The cartooning psychologist - notes from a work in progress
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How do you DO self worth?

A few weeks ago I asked the people who are following my facebook page what question they would like me to answer in my next ‘notes from a work in progress’ email. ‘How do you do self-worth?’ was the question I got. So here goes…

First of all let’s talk about definitions. I’m going to talk about ‘self-love’ instead of ‘self-worth’. Self-worth is ‘I find myself worthy of love’ whereas ‘self-love’ is an important step further – it’s actually doing the love. I don’t just want to find myself worthy of love – I want to do it. My short but perhaps rather unhelpful answer to ‘How do you do self-love?’ is ‘I have about 8 years’ worth of content coming your way that covers this topic’ – but that doesn’t help you now. So here are three points that you can expect to see me talking a lot more about in the future:

  1. Permission to love
When I’m working as a psychologist I’m interested in everything that people say to me – but I’m also interested in what they don’t say. Often we reveal as much, if not more, about ourselves in the things that go unsaid. When it comes to ‘self love’ there is a lot that goes unsaid. In fact I can’t think of a single word or phrase that we commonly use to talk about the concept of ‘self love’ (if anyone can think of one please let me know). We have selfish and self-centred. We say things like ‘That Nina Burrowes – she loves herself’ but we mean all of those as insults – as if to love myself would be a bad thing to do. In contrast we celebrate concepts like being ‘self-less’ or ‘self-sacrifice’.

So my first point is this – if trying to do ‘self-love’ feels like swimming against the tide that’s because it is. We do not have a culture or a language of celebrating and loving our selves. Instead we treat our selves as if we are something to fix, control, master – and then sacrifice.

‘I Nina Burrowes do love myself’ and I consider it one of my greatest achievements. It’s hard. It’s a process I’ll never finish ‘doing’. But importantly it’s also the single most generous thing I can do for any other human being. When we talk about love we talk about it as if we have a finite amount of it, and that to give any to your self would be to deny others. That is fundamentally wrong. Love isn’t finite. It grows. The more I love the more I can love. But all of that love starts in one place – it starts with me. I believe that I am only capable of loving others to the degree to which I am able to love myself. If I can’t love me – I can’t love you. The more I can love me – the more I can love you. This isn’t a selfish love. The things that I love in me – I see them in you. And I’m able to celebrate them in you if I can celebrate them in myself. This is why self-love is so important and it’s also why I’m starting my journey through psychology with ‘me’. My journey in total is going to take about 15 years but all of my content over the first few years will be about how to be a ‘self’. So I guess that means I’m going to be swimming against the tide a lot…
  1. You don’t fall in love – you build it
When we talk about being in love with someone else we often tell a story of ‘meeting the right person’ and then ‘falling in love’ – as if love is something that is both magical and passive. I don’t have space here to get into the reasons why this is massively unhelpful and fundamentally wrong - expect volumes of content on this over the years. For now let’s just talk about this narrative of love in relation to self-love.

The idea of ‘love happening when you meet the right person’ isn’t helpful when it comes to loving your self. I don’t get the chance to shop around when it comes to ‘me’. I’m stuck with what I’ve got. Does that mean I should just ‘wait for the magic to happen?’ Our traditional ideas about love give me nothing to work with when it comes to ‘me’. It leaves me thinking that I am either one of those lucky people who happens to magically love themselves – or not.

To ‘do’ self love you need a different conceptualisation of love. Love isn’t magical and it isn’t passive. Instead love is something you choose to do. It’s something you build. It’s something that you are active in doing. It’s a process that you commit to - and it’s something that you never stop doing. Those of you who are familiar with my work know that when I say ‘you choose to do something’ I in no way mean that is an easy or simple thing to do. Choice is hard and difficult – but it’s also totally within your power.  

Your relationship with your self (which I find a useful way of thinking about self love) is a relationship you can choose and build. I know that I am fully capable of being my own best friend, and my own worst enemy. I know I’m capable of neglecting my self, or nurturing my self. I know which out of the two I choose to do.

This might all sound like hard work – and you may wonder why you should bother. As with any choice – it is totally up to you. It is hard work. But when I say love isn’t magical I mean the process of love doesn’t happen magically. But what love leads to does have a magic that I struggle to find the words to describe. The pinnacle of the content I want to cover over the years will be about love. I think that it’s the most important and difficult thing that we can do as human beings. I find it fully worth doing.  
  1. What about the stuff that is un-lovable?

