Prepair is a not-for-profit based in Wellington, born out of founder Irene Wakefield’s wish for others to have a ‘big sister’ to offer advice when dealing with emotional abuse in relationships. Irene and her team of sisters work to educate people on how to identify and deal with emotional abuse, as well as the concept of self-love.

From a standing ovation at TEDx Wellington, to a fashion collaboration with Glassons – Prepair is out in the field, raising awareness of emotional abuse and domestic violence. They’re a group passionate about cultivating healthy and loving relationships and minimising the damage emotional abuse has on New Zealand youth, especially young women.

Hear from Prepair’s founder, Irene Wakefield, about her journey to self-love, and where to from there.


What’s in the name – why did you choose the name Prepair, and what does it mean to you?

There’s obviously a play on how the word is actually spelled, so it’s about preparing young women before they become a pair.

When I first started exploring the idea of the organisation, I thought it would be about working with really young women, aged around 15 years old, and what we’d be doing is preparing young women with the tools and the information that they needed before they got into a relationship.

Now having worked in the realm of Prepair for a wee while, I know that there are a lot of girls who are already in the midst of their first relationship. It’s also not uncommon for women as young as 14 and 15 to be experiencing emotional abuse in an intimate relationship.

What age range is Prepair’s content tailored for?

We work with young women, mostly between 15-25 years old who are in school or university. With that said, Prepair attracts an audience outside of the target, for sure.

How would you define self-love?

I think the best way to describe self-love is it’s the pleasure of choosing the highest possible choice for you, every single time. It’s doing what is in alignment with your own personal values.

The reason why the word is pre-fixed with self is because every single decision that you’ve got to make is based on what you believe to be true, or right for yourself. It’s simply just making loving choices for yourself that align with who you are, your truth, and your own values, no matter what anybody else might have to say or how they might react.

When you were growing up, was self-love on the radar for you, and if it was, what did it look like?

No, it wasn’t. When I say self-love wasn’t on the radar, I think that the term self-love wasn’t on my radar. I’ve always known, even when I was in the relationship, that I’ve got to make better choices for myself, I had to stand up for myself, I had to do what was right for myself, I just didn’t call it self-love.

I didn’t have the right words to name it. And probably over the years, particularly coming out of that relationship and working on myself more and more, the concept and the practice of self-love for me has just expanded and expanded.

Irene speaking on 18 June 2017 at TedX in Wellington

Do you think that there is a generational gap in understanding emotional abuse? If so, what is it?

As a whole, emotional abuse is not talked about often. When I turn on the news, read an article about a recent case of family violence, the focus is on physical violence. When I deliver a workshop to teenage women it’s clear the girls have seen emotional abuse before; but wouldn’t use the term emotional abuse to describe it.

With your work over the last few years, what were the most common forms of emotional abuse that were raised?

I would say gas lighting (a form of manipulation) because every time I talk about it, there are always people shocked, because 9 times out of 10 they have experienced it. If not, they’ve witnessed it, and not realised that it’s an issue as they didn’t have the language to explain that this is a problem, and that this behaviour is not normal.

How do you feel that this kind of abuse impacts people over a long period of time?

Emotional abuse chips away at your sense of self-worth. The more that that happens, the more that you become reliant on what an abuser says about you, believes about you, and thinks about you. The minute you start to transfer your power into somebody else’s hands, you have lost all sense of yourself.

This is what emotional abuse does; you are no longer in a position where you have the strength, the confidence, the willingness to stand up for yourself, say what’s right for yourself, to set your own boundaries, set your own expectations, and to voice your own values and opinions. So instead, you’re completely controlled, and completely directed by an abuser, somebody who has no respect for you, no care for you and no real love for you.

Over a long period of time you are shaped into something that you are absolutely not. Your words, your behaviour, your thoughts, don’t actually belong to you. You’ve been conditioned. And that’s a very, very dangerous place for any person to be. When you’re in that space, you don’t know what you like anymore. You can’t really be clear on what your goals are, what it is that you actually genuinely want to do in life, and when you are disconnected from what is valuable and what’s important to yourself, then you’ve really lost the entire essence of your being.

