Gardening – This is a new practice for me that I started after my maternal grandmother passed away. We received peace lilies for her funeral, so I decided to take one home and I’ve been slowly growing my garden since then. It’s very meditative for me as I water and prune them and it also makes me feel closer to my ancestors.
As a part of my series about “Learning To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Chanta Blue. She is a licensed clinical social worker and certified sex therapist from New Jersey. She specializes in working with womxn of color, and folks in romantic relationships who are interested in improving their self-esteem, experiencing sexual difficulties, and premarital counseling as well as helping womxn reduce shame related to their sexuality and finding pleasure in not only their sex lives but their lives as a whole. She is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Blue Counseling & Wellness Center, a nutrition and mental health wellness center aimed at empowering, educating, supporting, and guiding those who are looking to transform their lives.
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.
Issues related to sexuality and particularly sexual identity and expression have always been fascinating to me. Throughout my academic matriculation, many of my papers and projects focused on women’s issues and gender identity but I never knew sex therapy was a career let alone a career that I could actually pursue. There was no one I knew personally or who looked like me in this field that made me think that this was a viable option. The representations that I had of sex therapists were images of older white women with accents.
Then during my first job out of graduate school, I was asked to teach a sex education class to high school seniors. Through teaching that class I met a Black woman who shared with me that there was a graduate program in human sexuality education at a local university. It was her representation as a professional in the field of human sexuality education and her guidance that made it click for me that I could combine my love of mental health and sexuality education to become a sex therapist.
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’m currently finishing up my first guided journal/coloring book that is designed for self-identified women of color. The goal of this journal is to allow women to explore and clarify their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to love, friendships, family relationships, romantic relationships, and of course, SEX! When folks are able to identify the limiting beliefs they have as well as their needs and desires, they are able to set healthy boundaries in their relationships.
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?
Goodness! There have been so many struggles but probably just as many successes as well. However, I would say that my biggest struggle ended up leading to my biggest success. I was in a long-term relationship with my high school sweetheart all through college and through my first master’s degree program. I had just graduated with my MSW when I found out he had been cheating on me for over a year. It was just an emotional rollercoaster as we tried to work through it.
We had even decided to go to couples counseling. Mind you, we were in our early twenties! After about 6 months of trying to make it work, I realized that I felt repressed in that relationship and I wanted more. So I decided to completely end the relationship and move on with my life. So after that, a good friend of mine who had started pole dancing for fitness told me about a pole and exotic dance studio that was opening up in my area. I attended one class and fell in love! Attending classes there was so liberating and was a major boost to my confidence. I met so many amazing women from that experience and it truly sparked my journey towards sexual liberation.
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 are a lot of reasons why folks aren’t satisfied with their appearance and it has a lot to do with our social media culture. We live in a society where the more aligned you are with the ideal “standard of beauty”, the more likes you get on social media and the more attention you get overall. The more likes we get, the more dopamine, which is a feel-good hormone in our brains, is released. So we are constantly striving to contort our bodies in order to get those shots of dopamine that make us feel good about ourselves. This can turn into a never-ending cycle.
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?
Self-love is the best love of all as it helps to build confidence and reassures us that we are worthy of receiving love from all areas of our life. People, especially women, often pour so much into others that they forget to take care of and love on themselves. We are so busy tending to their careers and supporting their friends and family that we are completely drained when it comes to doing things for ourselves. We end up pouring from a proverbial empty cup which causes the irritability, self-doubt, and mistrust. So if we can learn to consistently pour into ourselves we will always have a full cup to tend to those we love. It is truly the only way we will be open to loving others and be our best selves.
When we practice self-love, we also know our value and set boundaries in our careers, familial relationships and in our intimate relationships. Healthy boundaries allow us to be our most authentic selves and allows us to prioritize the things that matter most to us.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
I believe people stay in mediocre relationships because of fear. Fear that they can’t find a more suitable partner. Fear that they will be alone for the rest of their life. Fear that no one else will love them. T Fear is a natural feeling that was originally used to keep us from life-threatening situations. As society has advanced, we now fear more emotionally threatening situations than life-threatening situations. We don’t want to be vulnerable or take emotional risks that can lead to failure or heartbreak. By not taking these emotional risks, we also don’t give ourselves the opportunity to experience love in all its wonderful forms. So to your readers, I would say, don’t let fear guide your life. You deserve a partner who loves, supports, and fulfills your needs in a way that brings you ultimate joy and happiness.
