Before going to bed take a journal and write down 5 things you are grateful for about your body and your life in general. According to research people who actively practice gratitude live healthier, less depressed, and more resilient when faced with difficulties.
As a part of my series about “How To Learn To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Chinwe Okudo.Dr. Chinwe Okudo is a Doctoral prepared family Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Mental health Nurse practitioner, and a certified Master Life Coach. She currently leads various non-profit organizations and runs a thriving private practice, Balm of Gilead Health & Wellness Center, LLC, located in Baltimore, Maryland, where she and her team help individuals with mental health challenges and body image needs regain their lives and self-confidence, and on track to do great things!
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.
It’s my pleasure Kristin to be a part of this interview! There is always a back story to everything we do in life! I remembered when my grand-dad was very sick and hospitalized, and I was his primary caregiver; remember the 2 nurses there caring for him telling me I was supposed to be in the nursing field, considering how well they observed me care for my granddad, which I laughed off, as I was a law student at the university Nigeria. Nursing in Nigeria back then was nothing to ride home about, you are either a Doctor or lawyer…. However, While in high school I hated mathematics so much back then, so will always find myself drawing dresses or beautiful women and things during mathematics class as I am very creative. This was one of the reasons I went in for a law career path, as that was virtually the one reputable course, I could study without having credit in mathematics lol!
A few years later I immigrated to the United States about 18 years ago, coming to the United States was never something that I had planned or thought of; however, through what I considered a mistake in marriage, as it was a marriage, I entered into out of so much pressure! In the process I went through so many challenging life events, including a miscarriage resulting from domestic violence & abuse, I was told I could not amount to much, which made me lose confidence in myself, as I felt I was a failure, hopeless and didn’t know what to do. In the midst of my confusion, I remembered my conversation with the nurses in Nigeria, and decided to go into the nursing career since I realized nurses were valued here. However, when I tried to write an entrance exam into the nursing career the first time, I failed it, as tears covered my papers on the day of the exam, since the words I was fed with by my late Ex-husband that very morning was that I should not expect to pass the exam; that I should know that because I was smart enough to gain admission to study law in Nigeria does not mean I can pass an entrance exam into the nursing field in the U.S, concluded by saying that I can’t amount to much here in the United States! So, as he predicted I failed the entrance exam as I was heavy-hearted in tears, and could barely see the questions! He was definitely very happy when I came back to report I failed and his response was “I told you!”.…. Back then he was studying for his doctorate degree, and whenever he grieved my spirit and I started to cry, he will call the cops on me telling them I was disturbing him from studying for his doctorate degree….
So, after the marriage ended, I decided to attempt the entrance exam again into nursing; I asked the one that made the universe to help me overcome my fear for mathematics, and that if he helped me, that I will definitely get to a terminal degree in nursing and someday own my own practice. It was not an easy road at all, but that dream eventually came to pass!
Today I have my doctorate degree in Nursing, dual certified as a family Nurse Practitioner, and a Psychiatric Mental health Nurse practitioner, currently running a thriving private practice, Balm of Gilead Health & Wellness Center, LLC, located in Baltimore, Maryland, An Aesthetics/weight loss/mental Health Practice!
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?
Yes, I am! Based on my life challenges, around July last year out of divine inspiration I launched a coaching program under the name Inspired to Become & Excel, it was founded to empower women through education & Coaching, especially those that have overcome or going through various life challenges to discover the purpose behind the pain, turn that pain into profit, become their best and excel! Be it in their career, entrepreneurship, relationships, body image issues, or health & Wellness issues. The goal is to inspire women to discover & maximize their full potentials, build their confidence and Excel!
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?
Yes Indeed, apart from the story I shared about my ordeal in an abusive relationship that damaged my self-esteem, I suffered from feelings of rejection and lack of self-love as well for so many years. This was due to the fact that my biological dad denied my mom’s pregnancy and me at birth, he came back 20 years later to ask for forgiveness, and was forgiven. However, prior to his coming back, I had undergone so many challenging life events which affected my self-worth, and self-love; it was also a contributing factor to my going into an abusive relationship. I saw myself feeling not enough, constantly struggling to feel accepted. However, along my life journey and battles, precisely 4 years ago after a major life event, I made a decision to start loving myself for who I am, and stop trying to be right or feel accepted before other people, I began to understand that every situation I found myself in is for a reason. As soon as I did, I began to experience a new level of freedom and became unstoppable! Then by last year it all became very clear to me that all my experiences, including stories surrounding my birth were all tied to my life purpose! I came to understand that all those things we consider in life as mistakes or failures are no mistakes, or coincidences, but simply our life purpose playing out, with this new knowledge, I have entered into a new level of self-confidence and love, which is why I am able to share my life story, this is a very difficult task for a Nigerian born and raised, as we are very secretive in nature, and do not share such stories!
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?
