Learning to Love Yourself

Today I took a question from my sister. She wanted to know how her friend can learn to love herself better? She wanted to know if I had any podcast or book suggestions? First, I needed more information. Once I had a better understanding of her friend’s background, my suggestions came quick.

Three Questions to Love Yourself

  1. How are your boundaries? You might say you don’t have any boundaries. Or maybe you think your boundaries are great. You might not know how to know if your boundaries are good. That’s ok. A pretty simple question: “Do you find yourself often feeling angry in similar situations?” If that’s a yes, you’ve likely got some boundary issues and some work to do. Loving yourself requires boundaries. (Psst… I can help with that.)

2. Are you living authentically? When I was married, I battled with depression. I honestly didn’t know who I was. When the marriage ended and I got to explore Michelle 2.0 what was really evident was that I was not living authentically. I filtered my life for the comfort of the people around me and that didn’t make me very happy. Was that me loving myself? No. To love yourself you must be yourself.

3. Are you regularly asking yourself what you want right now? Maybe a first step is to ask yourself what you NEED right now? Seriously. Start a new habit to stop and ask yourself, “Self, what do you need right now?” and then give yourself that need. Transition into asking what you want when it feels like the right time. It’s funny how we’ve been taught that needs are essential and wants are frivolous. They aren’t frivolous. It’s ok to ask for what we want! Many times we walk through our lives compromising and never even needing to know what we want. We’ve silenced our voice, probably since childhood. To love yourself is to hear yourself.

Recommended Reading to Love Yourself

In the case of my sister’s friend, I learned that her friend likes to be in control of everything. That was the key phrase I picked up on in everything I read. I knew right away that the first stop was to suggest The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. When we are afraid of being imperfect, we are battling shame. Read the book! It’s good. Then… go ahead and keep reading through all of Brene’s books. I did it. It was a good choice. If you’d like the order I read them in, I’m happy to share. Shoot me an email at michelle@humanconnectioncoach.com.

"Every time you're given a choice between disappointing someone else and disappointing yourself, your duty is to disappoint that someone else. Your job, throughout your entire life, is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing yourself." 
- Glennon Doyle

THAT's how you love yourself!
“Every time you’re given a choice between disappointing someone else and disappointing yourself, your duty is to disappoint that someone else. Your job, throughout your entire life, is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing yourself.” – Glennon Doyle

THAT’s how you love yourself!

Next, because I just think everyone should read this book, I want to recommend Untamed by Glennon Doyle. While it’s definitely written for women, there are lessons for everyone in this book. BURN THOSE SOCIAL MEMOS!!!! It’s been my favorite read since COVID halted my life. I started my untaming process 6 years ago and I still needed to read this book. I listened to it on Audible and then bought the hard cover because I wanted to be able to loan it out to my clients.

Learning to love yourself is a process. You are a work in progress.

Interested in working together to learn to love yourself? Let’s connect!

Michelle (she/her), based in the Baltimore area, offers human connection coaching ranging from cuddle therapy to surrogate partner therapy (sexual surrogacy).  While Michelle is not a sex therapist, she is a sex geek, experienced in kink/BDSM, polyamory and other relationship structures.  Your weird isn’t weird to her.  In her world,  you’re normal.

What is Human Connection Coaching?

Human connection coaching supports clients in experiencing secure attachment. Through secure attachment, past wounds can begin to heal and clients can recognize that feeling of safety out in the regular world and in future relationships.  In addition, human connection coaching supports clients in communicating boundaries, developing agency and a sense of empowerment in addition to discovering their needs and wants.  I offer human connection coaching on the spectrum from platonic to sensual to sexual. 

Esther Perel says, “The quality of your life ultimately depends on the quality of your relationships.” I believe that not only means the quality of your relationship with others but also with yourself.

How my Life Experience Shapes my Work

In my own personal experience, having someone in my life who holds me with positive regard, believes in me, wants to hear what I have to say and who looks at me with affection, has granted me a mirror in which I can see myself through their eyes, leading, ultimately, to loving myself.

