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“I would start an Army of Truth! We’d stop pretending everything is perfect and just be REAL.” with Natalie Karneef and Sasza Lohrey

I would start an Army of Truth! We’d stop pretending everything is perfect and just be REAL. (Instagram would never be the same.) And I’d try to create community everywhere, so we can help each other out with parenting and life and all the craziness, rather than being so isolated and stressed. I have so […]


I would start an Army of Truth! We’d stop pretending everything is perfect and just be REAL. (Instagram would never be the same.) And I’d try to create community everywhere, so we can help each other out with parenting and life and all the craziness, rather than being so isolated and stressed. I have so many ideas.

As a part of my series about “Connecting With Yourself To Live With Better Relationships” I had the pleasure to interview Natalie Karneef, host and creator of the podcast A Single Thing. A Single Thing explores being alone in our couplehood-obsessed culture, using personal stories and memoir. Natalie is also a writer and an avid meditation practitioner and teacher.


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

I’ve written many short memoir essays about my life: initially about my marriage, my huge family of Greek in-laws, my infertility and my subsequent divorce; and later on about my travels. I also worked as a journalist at the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) and fell in love with radio.

When my marriage fell apart, I went traveling for 2 ½ years. I dove straight into an unhealthy relationship, and when that crashed and burned, I began to understand that I had no idea how to be single, and that I carried a lot of shame around it. I realized that many people feel this way, and I wanted to be part of helping them understand and celebrate singleness as a path to self-love.

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?

All my writing and podcasting share the same goal: for people to know they’re not alone. The more honest and vulnerable we are about how hard life can be, the more connected we become to others. Because we’re all having a tough time.

With that in mind, I’m working on the second season of the podcast. I’m also working on a book about my travels.

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?

My ex-husband and I got engaged on our second date, and moved in together within months. It was all very romantic and Hollywood, and I believed I had “succeeded” in finding my happily ever after.

But our relationship was a constant power struggle. We argued endlessly. Not long after we split up, I moved across the planet to be with another person. I believed I needed to change who I was in order to fit into his life, even though it was pretty clear we weren’t right for each other. When that relationship collapsed, I felt like a failure and that I’d never know how to be happy.

I began working closely with a meditation teacher, learning to accept my emotions and stop thinking I had to change myself. I knew I had to be alone, but still found myself engaging with my ex-boyfriend and with other men. It was when one of those men rejected me (quite spectacularly) that I saw I needed help — that I was powerless over my need for validation from others. That was my rock bottom, and it was then that I joined a 12-step program.

Through that program, my sponsor and my meditation work, I started, very slowly, to find peace in my own company. It was incredibly hard at times, but there were hours and, eventually, days when I’d realize I was content being on my own. Soon, I started to revel in my freedom. I became the happiest I’d ever been.

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?

There’s so much conformity in our culture! If we expanded our concept of beauty to be about uniqueness and strength, about battle scars and life stories… imagine how people could feel about themselves? As Chidera Eggerue says, “I didn’t create myself, so it’s not my place to explain my body to anyone.”

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?

I rarely felt happy or at peace when I was constantly at war with myself. I know, now, that this is very common. I criticized myself for the choices I made, every little thing I did or didn’t do, how I looked… the list was endless. I believed I was doing life “wrong”, that I needed to change myself. Because of that, I missed out on so much joy and beauty. And I isolated myself because I carried so much shame.

Learning to believe that we are enough; that we are worthy (still something I need to actively work on every day) gives us resilience. It helps us accept others as they are, rather than try to change them. And, ironically, it is through self-love that I’ve made the most positive, lasting changes in my own life. From what I know, many others have, too.

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

It’s a cliché, but I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary: it’s difficult to love someone in a healthy way when we don’t love ourselves. I’ve often chosen partners who couldn’t see or appreciate me. I know now that’s because I didn’t accept myself as I was. I would resent these people for not loving me — for not doing the job I needed to be doing before anyone else had a shot at it.

Once we stop looking to another to validate us, relationships can be more about “bonus love”: topping up the already full cup of love we have for ourselves, rather than a place we go because we’re dying of thirst.

But I’d also say to beware falling into the trap of knowing your relationship is mediocre, and then being unkind to yourself because of that! Please don’t do this! As Pema Chodron says, “start where you are.” You can begin to love yourself from any situation. If you’re in a relationship you see as mediocre, learn to love and accept yourself from there. No matter if the relationship changes or doesn’t, at least now you have you! And you can move towards a happier life, alone or with someone else.

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?

What a great point! I remember looking in the bathroom mirror one day and realizing that criticizing my body came as naturally to me as breathing. I had to question that habit, and question why I was hanging into it before I started to change it.

But often, without outside help, it’s difficult to know what those tough questions are. I’ve worked with therapists, coaches and meditation teachers, as well as friends and my sponsor, to help me ask the most helpful questions — with kindness (very important).

Some of those questions have been:

How am I talking to myself?

How do I talk to others?

Am I looking to others/practicing certain behaviors to validate my self-worth?

Can I be myself when I’m around certain people? If not, why not?

Am I playing the victim?

What parts of myself am I ashamed about? And what story am I telling myself about this?