Considering our world today where social media is everything, we find ourselves constantly trying to judge our appearance based on what is on the media, thereby creating such a level of dissatisfaction with our looks! If you are skinny, figure 8, have 6 pack abs, beautiful clear skin, beautiful or handsome face with no frown lines, no sagging, acne-free, or pigmentation free, then you are beautiful or handsome! Unfortunately, the images on the social media are mostly altered images, and do not represent the true picture of the individual in view. For some young people they also feel dissatisfied with their appearance because of being teased or bullied for how they look or being told you’re ugly, too fat, or too thin or having other aspects of their appearance criticized. Some women in particular may feel dissatisfied with their appearance because of being in a toxic relationship, whereby you are constantly told you are ugly, fat, no good, and you are being done a favor by having the man in your life, as nobody else will want you! Some of these words I have been told myself, and are the very predicament of some of my clients, which was what prompted me to write my book Celebrate Your Uniqueness “Lady! You Are Good Enough” Simple Steps To Rebuilding Your Self-Esteem…
Some of the consequences of dissatisfaction with one’s appearance includes lack of self-love, low self-Esteem, anxiety, depression, settling for toxic relationships, out of fear of being alone… For many teenage girls having extreme weight concerns can cause them to engage in self-harming behaviors such as Skipping meals or taking diet pills which can lead to poor nutrition and difficulty learning. While in some teens, extreme efforts to lose weight can lead to eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia. For some others, the pressure to be thin can lead to binge eating disorder (overeating that is followed by extreme guilt and distress, then engage in purging to counter the binge eating). Girls are also more prone than boys to risk their health by engaging in unhealthy ways to lose weight, such as smoking.
As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?
Love this question! Self-Love is extremely important if we are going to become all we are called to be! Like I discussed in my book celebrate your uniqueness, we are made enough for the assignment upon our lives, so one way to wholly step into your purpose is by fully accepting and loving yourself along with all your perfect imperfections! With the understanding that the beauty from within is more important that physical appearance! Your happiness in life is highly related to how much love you have for “YOU” Self-love helps you to take the necessary measures to prioritize your needs above others, gives you a higher regard for your own well-being. When you put yourself first by loving you first it relieves stress, anxiety, helps you to be more assertive, set boundaries and leads to an overall deeper connection to yourself, which in turn transfer to others.
Loving yourself is trusting yourself, it boosts your self-esteem and gives you the confidence to shoot for the stars.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
I have touched on this topic in a couple of the previous questions, so I will answer in a nutshell, when people do not understand their uniqueness, then they settle for other people’s opinion about their appearance or who they are, hence stay in Mediocre relationships or rather toxic relationships, out of the fear that no one else will want them, so they better hold tight to what they’ve got…
My advice on this is to understand that you are made ENOUGH! You don’t need anyone’s validation! You are a unique being, filled with many giftings that only you possess, take time to discover your good traits, avoid the victim mentality, Love yourself enough to put your needs first, and set the necessary boundaries needed to ensure that no one treats you less than the Person you are meant to be.
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?
Absolutely! Self-love is definitely not about blindly loving and accepting ourselves, like I said earlier you must discover your innate qualities, your unique capabilities, that sets you apart from the next person. However, because we are perfectly imperfect beings, there’s always room for improvement, so that is the reason why we must constantly do our own self-assessment, to see the areas we need improvement in or personal things that may be serving as a trigger to lack of self-love. Those questions include: What are some childhood events that still bothers me? The events that occurred in our childhood do follow us for a long time and affects how we feel about ourselves, for me there are so many childhood events that kept me stuck for a long time, one of them is a time I went to an aunts house to help her prepare dinner for another aunt visiting with her children from out of state, by the time we were done cooking, I needed to take a shower, and had gone into one of the bathrooms, and overheard her asking her daughter why she allowed me to go take a shower in their bathroom, she instructed her to have me go to the bathroom at the boys quarters (outside of the main house) my heart bled on hearing that, and that gave me a sense of NOT ENOUGH for a long time. I had to talk myself out of those negative emotions, and changed my thought process to understand that I am made ENOUGH and that people’s actions has a lot to say about them, not me. other tough questions to ask are: How do I define happiness? Do I understand what I really need to be happy? Is my happiness dependent on someone else or things? What am I most scared of? What do I have difficulties trusting about myself? What do I do that make other people’s lives more difficult? What do I love and take pride in about myself?
How am I feeling? If negative, How can I change it to positive? And finally, my favorite question, What day-to-day activities fill me with purpose? self-love is a journey, not a destination, you have to constantly keep finding ways to turn up your self-love, by asking yourself those questions that may seem uncomfortable, but if truthfully answered can help us love our selves at a deeper level.
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)?
One advice I always give my clients after a relationship break up is to practice being alone to discover who they truly are, and what areas of their lives they need to fine-tune, in order not to end in the same type of relationship, or worse. self-love entails building a life we are happy with, instead of relying on a significant other to make us happy. It is very important to learn how to be truly happy alone. It involves accepting all parts of who we are and a commitment not to make the same mistakes that drags us into dark places, but rather only learn from those dark places, and move on. Self-love is about making time to do what we love, listening to what lifts us up physically, mentally, and spiritually. Alone time is when we take the time to connect with ourselves in a deeper level, and understand our worth. Once you learn your self-worth and appreciate who you are, then you will gladly enjoy your aloneness, as you won’t tolerate being around people who make you feel anything less, just for the fear of being alone.
