Margot Zaher: “Understanding and loving yourself is the foundation to experiencing peace and happiness in your life”

Understanding and loving yourself is the foundation to experiencing peace and happiness in your life. It’s that simple. As a part of my series about “How To Learn To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Margot Zaher. Margot uses her twenty-five-plus years of coaching and psychotherapeutic experience to help women transform stagnant marriages […]

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Understanding and loving yourself is the foundation to experiencing peace and happiness in your life. It’s that simple.

As a part of my series about “How To Learn To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Margot Zaher. Margot uses her twenty-five-plus years of coaching and psychotherapeutic experience to help women transform stagnant marriages and long-term relationships into healthy ones by breaking free of toxic patterns, shifting fear into confidence, and reclaiming their voice and power. Margot, who holds a master’s in psychology, is a certified professional coach, hypnotherapist, psychotherapist, and EMDR facilitator. She’s the author of the Amazon bestseller The Golden Cage: From Entrapment to Empowerment (available on her website where she guides readers through a step-by-step approach to identify and break free of life cages, including relationship ones.

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.

My own pain in past relationships and, in particular, being trapped in an unhappy marriage, is what started me on my career path. Over twenty-five years ago, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery with the objective of figuring out why I was so unhappy in my marriage and in my life. A myriad of healing modalities (hypnotherapy, EMDR, The Journey by Brandon Bays) helped me uncover and heal core wounding and unhealthy patterns that were keeping me stuck in victimhood and low self-esteem, eventually supporting me in reclaiming my personal power in intimate relationships.

Not only did I use these healing modalities to support my personal transformation, but I was inspired to be trained in them after experiencing such profound results. At first, I became a hypnotherapist and psychotherapist specializing in healing core wounding and trauma and helping my clients emerge from victimhood and reconnect with their inner power. Later, I became certified as a professional coach and opened my life-coaching business. Through the years, my fascination and expertise with the intricacies and challenges of romantic relationships has increased as I’ve experienced my own journey of letting go of toxic relationships and finally manifesting a beautiful soulmate partnership. My personal mission is to support others in creating their dream relationships.

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 really excited about my newest project called “The Relationship Reset Bootcamp.” This is a 14-day program designed to help women create more connection, love, and passion in stagnant or troubled relationships. The focus of the Relationship Reset Bootcamp is to help women recognize unhealthy patterns that are harming their relationships and learn powerful tools to shift out of these patterns into healthy behaviors, transform conflict to connection, and reclaim their power.

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?

I started suffering from low self-esteem and profound feelings of not being good enough when I was in junior high. I was different than all my friends, living on the wrong side of the tracks, my mother being a single parent and then getting remarried, etc. I used to walk home from school feeling profoundly depressed chanting, “Nobody loves me; I might as well go eat worms.”

The tipping point that triggered a profound change in my level of self-acceptance happened in my mid-twenties. I had been working in a prestigious job in Procter & Gamble’s Paris office. My boss was unhappy with my performance and was constantly telling me I needed to do things differently. It got so bad that I started to hide out in the restroom and go on very long lunch breaks. I lacked the confidence to stand up to her. I constantly felt I was not good enough and needed to be different. I decided I needed to figure out a way of healing this low self-esteem and negative self-talk.

After some time, I had the opportunity to do a series of five emotional clearing sessions with a hypnotherapist over one weeks’ time. During these sessions, I cleared away some of my childhood feelings of rejection and of something being wrong with me and opened the door to self-love by forgiving my younger self.

After this intensive was completed, I worked to reprogram my mind and heart with feelings of self-love. To do this, I used the “I love you (your name)” exercise. During my daily walk to and from work, I would say out loud, or under my breath, if others were around, “I love you, Margot.” I would repeat this mantra hundreds of times a day while focusing on feeling more love in my heart. After about three months of doing this, I noticed I was feeling stronger and standing up more for what I believed in. I also became aware of a shift with regard to my relationship with my boss. I was no longer afraid of her, instead, I felt compassion for her, knowing that she too was stressed and was afraid of losing her job. About four months after embarking on this journey of increasing my self-acceptance and self-love, my boss came to me and said, “I don’t know what you did, but you seem so much more confident than you used to be,” and she proceeded to recommend me for a promotion.

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?

I believe the main cause of not liking our appearance and wanting to change ourselves comes from societal conditioning. For the most part, our society emphasizes the importance of our looks. We are taught that to be loved or appreciated, we must look a certain way. Thus, when we compare ourselves to those who are considered beautiful, we find ourselves lacking. The consequence is that we miss seeing our unique beauty and gifts because we are so busy wanting to be like everyone else. This lowers our self-esteem and makes us feel like something is wrong with us. The more we compare ourselves to idealized images, the more we are going to find something lacking in ourselves.

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?

