Updated: May 20, 2021
Marin Takahashi is a counselor who specialises in talking therapy. Her clients come to her with a wide range of issues, many of which are related to or stem from a lack of self-love and self-esteem.
As part of our Rebellious X series, we sat down with Marin to debunk myths about psychology, counseling and therapy, in addition to stigmas around mental health.
Marin discusses the origins of her career in mental health, the difference between authentic self-love and toxic positivity, what her sessions with clients entail, as well as her advice on how to work on your own self-love, or help a friend in need.
Trigger Warning: Discussion of Suicide
Getting into Psychology & Mental Health Work
Marin Takahashi first became intrigued as to why people behave the way they do in high school psychology classes, where she discovered that simple psychological concepts are the driving force behind a lot of human behaviour.
Sadly, in her senior year, one of Marin’s classmates took his own life, which left Marin questioning whether there was something she could have done to prevent it. The tragedy of his death solidified Marin’s determination to become a counselor.
“I wasn’t in the same group as him, but obviously we were classmates. His close friends were my friends as well, and they took it really, really badly. Seeing the whole event unfold was a turning point in terms of what I wanted to do in the future.”
Marin found herself wanting to fight for better mental health resources, “especially in Thailand because there’s still such a stigma.”
Anyone can benefit from therapy. You don’t necessarily have to be going through a problem to reap its benefits.
Marin completed a master's degree in counseling from the University of Queensland in 2020 and now works as a counselor at New Counseling Service, where she has been providing talking therapy services for almost a year.
However, she feels that what she does is misunderstood by a lot of people outside of the mental health field. Even some of Marin's friends believe that only crazy people see a therapist or that she can read people’s minds.
“It's very frustrating, but I’m doing my part as best as I can. I don’t blame them, but what I can do is to provide them with information, educate them a little bit and just try to spread the word little by little. That's what I love to do.”
On Self-Love and Toxic Positivity
Defining self-love is different for everyone and for Marin, it's more about acceptance. She encourages accepting who you are as a person and embracing your qualities and attributes, as well as constantly self-reflecting, in order to guide yourself towards the kind of person you aspire to be, regardless of your level of self-satisfaction.
“Self-love should be viewed as trying to love yourself, at your own pace, for your own reasons; not for society, not for your mom,” Marin says.
Guide yourself towards the kind of person you aspire to be, regardless of your level of self-satisfaction.
She also says that the term self-love can be problematic, as it can develop into toxic positivity: a state in which someone is forcing themselves to be positive inauthentically, or ignoring their problems for the sake of being upbeat. This toxic positivity can lead to guilt around authentic negative feelings and can stunt the progression of authentic self-growth.
Marin highlights the importance of loving and accepting yourself alongside working to improve yourself, as long as you are not “blindly forcing yourself” into being a certain way. A balance needs to be struck in order to find sustainable self-growth.
Embracing yourself the way you are is definitely a step in the right direction. However, embracing yourself cannot come at the the cost of ignoring your medical, emotional and psychological needs. Instead, Marin says we should ask ourselves: ”What can I improve on in order to become a better version of me?”
"I think that that line gets really blurred out when that toxic sort of positivity in the media is displayed to the wrong sort of audience, especially kids or teenagers who are very self-conscious," Marin adds. "We all go through those phases in our lives where our self-esteem and self-image sort of depend on other people and how other people view us." This is an unhealthy, but nearly inevitable, part of our growth.
An Objective Friend to Her Client
According to Marin, anyone can benefit from therapy. You don’t necessarily have to be going through a problem to reap its benefits, but that is often overlooked.
The again, even when there are problems at hand, people can be shy about dealing with them and often have not been taught how to give themselves the space to work on self-love.
In particular, men are far less likely to seek mental health treatment than women, which leads to higher rates of suicide among men. Part of the fight against toxic masculinity is in giving men safe spaces to emote, but often men feel awkward about sharing their feelings.
When asked about the demographic of her clientele, Marin says it is mostly women. Many of the women she helps have experienced self-esteem issues. Other issues vary from childhood trauma or workplace problems, to going through a breakup or separation.
“The more we go into the session, the more we can try to understand why we are acting the way we are at the moment, or why is it hard for us to get through this point, or what kind of person we want to be in order to deal with this problem.
And that actually circles back into how you view yourself and usually leads to qualities about yourself that you like. What does your self-love look like? What are your sources of self-worth? What does your self-esteem look like? Does it depend on something else?
Things like that really help to explore and understand why we feel, or why we act, the way we do and how to improve that and how we can essentially live a better life in terms of dealing with events.”
What does your self-love look like? What are your sources of self-worth? What does your self-esteem look like? Does it depend on something else?
Although Marin encourages self-acceptance that isn’t mutually exclusive with making changes, if we know ourselves well enough to know that making a specific change will help boost our confidence and self-love, Marin says it is admissible. For example, if we are doing it purely for our own sake, learning new things or acquiring new skills can increase confidence and self love.
“To each [our] own, really depends on [our] reflections and how well you know yourself in order to get to the place you want to be.”
Marin’s clients are often more motivated to work on themselves once they understand that they are doing the work exclusively for their own benefit. Marin acts as an “an objective friend,” whilst her clients give themselves the space to grow.
“You don’t have to do it for anyone else. What is life if you’re not happy and your worth or happiness are for something else or someone else? It [Therapy] is a chance for you to open up and really reflect back on what you want in your life.”
When Marin’s clients are struggling, she tells them to focus on tomorrow being better purely because they are in the process of growing and accepting themselves. Marin reminds her clients that they are not bad people or abnormal for struggling and that seeking out blame is unhelpful.
What is life if you’re not happy and your worth or happiness are for something else or someone else? It’s a chance for you to open up and really reflect back on what you want in your life.
“People say, I’m doing this thing… or I’m having this thought and I don’t think that's normal, so I like to ask them what normal is for them. People have their own weird quirks and issues that they’re going through. There really is no such thing as normal and even if there is, we don’t necessarily have to fit whatever it is that is normal. We should try to love ourselves in our own ways; in the way that we are comfortable with. I think it’s very, very important,” Marin says.
If a friend is going through a tough time and they ask you for advice, Marin suggests offering to help them brainstorm some solutions instead. That person will know the nuances of their situation best and will feel more motivated to work towards solutions if they have identified the solutions for themselves.
This type of support allows for the person to work on self-love in a supportive environment, without creating a codependency on you to do the work for them.
There really is no such thing as normal.
Giving someone the supportive space to love himself/herself/themself is not easily done. It is a delicate balance of listening supportively and giving the space for someone to rediscover their self-love and empowerment. Sometimes people just need a safe space to process their feelings aloud.
Marin guides people through their troubles, but often her job is just to create that safe space; “A lot of people don’t need advice, sometimes they just need to be heard.”
By Kankanit (Gun) Wiriyasajja
Kankanit is a third-culture kid, journalist, Rebellious X writer, firm believer in freedom of speech, passionate about telling other people's stories and empowering others, and currently saying yes to new adventures.