In the last 5 years of this work, I’ve been able to give that experience to others. I want my clients to feel loved the way I’ve felt loved. It took me 40 years to experience that feeling. I don’t want it to take you any longer than it already has.

Something I once wrote about my work: “My clients see me for so many reasons. I describe my work as human connection coaching. It’s about human contact. It’s about co-regulation of the nervous system. It’s about just connecting and feeling human. I’m not tied to your life. We can talk and I’m not going to get my feelings hurt because I’m just here to listen. I can help find your edges. I can help find your boundaries. I can help you practice asking for what you want. No request is criticized. I may not be a yes but I’ll never shame you.

Is Human Connection Coaching for you?

Human Connection Coaching sessions can focus on:

Personal empowerment

Self acceptance

Physical comfort

Communication skills

Alleviating loneliness

Intentional touch

Building safety

The list could go on and on.

Each client’s needs are evaluated individually. Here are a few initial questions to consider:

Are you looking for support that is emotionally and/or physically intimate but non sexual?

How would you like to feel after our first session?

What stops you from connecting the way you’d like to?

Are you looking for support with sexual intimacy, specifically?

Are you working with a therapist?

There are no right or wrong answers. These are all areas we would discuss when determining the best plan for you.

Where and How

Most of my work is done out of my office in Cockeysville, Maryland, but I’m also available to travel to you or in some cases, work over the phone or video.

So much can be healed with a friendly, accepting ear. I offer virtual connection calls and local walk-and-talk or sit-and-visit sessions. I’m a great listener and I have quite a broad background. A good conversation can feed the soul. Did you know that most of the time we have all the answers, we just need someone to hold space for us while we sort it out? These sessions can be a great compromise during the current COVID pandemic when physical distancing is needed. They are also a great option when Cockeysville isn’t local or if we are planning an intensive weekend (where I come to you or vice versa) and we’d like to establish our connection ahead of time.

The next option, cuddle therapy. Cuddle therapy is non-sexual, fully clothed and client-led. And guess what? These sessions don’t even have to include cuddling or touch! We start every session with, “How would you like to connect?” This is where my work started. Cuddlist, the premier professional cuddle training organization, has been my home since their start in 2015. Clients have found these sessions to be a safe space to experiment with human connection and human contact.

Sometimes my clients need more or something different. Maybe they need to have a plan that is more customized, includes more guided exercises and/or desire we work in collaboration with their therapist. Maybe they have specific sexual intimacy needs including coaching and sexual or relationship education… areas that tend to step outside the cuddle therapy container. I’m here for that too.

What I’m not here for is your entertainment. I love working with people and supporting them in their growth. I can be a huge yes to that! I won’t be a huge yes to less.

“But Michelle, aren’t I just paying you to be my friend?” That’s a great question! I love what I do! I get paid so that I can do what I love. I am so fortunate to walk through this world, supporting myself, while supporting my clients in meeting their goals. I come with a BIG toolbox of knowledge that I want to share with you. If I wasn’t getting paid to do this work, I’d be getting paid to do something else and not available to share what I know with you, to connect with you. So thank you for valuing me.

What’s your next step? Let’s connect and see how we feel about working together!

Additional information about surrogate partner therapy can be found here.

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” – from Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Michelle Renee (she/her) is a human connection coach.

Michelle Renee (she/her) introduces herself as an emotional support human.  She works within a spectrum of touch and connection as a Cuddlist® Certified Practitioner and an IMBT Trained Surrogate Partner.  Michelle is also a Certified facilitator of Cuddle Party®, a consent and communication workshop. A student of Betty Dodson, she occasionally facilitates female sexual empowerment and genital confidence workshops. 

Michelle is not a sex therapist but she is a sex geek, experienced in kink/BDSM, polyamory and other relationship structures.  Your weird isn’t weird to her.  In her world,  you’re normal.

“Can I be fully healed?”

Can we be fully healed? That’s a good question! First, I want to declare that we aren’t broken. We are managing with life circumstances. We can learn new tools, create a new future, and we can process old trauma. Is that “healed”? I think so.