When we talk about self-love and understanding we 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 for 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?
I definitely agree that blindly loving and accepting ourselves can lead to a lack of insight and possibilities for growth. So it’s important to ask ourselves questions about our beliefs, where these beliefs come from (such as friends, family, religious institutions, or the media) and how our beliefs impact our behaviors and the choices we make. While training to become a sex therapist, I had to explore these questions as they related to my own sexual expression. I recognized that a lot of my feelings of shame, discomfort with my body, and my willingness to stay in toxic romantic relationships came from the messages I received growing up from family and my religion about sex. Once I was able to further explore these messages and my role in perpetuating these messages I was finally able to heal and make better decisions.
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)?
Learning how to be alone and spend quality time with ourselves can be one of the hardest things to do but is also one of the most important self-love and self-care practices we need to develop. It aids in helping us discover our likes and dislikes as well as recognizing who we are outside of our relationships with others.
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 are able to achieve a certain level of self-understanding and self-love we are able to have healthier and more intimate relationships with others. We are able to be more vulnerable and open to taking emotional risks with those we care about. Being vulnerable increases trust and lets others know that we are committed to building a caring and supportive relationship. It also allows us to better communicate our needs and expectations in these relationships.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
I believe they can start to be more introspective and explore their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and stop comparing themselves to unrealistic standards. This may be very difficult to do alone, so going to see a therapist to help with this process would be beneficial. As far as society’s role in helping others better understand and accept themselves, I believe it needs to dismantle all of these standards of beauty and bring more diversity in colors, shapes, sizes, and abilities of the people it chooses to praise and put at the forefront of major media campaigns.
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?
My top 5 strategies that I have implemented in my life for self-love are:
- Gardening- This is a new practice for me that I started after my maternal grandmother passed away. We received peace lilies for her funeral, so I decided to take one home and I’ve been slowly growing my garden since then. It’s very meditative for me as I water and prune them and it also makes me feel closer to my ancestors.
- Dancing in the mirror naked- I have been doing this for years now. It just makes me feel alive and gives me the opportunity to appreciate my body and how it moves.
- Journaling- Of course, as a therapist, I am a big advocate of journaling. I don’t do it every day, but I do utilize this tool when I have a lot of overwhelming thoughts that I need to release.
- Taking dance classes- I just love music, dancing, and community building. So taking group dance classes have always been my favorite form of exercise. It’s liberating, expressive, healing and you can meet some amazing people in the process.
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 a ton! But if I had to narrow it down, my favorite book to recommend is The Five Love Languages series by Gary Chapman. It teaches you about how you give and receive love as well as how to speak the love language of the various people in your life. There is a book for couples, singles, parents, and teens, so it can help improve all of your relationships. These books have made my intimate relationships so much better and even helped me deal with a narcissistic boss.
My favorite podcast to recommend is Therapy For Black Girls with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford. It’s all about providing practical tips for mental health and personal development that centers Black women. As a Black woman who serves predominately Black women in my practice, this podcast fills me with joy as it discusses topics that are relevant to Black culture and it gives me and the women I work with additional perspectives on common mental health concerns.
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…
Every year I select a word to help guide me in my personal and professional life. This year I selected “pleasure.” So if I could inspire a movement, it would be for people to prioritize their pleasure. And not just pleasurable sexual experiences but also non-sexual experiences like hobbies or spending time with loved ones.
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?
“Remember your passion as it will fuel your success.” This quote came to me the year I was preparing to leave a very toxic work environment. I had been building up to this moment by getting my MEd, in human sexuality and completing the requirements for my clinical license but I still needed to stay at this job until I saved up enough money to work in my private practice full-time. By focusing on my passions and the great work that I was doing outside of that toxic workplace I was able to make it through that last year and build a successful private practice on the side.