What is Radical Self Love, and Why is it Relevant to Therapy?

By Caera Gramore

When searching for the origins of Radical Self Love, many authors point to at least one of two Black queer women (or sometimes both): Audre Lorde and Sonya Renee Taylor.

Dr. Audre Lorde was a prolific writer, poet, university professor, and more. She wrote about a wide range of topics, with frequent themes including love and social justice. One of her last books published in her lifetime was A Burst of Light and Other Essays in 1988. This is the source of one of her most famous quotes, especially within radical self love: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”

Sonya Renee Taylor is a writer, poet, speaker, activist, and more. She literally wrote the book about radical self love: The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love . She also started a movement that now includes an online magazine and education programs at www.thebodyisnotanapology.com . She very much builds on the ideas that Lorde wrote about, especially how loving ourselves in our bodies as we are is an act of resistance against systems that marginalize us.

More and more writers, including many contributors at www.thebodyisnotanapology.com , are writing about the combination of living with depression, anxiety, trauma, and other mental health challenges and struggling but striving to appreciate and love oneself. Many see a connection, as both Lorde and Taylor have articulated, between living in a world where we experience various forms of marginalization and the mental health challenges we may face on a day to day basis.

In this sense, seeking mental health support can also be an act of radical self love, acting on one’s healthy and nurturing love for oneself in spite of challenges to that love, and again acting in resistance against both individuals and systems that hurt, neglect, or marginalize us.

Many people feel shame when thinking about seeking help for mental health challenges such as symptoms of depression or anxiety. Some people feel like it is admitting defeat or weakness. Yet from a radical self love perspective, reaching out for help in these situations is the beginning of winning many battles against anything that would harm us. It is a step in regaining an inner sense of appreciation and love for ourselves, no matter who we are or what challenges we live with. It is an act of self empowerment, while also reaching out for connection to others and support from another person.

That connection is deeply important. Another facet of radical self love is that it’s never only about one individual; it’s also about connecting with others in community, including others who are different from you. As Sonya Renee Taylor says in her first TEDx talk , “Radical self love is not independent; it is interdependent.” The systems that marginalize people maintain more power and control (and cause more harm) when they divide us from each other, especially over our differences. Lorde wrote quite a bit about that in various works over time, often calling for recognition and celebration of our differences within diverse communities.

To quickly learn more about radical self love, I recommend the following sources (5 – 10 minutes each):

“How a Sexy Selfie Awakened Me to the Power of Radical Self Love — and Launched a Movement” article featuring Sonya Renee Taylor about the beginnings of www.thebodyisnotanapology.com

“What is Radical About Self Love” article by Joy von Steiger at medium.com

“I search for it blinded: the power of self love and self esteem” TEDx video of Caira Lee

“BODIES AS RESISTANCE: Claiming the political act of being oneself” TEDx video of Sonya Renee Taylor

If you want to invest more time into learning about radical self love, I also recommend both the book and the web site .

“Your call to be a balm to every self inflicted wound is the way movements are birthed. In a land glad to wish us endless slumber, waking unrepentant in our skin is a hero’s journey and the only way we collectively prevail.” Sonya Renee Taylor, in the poem “Bodies of Resistance” as performed in this video.

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