Covid has given me some precious time to do a lot of reading (I’ll share my reading list soon in another post) and to watch videos, movies, series, etc.  While I have spent some time on guilty pleasures like Tiger King, I’ve spent a fair amount of time feeding my knowledge banks. 

Right before the shelter-at-home started, my partner introduced me to a twitch streamer named Dr K, The Healthy Gamer GG.  Dr. K is a Harvard Psychiatrist who has built a library of interviews with gamers, coaching them around mental health.  While the videos are LONG, I haven’t watched one and not learned something about myself.  

Last weekend I listened to this episode below (and I’m sharing at the point I find most interesting though I highly recommend listening to the entire episode) and when I heard this shared portion, I knew I needed to amplify Dr. K’s voice, this part specifically.  

Take a listen:

Dr K shares the 5 layers of being:

  • Physical
  • Energetic
  • Emotional
  • Intellectual
  • Spiritual

When asked if he can be healed from C-PTSD, Dr. K demonstrates the 5 layers of being and helps us understand how those different layers experience healing.  If you’ve worked through mental illness, you will probably have an ah-ha moment watching this clip.  

Can I be fully healed?  Dr K's final notes from the video, breaking down some of the diagnoses and treatments and how they correspond to the 5 layers of self.
Dr K’s final notes from the video, breaking down some of the diagnosises and treatments and how they correspond to the 5 layers of self.

“How does this play into my work?” is a question I often ask myself when I watch The Healthy Gamer.  In this episode, it became very clear that my work, inviting clients to experience secure attachment, definitely supports the spiritual layer. That the loudest connection for me. But what if we go further, looking at all 5 layers. Here’s my quick analysis:

Physical: Relaxation, Address skin hunger

Energetic: Co-Regulation

Emotional: Safe space to identify feelings, Feel emotional intimacy

Intellectual: Learning communication and boundary skills so you can create the life you want

Spiritual: Secure attachment, Experiencing safety and worth

That was 3 minutes to quickly see how we can address each layer in our work together. I could definitely explore this deeper.   

I also love that he said that strength in at least one of these areas creates resilience. <3

I invite you to share your comments below.  I’d love to hear how this video landed on you?  Had you heard of Dr. K’s work with the gamer world?  Do you know someone you could share his work with?  Personally, I’ve integrated these videos into my son’s schoolwork.  I think we could all stand to learn more about mental health.  

Interested in working together? Fill out my contact form.

Michelle (she/her), based in the Baltimore area, offers human connection coaching ranging from cuddle therapy to surrogate partner therapy (sexual surrogacy).  While Michelle is not a sex therapist, she is a sex geek, experienced in kink/BDSM, polyamory and other relationship structures.  Your weird isn’t weird to her.  In her world,  you’re normal.

Michelle (she/her), based in the Baltimore area, offers human connection coaching ranging from cuddle therapy to surrogate partner therapy (sexual surrogacy).  While Michelle is not a sex therapist, she is a sex geek, experienced in kink/BDSM, polyamory and other relationship structures.  Your weird isn’t weird to her.  In her world,  you’re normal.

The Loneliness Epidemic

Loneliness, it’s an epidemic.  It’s also a feeling I felt really embarrassed to admit.  It was early 2015. I returned from a social event where I felt physically clingy to a very close friend of mine.  I literally felt like I was hanging off of him. When I got home, to my empty house, I shared a phone call with my friend Michael.  He was someone who I had connected with online and to this day have never met. We used to share phone calls quite regularly. We still do, just not nearly as often.  That late evening I shared my tale and he responded, “Honey, you are lonely. Welcome to divorce.” Lonely. I couldn’t even admit the feeling. Why did it feel like a four letter word?  

Last Friday, sitting in my therapist’s office, going over a common theme in our sessions, I shared how once again I felt my partner not spending enough time with me.  My therapist suggested I learn to find my joy outside of my partner. He asked if I was afraid of being alone. He suggested I spend some time at the beach by myself. I responded, “I love alone time!  I love going to the beach alone!” While I haven’t done it in some time, I do really enjoy it and should probably make it more of a regular date with myself.  