You’ve recently shared resources about the alignment of values. Is this a way to finding yourself again?

Our values are personal beliefs that sit at the core of who we are. If your daily decisions are in alignment with your values, then you are living from a place of truth. I definitely think this is a way to become more confident in who you particularly are a young woman.

I have a free resource up on the website to help our audience figure out their values. This is the first activity that I’d do in any workshop as well. It sets the foundation for everything.

Can Prepair’s content be a tool for boys and exploring what self-love is, and how to identify emotional abuse?

Prepair has been developed to support young women in navigating relationships, emotional abuse and self-love. I believe anyone including men could learn something from the content.

Irene Wakefield, CEO at a Prepair event

Do you think that men and women have a differing take on what self-love looks like? If so, what is it?

I cannot speak on behalf of men, and I also feel that women have differing takes on what self-love looks like.

Do you feel Prepair’s vision is inter-sectional, such as across different cultures?

We’ve called 2019 The Year of the Kōwhai. For us, we’re focusing on building deeper connections with your Māori and Polynesian sisters living in smaller communities. In the past we’ve also tailored our content slightly to suit other cultures.

Instagram looks to be a big medium for Prepair – why did you choose this platform; and do you find it effective?

To be successful in our mission, we need to meet young women where they are. Instagram is a popular tool for the audience we are here to serve, which is why Prepair is very active there. Using Instagram has been a great way to learn more about our audience, engage young women in educational content and connect new people to our workshops.

You’ve dabbled in collaborations offline such as with the retailer Glassons – how did this impact Prepair?

It was great to be supported by a brand like Glassons as many young women shop there. The partnership enabled Prepair to connect with a wider audience including Glassons staff which was really special.

How would you explain to someone what self-love looks like in an age of mass advertising and social media promoting external practices?

Out there in the world, there’s a continuous message projected that could lead people to believe that self-love is found through external practices and activities; going to the gym, having a green smoothie, doing yoga, writing in my journal. All these things are wonderful and have great benefits to filling your cup up.

However, I have interviewed multiple women before through our research, where we’ve found that people do these practices, but it’s actually not from a place of love, it’s driven from a place of comparison and not being enough; “if I don’t achieve this, I’m not going to be self-loving”, which is not true. If you don’t understand from a foundational level how you are getting any goodness out of this, it’s very hard to get the full essence of self-love.

The true value, practice and experience of self-love is done in private, not in public. When you’re practising self-love, and you’re really consistent about that, it is going to show up on the outside. For example, I’m in a far stronger, solid and adamant position to be able to define and set expectations to others for how they behave in my space.

I think often what we see on social media, or through celebrities or whoever it is that you follow, is for those who are true to their practice there is an outward projection of what they’re doing privately and inside.

Our relationships are also a projection of what is happening on the inside of us, not what’s happening externally. So, everything that we do, is based on inside work.

How would you measure Prepair’s success?

I receive messages daily from young woman who share how Prepair has personally helped them. This to me is a measure of success.

You have empowering quotes peppered throughout your Instagram – if you could share only one of them to sum up Prepair, what do you believe is the most powerful one?

“Be who you needed when you were younger.”

I speak to self-love as being a journey, so it’s not a destination. It’s a constant process of uncovering, unfolding, evolving, whatever words you want to use to apply to it, so there is no different method, it’s constant. Everybody is on a journey of figuring out who they are, there is no end point. I’m still figuring it out.

Illustration by Bobbie Brown

You can catch advice, quotes, and news from Prepair on their Instagram, as well as reading about personal journeys of self-love on their blog on their website. Prepair is a not-for-profit and welcomes volunteers and donations to help fuel their work in preventing domestic violence in New Zealand.


MARYAM HAMID is absolutely, positively a Wellingtonian, relishing the endless supply of gigs, sandy beaches and lack of wind Auckland has to offer. Also, a policy student, politics enthusiast and staffer for a Member of Parliament, chipping away at a low-waste lifestyle.


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