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 we truly understand who we are, we then come to terms with the fact that every part our life’s story, and physical appearance is all part of our unique package, and in line with the purpose we are called to serve, which makes it easier to empathetically connect in a deeper way with people, especially those that have been true our life’s part, and be able to be the change that is needed to make the world a better place.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
In my experience what individuals can do to help them better understand and accept themselves is to address those issues surrounding their birth, childhood experiences, and negative life events. The ability to understand that the life events that we sometimes consider as mistakes are all part of who we are, and none of them should be wished away, as there are lessons and treasures hidden inside of them will help a great deal to understand and accept ourselves. We must also recognize our weaknesses or limitations, understanding that we are perfectly imperfect creatures, but this awareness in no way interferes with our ability to fully accept ourselves, but rather a call to constantly improve on the areas we need to improve on.
On the other hand, the Society can help people understand and accept themselves better by being less judgmental, understand that people have the right to be their own unique individuals. This means their life story is unique to them, and no one should be shamed for how they were born, or their life challenges. Society must allow people to own the right to their own feelings, thoughts and opinions. When people are accepted for who they are, then they let go of the desire to change themselves to be who they are not.
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?
- Treat Yourself kindly: Sometimes we tend to be everything for everyone and fail to take the time to care for our own selves, in the effort not to be selfish, but failing to realize that self-care is not selfish! We must take the time to fill our own cups up, and then serve others from our overflow. Hence take time to care for your body, eat healthy portion-controlled meals, treat yourself to a massage, or spa day, exercise regularly starting with few minutes a day, and work your way up; this will help boost your health and appearance and in turn your self-confidence. The more you treat your body with the loving and tenderness it deserves, the easier it becomes to love yourself over time.
- Practice Gratitude: When we spend time focusing on, and be grateful for the positive things about our lives, instead of the negatives, then we develop the right mindset that enables us to understand that there are so many good than bad to be grateful for. Instead of spending more time in front of the mirror obsessing about our looks or worrying about our weight, or what someone said about how we look; take a few minutes instead, to take notice of the beautiful things about yourself. Before going to bed take a journal and write down 5 things you are grateful for about your body and your life in general. According to research people who actively practice gratitude live healthier, less depressed, and more resilient when faced with difficulties.
- Understand you are Perfectly imperfect: oftentimes we find it difficult to love ourselves like we should, out of the desire for perfection. We limit ourselves, and fail to take any action in life that will help boost our self-confidence and love, out of the fear of not being good enough. Studies suggests that perfectionism is strongly associated with depression. Hence, learn to accept yourself for who you truly are, understanding that you are perfectly imperfect, and made enough for the assignment you are here to fulfill.
- Quit the self-Judgment: We fail to love ourselves sometimes because we dwell in our past mistakes, instead of learning the lessons from them and applying those lessons to improve who we are now. The sad thing is that when we are judgmental of ourselves, we knowingly or unknowingly translate it to others, in an effort to make ourselves feel better, which leads to resentment. So, in order to maintain a deeper connection and love for yourself you must learn to Practice acceptance towards yourself and others.
- Practice Positive Affirmations: Positive Affirmations help to bring out the negativities in our unconscious thoughts, that we believe about ourselves into the open. It forces you to be aware of your thought process and challenge your inner thoughts that you probably ignore usually. So, start your day in front of the mirror repeating some positive affirmations. Here a few affirmations to boost yourself love:
“My body deserves love and respect.”
“My worth isn’t defined by my weight. I define my worth, and I am worthy.”
“My body is perfect the way that it is, and I honor it in this state.
“I am comfortable in my own skin.”
“I am beautiful.”
“I Am the Person I Was Born to Be”
“I Am Proud of Myself”
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?
There are so many out there, but one of my favorite books on self-psychology will be my book Celebrate Your Uniqueness….! I Love it because is a powerful tool that helps one to discover who they are, help you rid the victim mentality, discover your good traits and understand that you are unique, and should accept and celebrate your uniqueness…
Another great book is one I just recently discovered, The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, PHD is a powerful book that helps one find courage to overcome paralyzing fear and self-consciousness, as well as helps strengthen our connection to the world, and belief that we are worthy of self-discovery, personal growth, and boundless love.
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…
We all have a story! Some are stories we are not proud of, but if we can embrace our life’s story and see how we can use those things that may seem negative about our story and flip it around to serve those that might be going through similar situations, then the world would be a better place. Part of my story is being born out of wedlock, and rejected initially by my biological father, but today I am running a charitable organization called The Inspired Woman Fatherless Girls Foundation, focused on helping pregnant teenagers, young girls rejected by their fathers… to regain their lives back through financial empowerment, scholarships etc.… So, we can all start a movement of change by using our negative life’s story to impact someone else or group of people positively!
Can you please give us your favorite “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?
My favorite life lesson Quote: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are, and change the ending” C.S. Lewis.
Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!