Understanding and loving yourself is the foundation to experiencing peace and happiness in your life. It’s that simple. When you become aware of your core wounding and the triggers that drive your behavior and attitudes towards yourself and others, you can consciously embark on a journey of personal growth. I believe our ability to give and receive love is directly correlated to the degree that we can love ourselves. The more you love yourself, the more you can feel other people’s love and believe they do indeed love you. If you are suffering from low self-esteem, you will push away the love of others and not believe they truly love you.

My experience is that authentic feelings of love come from within and not from the outside world. Also, if you are feeling unlovable, you will have trouble giving love to another in a healthy way. Your love will be tainted with neediness to receive love back in a specific form to fill up the gaping hole of unlovability living in the depth of your being. And in romantic relationships, self-love is necessary to establish healthy relationships with your partner where you are giving love without attachment or desperate need.

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

Based on my personal experiences and those of my clients, I believe people stay in mediocre relationships because of being trapped in what I refer to as the Golden Cage. Their relationship has become a cage built of fear, and specifically fear of the unknown. It feels safer to stay in the cage than venture out into the unknown. I refer to this cage as being made of gold because for many people the cage is lined with prestige, financial stability, familiarity, or the comfort of a family unit. It takes a lot of courage to face the risks that leaving a mediocre relationship could entail — including the risk of spending your life alone. Fear of being alone is, in my experience, one of the primary reasons people choose mediocrity. They have not yet found the joy of being by themselves, the joy that can arise from truly loving themselves.

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?

Some tough questions to increase self-understanding and build awareness are: How do my behaviors undermine those I love? How do I show up in ways that hinder connection? How authentic am I being in my interactions with those I love? Am I pretending or trying to be something I am not in order to be loved? What am I afraid of losing if I show up completely in my relationships?

When I asked myself these questions in my marriage, I realized I was not truly getting my needs met because I was morphing myself and my behaviors to please my husband so as to avoid conflict and keep the relationship from falling apart. When I was willing to show up authentically and express my true needs and desires, my partner and I were able to get real with each other which ended up liberating us from a relationship we had outgrown.

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)?

I believe that learning to be comfortable and even enjoying being alone is a key to happiness. It was only when I fully embraced being alone that I was able to manifest my dream relationship, one where I feel truly met on all levels and loved and accepted for who I am. The truth was I needed to learn how to love and accept myself before I could be in a truly beautiful and deeply connecting intimate relationship.

When you are not okay being alone, you cling to your partner out of desperation because you fear the alternatives. This clinging and energetic neediness often pushes your partner away, creating disconnection. You then yearn even more for intimacy and your fear of being abandoned grows stronger. This behavior most often distances your partner because they feel suffocated by your need for love and approval.

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 you become aware of your key triggers and unhealthy patterns, you have the power to show up differently and be more empowered in your relating. Instead of blaming the other person for upsetting you or creating discomfort in your life, you can look at your own behavior patterns and triggers. When you understand why you think, feel, or act a certain way, you can bring about change through awareness and conscious shifting of old behaviors. In romantic relationships, sharing with your partner that you are triggered — and the reasons you are triggered — is a huge step toward deepening your connection and mutual compassion for each other.

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

One of the most helpful things for individuals to do to increase their self-awareness is to uncover key triggers, behavior patterns and core drives that run their lives and relationships. One tool I’ve found particularly helpful is the Enneagram of Personality. This personality typing system helps individuals quickly identify their habitual thoughts and behaviors, so they can move out of acting on autopilot and consciously choose new ways of being which support connection.

As a society, in order to promote self-acceptance, we should prioritize media and entertainment featuring messages that celebrate differences and showing examples of people authentically being themselves. We also need to increase our focus on education that promotes self-awareness and self-acceptance for our children. Some school systems already have equity programs, teaching kids about diversity or have integrated mindfulness practices. These programs should be expanded so our children grow up naturally with higher levels of acceptance and compassion for themselves and others.

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. Become aware of and let go of your story. What negative story have you created about yourself that you are constantly reinforcing with self-critical thoughts? I’m using the term “story” because it isn’t necessarily true, it’s simply a collection of thoughts you have told yourself over and over which have congealed into what you now believe is the truth. For instance, when I was much younger, I had a story that I was not loveable, and that people didn’t want to hang out with me. If someone didn’t invite me to a gathering, I would use this to further prove my “I’m not loveable” story. Once I realized I had this story, I was able to see other truths. The best way to really see your story is to write it down. Then, once you’ve acknowledged it, release it by shredding or burning it and saying out loud, “I let this go!”

2. Forgive yourself. Making mistakes is a part of being human. We have all done things in the past that we regret. If you hang on to these mistakes and beat yourself up for them, your self-esteem will suffer. Feeling guilty and unhappy because of past mistakes does not remedy the past. What’s important is for you to forgive yourself for the past. An easy way to do this is to do the following three-step process:

a. Close your eyes and visualize yourself at the age where forgiveness is needed.

b. Speak out loud to your younger self. Say something like, “I forgive you for what happened in the past. I know you were just doing the best you could with the resources you had at the time.”

c. Imagine hugging that younger you and let the feelings of forgiveness flood your heart. Take your time with this. Notice how good it feels to forgive this part of yourself.