What I have a hard time with is being in our home together and him not reaching out to me to spend time together.  After a couple of evenings of feeling like we are only sharing a quick meal together and then each of us sitting in separate rooms, I get super upset about it and I start to question his interest in me.  His interest in us. That might seem like a huge leap, but this is the moment (about 2 days) when my abandonment triggers from childhood attachment issues get ugly. My nervous system says, “I’m done.” I love being alone.  I don’t love being with others and feeling lonely.

What is that feeling?  That feeling that creeps in that first evening and then blows up by the end of the second evening?  Brene Brown refers to it as “the lonely feeling”, the feeling of being disconnected.

I’m reading Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown, while I drive.  I’ve been embracing audio books this summer. This is my fourth of her books since June. After therapy, as I drove I started the third chapter… on loneliness.  Perfect timing!  

One way to battle the loneliness epidemic is to embrace who you are in the safety of a session.  "True belonging doesn't require that we change who we are; it requires that we be who we are." Brene Brown
One way to battle the loneliness epidemic is to embrace who you are in the safety of a session.

Brene reminded me that “the lonely feeling” is just our body reminding us that we need connection.  It’s no different than when we feel thirsty, it’s our body telling us to drink something. When we feel hungry, it’s our body telling us to eat something.  That lonely feeling is our body telling us to connect. 

Can you ignore that feeling?  Sure. But it’s not healthy.

From Braving the Wilderness: In 1980, 20% of Americans reported feeling lonely.  Today it’s more than double that. Living with air pollution increases your odds of dying early by 5%.  Living with obesity increases your odds of dying early by 20%. Excessive drinking increases your odds of dying early by 30%.  Living with loneliness increases your odds of dying early by 45%!

My plan: do more things that bring me joy and don’t rely on my partner… but also not ignore that feeling.  Does the connection need to be filled by my partner? No. But I need to honor that feeling. I can reach out to friends, attend more social events during the week, schedule that cuddle session for myself. 

Are you familiar with “the lonely feeling”?  Do you ignore it? Have you grown to ignore it? I’d love to hear more.  Ultimately, I invite you to try scheduling regular sessions and see how that helps “the lonely feeling”. 

Michelle (she/her), based in the Baltimore area, offers human connection coaching ranging from cuddle therapy to surrogate partner therapy (sexual surrogacy).  While Michelle is not a sex therapist, she is a sex geek, experienced in kink/BDSM, polyamory and other relationship structures.  Your weird isn’t weird to her.  In her world,  you’re normal.

Michelle (she/her), based in the Baltimore area, offers human connection coaching ranging from cuddle therapy to surrogate partner therapy (sexual surrogacy).  While Michelle is not a sex therapist, she is a sex geek, experienced in kink/BDSM, polyamory and other relationship structures.  Your weird isn’t weird to her.  In her world,  you’re normal.

Eye Gazing and PTSD

NOTE: Client D was asked many times through our process if it was ok that I speak about our work with eye gazing as a treatment for managing his PTSD, keeping his identity confidential.  He has continued to grant me permission.  

Client D sent a session request through my website CuddleSanDiego.com on 4/23/19.  (I was living in San Diego at the time.) He explained as part of the request that he is “Currently in therapy for ptsd. Eye gazing was suggested and I believe it would help me with the reconnect process – the eye contact practice is what I am seeking more than physical touch.” 

In his recent feedback, he shared that his hesitations before our first session was that I would be crazy and he was worried about privacy.  We shared a phone call as part of my new client vetting process and booked a session for the next day.  