What would it be like to believe a different story about myself?

These questions aren’t one-offs: I think that self-love is a lifelong journey. But every little step counts.

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)?

It’s only by being with myself that I’ve gotten to know myself, and then learned to be kind to myself. As obvious as this may be, it’s much easier to love someone who is kind.

It’s a process that takes a lot of understanding and patience, though. I think it needs to be practiced every day. Meditation is an amazing way to do that. We need to learn to accept and be kind to our fear of being alone, too.

From my experience, and all the stories that have been shared with my for my podcast, I know that spending a dedicated amount of time being single is also hugely beneficial. People seem to take massive strides in their growth and self-love when they’re alone. Why wouldn’t you want to fall in love with yourself? There’s no better way to live!

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?

Byron Katie said, “All the advice you ever gave your partner is for you to hear.” I believe this with all of my heart. How we relate to others is a great mirror to how we connect with ourselves. When I accuse my partner of not listening to me, I am often not listening to myself. When I decide they aren’t being present with me, I’m usually obsessing (i.e. not being present at all).

Learning to be a friend to ourselves helps us be a great friend or partner to others. It also builds our boundaries, which is essential for healthy relationships.

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

The more honest and authentic we are with each other, the easier it is to accept ourselves. I do this through my creative work, but it can be done through art, or just showing up as you are with other people, rather than putting on a fake veneer of “everything is perfect!” (See: instagram.)

I also think that the more honest we are with each other, the less self-focused we become. We move from “me” (wanting to be successful/prove ourselves/”win”) to “we” (wanting to be of service to others, be kind, make the world a better place for all).

We can do this through spending time alone (not on screens, but engaging with the world around us), and also being with people we can be supported by: therapists, mentors, teachers, good friends, or a community of like-minded individuals. Preferably more than one of the above!

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?

1. I meditate every day. I meditate alone, but I also try to get to a group meditation in as often as possible, because it and makes things move along more speedily. And I work with a meditation teacher, who gives me guidance when I get lost and start being a jerk to myself.

2. I go to 12-step meetings. The first time I went to a meeting I was absolutely terrified, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done to myself, and I’ve made very close, beloved friends through it. You don’t have to be addicted to a drugs or alcohol to go to 12-step, and whether you are or you aren’t, the 12-step tradition is geared towards self-love and creating strong community of truth-telling. Al-Anon, Codependents Anonymous (CODA) and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) are great options.

3. I do morning pages when I wake up (3 pages of stream-of-consciousness writing) to get out some of my negative mental chatter. I keep a journal where I process my emotions and can be brutally honest with myself.

4. Alone time is hugely important, but too much can lead to isolation. I try to create and maintain strong bonds with people on a similar journey. Sometimes I have to force myself. The other week, I was scheduled to have a call with a friend, but was feeling low (i.e. wanting to isolate) and tried to cancel. Fortunately, he challenged me on this via text. We ended up texting for 3 hours, and sharing all kinds of truths. I felt so much better at the end.

5. I hang out with animals whenever possible. My (and other people’s) pets have been my greatest teachers on how to be present and love myself unconditionally.

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?

I could write a book to answer this! I’ll try to keep it down to my all-time favorites.

Books:

· anything by Tara Brach, Pema Chodron, Esther Perel, Eckhart Tolle, or Elizabeth Gilbert

· How to be a Person in the World by Heather Havrilesky (Ask Polly) (and her weekly column in New York Magazine)

· The Unexpected Joy of Being Single by Catherine Gray

· Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

· Bridget Jones’s Diary and all the sequels (might seem like an odd choice, but she exemplifies embracing your whole, “crazy” self — and she makes me laugh)

· Any kind of 12-step reading or reading about codependence

Podcasts:

· Terrible, Thanks for Asking

· Where Should We Begin (Esther Perel’s podcast)

· Tara Brach’s podcasts (broadcasts of her weekly teaching)

Other resources:

· my meditation teacher, Mira Riddiford

· www.self-compassion.org (Kristin Neff’s website, home to some amazing free guided meditations)

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…

I would start an Army of Truth! We’d stop pretending everything is perfect and just be REAL. (Instagram would never be the same.) And I’d try to create community everywhere, so we can help each other out with parenting and life and all the craziness, rather than being so isolated and stressed. I have so many ideas.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by?

“Some of our greatest suffering is caused at our own hands, by the belief that somehow we should be perfect.” — Dr. Kristin Neff

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

About the Author:

Sasza Lohrey is the Founder & CEO of BBXX, a digital platform for intimacy and wellbeing. She is also the host of the BBXX podcast, “Let’s Get Intimate!” which hosts provocative and entertaining conversations with experts in order to challenge the way our culture conditions us to talk about sex, intimacy, and healthy relationships. BBXX was created in order to help people better understand themselves, so that they then can form deeper and more fulfilling relationships with others. Sasza is a former D1 athlete with a background in psychology and digital media. She is a member of the Women of Sex Tech collective, the co-mentorship community Dreamers and Doers, and a regular columnist for several online publications. Originally from the Bay Area, Sasza founded BBXX during a Stanford entrepreneurship program in Santiago, Chile. Learn more on our website and listen to more interviews with experts on our top-rated podcast!

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