It’s very easy to love someone who’s perfect – or so I’m told. I’ve never met anyone who’s perfect. But in those early days of a relationship, when you haven’t quite got to know each other’s quirks and flaws, it’s easy to imagine that the person you are with is perfect. But that kind of love isn’t real – it’s based on a misunderstanding. All of us are flawed and imperfect. To love someone is to say ‘I see that you are flawed and imperfect but I choose to love you’. And this is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to self-love.

Loving yourself isn’t about getting to a stage where you think you are wonderful or perfect. I love myself – but I could write you a very long list of my flaws, the things about myself I don’t like, the things I struggle to see, struggle to share. Self-love isn’t about ‘getting rid of’ the things about yourself that you find unlovable. One of my dead white guys Paul Tillich writes that man’s greatest challenge is to look at himself, find himself unacceptable, and choose to accept himself. This is self-love. That’s why it’s a challenge. You need to look at the ugly stuff (rather than deny that it’s there), see it for what it is, and choose to accept and love yourself with that.

So if you struggle with self-worth because you can see so many things about yourself that you don’t like – that’s okay. You’re a step ahead of those people who can’t even manage to see their flaws. The trick isn’t to get rid of the flaws – it’s to know that it’s normal to be flawed, and to open your eyes to everything else that you have going on. It’s the same with our bodies. All of us can point out bits of our bodies that we don’t like – the lumps, bumps, lines, blotches… You can put all of your focus into these imperfections or you can look at your body as a whole – the bits you do like, your health. You can marvel at how amazing your body is – how strong, resilient, and useful it is. Our bodies are the greatest instrument we’ll ever have – but many of us spend a lot of energy focusing on minor flaws. It’s the same for your self – it’s the greatest thing you’ll ever be – to only focus on your flaws is to miss 99% of you.
So where are all the tips and tricks for ‘doing’ self worth? Some of you may have been hoping for a 5 point plan to ‘do’ self-worth. I’m not that kind of psychologist – and I never will be. I like you too much to treat you like that. I see a lot of people who punish themselves for not being good enough at self-worth. Apparently the irony of what they are doing is lost on them.

How you approach your relationship with yourself is key. If you treat yourself as if you were something that can be manipulated, controlled or programmed with a 5 point plan – what does that say about how you see yourself? The wonderful thing about you is that you already have everything you need to find your own path. You’re not broken – and I don’t need to flatter myself by pretending that I am able to tell you what you should do or who you should be. All I can do is explain why this stuff is so difficult, share why I think it’s so necessary, and suggest that if someone accuses you of loving yourself – they’ve just paid you a massive compliment.
If you’d like to ask a question for me to answer in a later email please send your questions to me via facebook or twitter.

Content update – what’s on the horizon?   

Next month I’m planning on launching my first two books. The first will be The Little Book on Authenticity. I can’t think of a better place to kick off what will most likely be a vast collection of books on ‘being human’. Authenticity is about being a self – it’s a concept that I think is massively important and massively misunderstood. If you think that being authentic is about being honest and open – welcome to ‘authenticity but not as you know it’. I need to finish drawing the book this month, and then it’s just the small matter of working out how to self-publish it…

The second book that will be finished in March is the big one - The courage to be me. This book tells a story that never gets told – the story of rebuilding a life after sexual abuse. I crowd-funded to create this book back in the summer of 2013 and have worked with some wonderful illustrators to create something that I’m really proud of. I’m very excited about being able to help people understand and connect with an issue that is generally not talked about.

But before all of that the exciting thing that is happening this month is that I am going to be a psychologist in residence at an art project in East London from mid-Feb through to mid-March. As part of my residency I’m going to be exhibiting The Little Book on Authenticity. Those of you who are able to visit will see a preview of the book as well as my process of creating it. I’m also going to be collaborating with the other artists and creating some video content for my website. Basically hanging out with artists is my idea of fun so I’m going to do that – but filming it too. Keep an eye on my website for more details – it’d be great to see you there.
Thanks for subscribing to my mailing list. These emails are my way of sharing the journey that I’m on. My thoughts on self-worth are only available in this email. If you can think of someone who’d enjoy this content please feel free to forward this email to them. I only have about 50 subscribers at the moment – I suspect that will change in the near future…

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