What Self-Love Looks Like

Posted on May 10, 2021


What Self-Love Looks Like

A Found Dialogue Poem

Allie Beth Stuckey,

author of 

You’re Not Enough And That’s Okay


“I realized 

that in the pursuit of the self,

in the pursuit of self fulfillment and

self affirmation– 

all these things 

the world says 

will make us happy–

I went to a dead end…”

Mickey Atkins reacts:

“Speaking for 

the secular therapy community here,

we’re not advocating that anybody go

out and get an eating disorder,

irresponsibly use substances,

or irresponsibly engage in sexual behavior

that could be damaging to your health or

the health of other people.

We are not at all advocating

that we shame spiral

as a means to find self-love.

We are not at all advocating that we

throw logic and safety to the wind

in order to find ourselves. 

There is 

a middle ground 

filled with healthy, happy, fun time,

of boning who you want to bone in a safe way,

using substances in a responsible way,

eating food that makes you happy,

and going to therapy, 

working on your shit,

and making sure 

that you are doing the best that you can

to take care of yourself. 

That’s what

self-love looks like.” 

The text of the poem comes from the video by therapist, Mickey Atkins, Therapist Reacts to Girl Defined (part 2), in which Atkins reacts to harmful ideas about self-love being perpetuated by the fundamentalist Christian sisters who sell Biblical self-loathing under their various Girl Defined media platforms.

As a self-care educator, I appreciate Atkins for taking on the terribly toxic and self-defeating ideas being perpetuated by these content creators. I have seen much harm done in the name of the god of the Bible during my time as a high school teacher. I have seen many wounded teens who believe that they are not worthy of their god’s love, and their family has told them they’re not worthy of familial love–unless they follow the rules imposed on them by religious leaders, regardless of whether or not the rules are developmentally appropriate or helpful–or at least not harmful–to individuals and communities.

The women in the Girl Defined episode tackle imagined secular arguments about self-love, self-esteem, and self-worth that they have constructed by completely misconstruing information on the subjects–information that comes from many disciplines: biology, neurology, psychology, sociology, human development, education, and mathematics, over decades of study–to promote “Biblical Womanhood,” which is rooted in the core teaching of the Bible: that human beings are sinful creatures, who, in their natural state, deserve nothing but eternal punishment, and should feel a deep sense of guilt and shame about their humanity.

Of course, the “cure” for our hideous natural state is to be “saved” by agreeing that one is worthless without a religious conversion, which does not simply mean accepting the idea that around two thousand years ago, a Palestinian man was tortured to death on my behalf so that his god-dad won’t burn me in hell for all eternity. In addition to saying the spell to get out of hell, one must agree to live as a servant, mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, and financially–to leaders and members of a religious group.

I lived as a “Biblical woman” from 1982-1986. I served the church as a Sunday School teacher, nursery worker, choir member, revival publicist, group leader, song leader, preacher, and lay minister-in-training. After being love-bombed into evangelical Christianity at a vulnerable time in my life, I threw myself wholeheartedly into serving my faith community.

Within about the same time that it takes to earn a Bachelor’s degree, I had come to understand that I was part of a community that perpetuated a number of toxic, self-defeating ideas that were harming me directly, but additionally, the moral wound of realizing that a religion proclaiming “god’s love” was destroying human beings through white supremacy, misogyny, patriarchy, and colonialism contributed to me developing what is now called Religious Trauma Syndrome.

As I was waking up to the reality of the self-defeating dogma of my religion, I found out that my husband had cheated on me, and I sought a divorce. A new level of toxicity of the church’s teachings was revealed to me then, as my married “friends” distanced themselves from “temptation,” and the church leaders decided that I should serve the single, college-aged group rather than the young married group (just to be safe)–even though I had two toddlers to mother and couldn’t join in the child-free activities of the singles.

The final straw for my Biblical Womanhood came when, after experiencing racist harassment on a date, I told my friend at church, and I was called in to the lead pastor’s office the next day. I had hoped that he had heard how upset I was by the racist incident, and was ready to get involved in antiracist advocacy, but I was really off the mark. What he wanted to discuss was his decision that I should, “Take some time away from leadership…to pray for conviction of my sin…of DANCING.” He had heard that my date and I had attempted to go dancing, and he was certain that the Lord was far more upset about us attempting to dance on a date than the race-based terrorism we faced. About that, he was not at all concerned.

My experiences in evangelical Christian churches taught me that Biblical Womanhood is a toxic idea that leads to self-harm and self-defeat. I had to chart my own course to recovery; without the internet, it was difficult to meet other people who suffered from RTS, and there were very few out-of-the-closet atheists to be found in my world as a young mother of toddlers. The public library and college classes provided me with a humane, humanist education, and I soon embraced Freethinking Womanhood, self-love, self-compassion, and self-care. I learned that every human being is born fully equipped to love, honor, and enjoy their one, brief life, no gods required.

It’s a new world now; people who wake up from religious indoctrination have a wealth of resources and groups to turn to for support as they adopt to a secular life of their own design, and that makes me so happy. One of those resources is Mickey Atkins’s Youtube channel, the source of today’s found poem. Check her out!

lisa eddy is a writer and editor for-hire, researcher, educator-for-hire, youth advocate,  musician, and gardener.

On Twitter: @lisa_eddy
On email: lisagay.eddy1@gmail.com