As of July 6th, 2019, as I write this, we’ve shared 21 sessions over 11 weeks.  We meet for 1 hour at a time, 2-3 times a week. All sessions have been client led.  Previous to this client I had zero direct experience working with PTSD. His therapist is aware of our work together but didn’t feel the need to speak with me.  The instructions were “just don’t talk about the trauma”. I’ve used my intuition to offer curiosities to the client. Example: I wonder how it would feel if we had shorter gazing increments?  What if we stopped gazing after you felt relaxed into the gaze, past the uncomfortable feeling? I wonder what it would feel like to reach out and hold my hand when you have the urge to self soothe? (Something that showed itself as him stroking his arms, like hugging himself in a way.) This kept the sessions client led, meaning it is ultimately of their choosing how the session will proceed, allowing the client to manage their anxiety; determine and communicate their boundaries, needs and wants; develop a sense of empowerment and agency.  As the client and their body/nervous system begins to trust that the client can indeed keep them safe the client can start to challenge their edges and explore more opportunities. In fact, Client D has been seeing so much growth lately from small tweaks in our sessions, I felt the need to remind him how important it is to honor any hesitation.  Our bodies need to truly trust us in order for us to feel secure in the world around us. 

Items of note:

  • There is no manual to the work I do.  My service is to be attuned to my client and to use my nervous system to help calm their nervous system.  I can see how my growing up in a household with a parent with a temper and having spent 20 years in a relationship with a similar husband, that I’ve gained an ability to attune and read the people around me.  It was a survival/coping mechanism that is now a tool I have in my toolbox. It’s nice to see there was a benefit and actually makes me better at my job.
  • Titration, introducing something new in tiny amounts and monitoring the reaction, is imperative when working with clients with any degree of hesitation around connection.  
  • Pendulation, re-experiencing briefly the trauma stress and then being comforted, is really where our work together started to gain a lot of momentum. In An Unspoken Voice, Peter Levine describes it as “The mechanisms that regulate a person’s mood, vitality and health are dependent upon pendulation.  When this rhythm is experienced, there is, at least, a tolerable balance between the pleasant and unpleasant. People learn that whatever they are feeling (no matter how horrible it seems), it will last only seconds to minutes. And no matter how bad a particular sensation or feeling may be, know that it will change releases us from a sense of doom.”  We are working together to retrain the nervous system to be resilient.
  • Witnessing my client shake was not anxiety showing up, as I had thought.  It was actually the discharging of trauma. It’s not to be soothed, rather it’s to be celebrated!
  • By building trust with my client and my client building trust with himself, he was able to open up and share his trauma story with me… when he was ready.  It was never asked and it was never expected. But it did feel like a gift. I treasure the moment he shared his experience with me. It might be one of the biggest honors I’ve felt in this work.  
  • I can appreciate all the research my client has done around trauma.  We were able to really connect over the work of many like Peter Levine, Bessel Van der Kolk, etc.  He is able to teach me and I am able to teach him. It is a lovely collaboration.  
  • Touch has definitely played a role in this process, though it took quite some time to integrate it into our work.  It’s helped him feel connected. It helped me feel connected to him too.

Client D’s feedback as of July 5, 2019:  “[I’m] calmer, easier to be around people. The ability to work through the discomfort of emotional connection with you has translated to other people in the world. You know how … when a person is attacked by a dog and they develop the fear against all dogs? In a way, this is the opposite. By having a positive emotionally-intimate experience with you, I developed a positive attitude to interactions with others. [I like your] willingness to be creative, try different things.  [Your] understanding of psychology makes it easier to communicate. [Also, I have] less chronic muscle tension, focus better [and have] more energy.”

Added 7/7/19 – I came across this great video that helps explain trauma in the body and titration.

Interested in exploring a session together? Let’s connect!

Michelle (she/her), based in the Baltimore area, offers human connection coaching ranging from cuddle therapy to surrogate partner therapy (sexual surrogacy).  While Michelle is not a sex therapist, she is a sex geek, experienced in kink/BDSM, polyamory and other relationship structures.  Your weird isn’t weird to her.  In her world,  you’re normal.

Michelle (she/her), based in the Baltimore area, offers human connection coaching ranging from cuddle therapy to surrogate partner therapy (sexual surrogacy).  While Michelle is not a sex therapist, she is a sex geek, experienced in kink/BDSM, polyamory and other relationship structures.  Your weird isn’t weird to her.  In her world,  you’re normal.