3. Shift self-judgment into self-compassion. In my experience, we are more judgmental of ourselves and our behaviors than of others. I know it’s easy for me to judge myself for something I would easily forgive others for (or maybe not even notice). Here’s the process I’ve used with myself and others to quickly create a shift from judging myself to compassion. When I hear myself saying judgmental things in my mind like, “What a stupid thing to do,” I quickly imagine myself crossing out this sentence with a big red magic marker. This stops the judgmental energy. Then I focus on compassion by repeating a compassion-inspiring phrase or mantra out loud to myself like, “Margot, it’s okay; you’re doing your best.” Say your mantra five to ten times until it starts to sink in and you begin to believe it. The more you practice, the easier this becomes. Play around with this mantra until you find one that resonates with you and truly generates a feeling of letting go.

4. Do 5 minutes of magnificence. We are all innately magnificent beings with gifts and talents to offer the world. The problem is we often forget how truly brilliant and uniquely beautiful we are by focusing on what is lacking in our life or on our perceived weaknesses. What I recommend is to pick a time in the morning or evening to spend five minutes focused on how magnificent you are. In preparation for this exercise, make a magnificent list full of all the things you love and admire about yourself. This could include past achievements, personal characteristics, how you have helped others, and how you are unique and quirky. Then, during these five minutes, read a few of the items on this list and focus your awareness on how magnificently you showed up and what a gift you were and are to yourself and others.

5. Send yourself loving energy daily. There are two ways to do this powerful exercise that I’ve used to radically shift my level of self-love. One version is, hold a hand-held mirror in front of you, look directly into your eyes and repeat out loud, “I love you (insert your name).” Notice how it feels when you say these words to yourself. After you have said the “I love you part” at least five to ten times, you can move on to stating specific things you love about yourself like, “I love your eyes, I love your hair, I love your vibrant energy, I love your helpful nature,” etc. The first few times I did this exercise, my eyes filled with tears, releasing feelings of being misunderstood and alienated by others and replacing them with the first sparks of self-acceptance. 
 The second way to implement this exercise is to simply repeat the words “I love you (name)” out loud or under your breath as you go about your daily life and particularly during what I call those empty moments, like driving your car, taking a shower, drying your hair, or going for a walk.

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?

One of my favorite relationship books of all time is The Dance of Anger by Harriet Goldhor Lerner. Reading this book in my early twenties changed my perspective on romantic relationships and empowered me to learn how to shift my own behaviors versus blaming my partner for my unhappiness.

One of the key teachings in this book relates intimate relationships to a dance. When you do or say something, your partner responds with a patterned response or specific dance move. If you don’t like the type of dance you are dancing, you have the power to change your moves which forces your partner to change theirs. The key is to remain strong and dedicated to your new behavior during the “change back” period when your partner keeps trying to use the old dance patterns. If you remain strong, your partner will become too uncomfortable with the old pattern and begin a new dance or they will leave the dance.

Two of my favorite podcasts are the I Do Podcast and the Empowered Relationship Podcast. They both do excellent jobs of giving concrete tips and advice on how to navigate myriad relationship challenges like toxic abandonment, infidelity, handling your differences, cultivating passion, communication challenges, etc.

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 believe starting an “I Love You” movement would revolutionize the world and create more peace and connection amongst all. Love is stronger than anger, fear, or despair which sometimes drives people to do horrendous things. A lack of self-love and self-acceptance can lead to internal suffering and get projected out into the world in the form of desperate acts — usually emotionally or physically violent.

I know this may seem very Pollyanna, but imagine what the world would look like if we all truly loved ourselves and felt loved by others. I see a world where we all feel free to be ourselves and show up exactly as we are. When you truly love yourself, you automatically love others. This moment would include random stating of “I love you” to strangers. I once practiced this at a festival. I would walk up to strangers and look them in the eyes and say, “I love you.” The result was astonishing. People responded by opening their hearts and giving love back to me in a form of a hug or an “I love you.” A deep connection was established in a matter of seconds by these random acts of love.

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?

One of my favorite quotes is, “Dance like nobody’s watching, love as you’ve never been hurt, sing like nobody’s listening, live like it’s heaven on earth.” This quote serves as a great reminder to show up fully in my life, be authentically myself no matter what others think, and live life fully instead of shrinking out of fear. Hopefully, this quote can inspire readers to live fully and follow their dreams even if there is a risk that they may experience hurt or ridicule. I believe this is especially important for us to remember in the arena of love. “Love as you’ve never been hurt” points to letting go of past trauma and emotional pain — those stories, right? — so you can show up fully in your romantic relationships and not hold back out of fear.

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