This for me has been an interesting transition, because I am somebody who loves music. Music has helped me get through so many different things in life, and it’s something that I use to help me focus and get things done. I’ve now consciously cut back on how much I listen to music. Sometimes I will swap it for silence, other times I will swap it for a mentally stimulating podcast. But right now we’re focusing on silence, so I will explain more about that. If you’ve ever tried to concentrate in a room where lots of people are talking, you will know how difficult it is and how frustrating it is. We can’t fully go inwards and connect with ourselves and understand ourselves without silence, just like we can’t fully concentrate in a room where loads of people are talking and making noise. There’s a reason why when we do exams at school, they are done in silence. It’s to give us the best opportunity at six seeding in the thing that we are focusing on. So in order to succeed in connecting and loving ourselves, we need to learn to spend time in silence and embrace it.

3. Next, spending time with our bodies. This is something that is magnified when done in silence, but let me explain a little bit more about what I mean first. Our bodies are the houses of everything that belongs to us. Our brains, our organs, water supply, blood supply, everything that keeps us going on a day-to-day basis is housed within our bodies, yet our bodies are the things that we tend to neglect or mistreat the most. In order to connect with the self and to practice self-love and self-acceptance, you need to spend time with your body, because if everything else in life were to be taken away, it’s the only thing you would be left with. Our bodies are particularly triggering for a lot of different reasons for a lot of people, so I encourage you to start small with this and at a pace that works for you. Things like yoga, stretching, self-massage, and just regular gentle contact with our bodies will help us understand and love ourselves more than ever before, and the best part about it is it’s free!

4. The next one is another thing I alluded to earlier, and something that I do with my clients, and that is practising self-forgiveness. Perfection is an illusion and in fact is an interesting illusion, because it is subjective to each individual person, which means that everybody has a different idea of what perfection actually is. When we don’t meet our standards of perfection, we tend to be really hard on ourselves. Because of this, one thing that I have cemented into my life is a practice of self-forgiveness. You are going to make mistakes, you are going to do things that you regret, this is all part of the human experience. But to ensure that you love and accept yourself past those experiences, you need to learn to forgive yourself. You need to learn to be able to say:

• I did this thing

• I don’t like that I did this thing

• I’m sorry that I did this thing

• I forgive myself for doing this thing

And a key to being able to do that is to be able to reflect and say sorry, not just to somebody who you may have impacted in a negative way, but to yourself. If you can’t see the errors in your ways and apologise, you’re not going to be able to fully immerse yourself in self-understanding, self-acceptance, and self-love.

5. The last thing I would say that I do to maintain a connection and self-love with myself is to write for my well-being. I’m crazy about writing for wellbeing, it’s something I do workshops on, and everyone thinks it’s fantastic. I hope that you will learn to love it too! Now unless you’re in a structured workshop, there really isn’t a right or wrong way to do writing for wellbeing, you just need to do it. You can write about anything in the world, it doesn’t really matter. The beautiful thing about writing is that it will show you things about yourself that you may not have been able to access before.

Whenever I’m feeling a bit clogged up mentally, emotionally, physically, or spiritually, I write. Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m going to say, and I start on the page with those exact words:

“I don’t know what to say.”

Other times there is something on my mind, and I’ll start with that. Either way, the end result is the same in that I’ve released energy from my body that may have been impacting me in a negative way, and I have connected with the inner parts of myself.

What are your favourite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one, and how does it resonate with you?

Shameless plug, but the first has got to be my internationally sold book “What the hell is life”. Honestly, this book has surprised me with the responses and feedback that it has got. Once a lady in America contacted me to let me know that it was instrumental in her changing things in her long-term marriage, which I was totally surprised by because I hadn’t had this in mind when I wrote it.

The book is a psycho-educational self-help tool for those who want to delve deeper into self-exploration, but can’t afford therapy. It helps you understand yourself and the cards you’ve been dealt in life, and helps you to ensure you’re living the life that you want. So, to answer the second part of the question, I love this resource because it has helped people far beyond my expectations, and it resonates with me because it’s part of me, and something I use in my life when I need to, too!

I think next, I would recommend a couple of fiction books actually. Fiction is a really good tool to help us process pain and help us reflect on our experiences, because it allows us to do that at a distance that is manageable for our egos. The first book I would like to suggest is Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman, and the second is The Time of My Life by Cecelia Ahern. Both of these books are relatable, humorous, and if you read them carefully, some of the best resources for analysing and reflecting on our behaviours in relationships with others.

If you are looking for something a bit more theory-based, then I would suggest the RELATE guides series put together by the relationship counselling charity RELATE. You can find one of these guides on almost every type of relationship issue that you would want to reflect on, and while some are quite dated in terms of when they were published, they are still relevant to our society today.

In fact, that has just reminded me of another book that I would like to suggest that is exactly the same in that it was written a while ago, but is so relatable to the intricacies of our relationships today. And that is “women men love, women men leave” by Dr. Connell Cowan and Dr. Melvyn Kinder. Now don’t let the title for you, it’s actually not a woman-bashing male glorifying book. What I like about this book is that it really hones in on some of the intricate complexities of relationships. For example, intimacy, giving too much, fear, using sex as a marker for closeness, and it teaches lessons such as how to know when love is one-sided.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…

So, this is an easy one… It would have to be self-acceptance. It’s something I live, breathe, and teach every single day, and I think I’ll continue to do so for the rest of my life!

Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life, and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

“The furthest distance in the world is between how it was and how you thought it was going to be” — by Judith Webb

I use this quote to help me relinquish control, especially at times when I’m depleting all of my energy into something that doesn’t seem to be moving. At 6 years old, I never would have believed that I would be where I am today, and when I look back at some of the things I’ve been through, I still can’t believe it. I remind myself of this quote when I get scared, I’m down on hope, or I’m struggling to see past a certain point in my life. I really hope that the readers can use it for that, too

Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!

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