Why is self-love so fucking difficult? #selfcare #selflove #recovery #healing

Why is lack of self worth such an integral part of the human condition? And why isn’t asking other people how they see us part of building up that sense of self more often? Why is the negative and self-flagellation our go-to voice? And why do we just accept all of this as the status quo? (Thank you, MandyPants (@collinsmandy), for inspiring this blog-length sub-tweet).

This comes on the back of a post I wrote the other day [link to 6 Days after #topsurgery: #Selfcare is hard…]

It’s a myth that self-love is an inside job. Especially when thinking overrides feeling and thinking comes from a brain hacked by thousands of external viruses (the voices of others, their judgements and expectations, and our perception of their judgements and expectations; how we think people see us vs. how they really see us). If, like me, you were raised to worry about “what are the neighbours thinking? What are people going to say? Are you REALLY wearing THAT?!, you know what I’m speaking about. [Link to follow-up blog post: Learning to trust yourself & make decisions when external and internalised mental health stigma makes you untrustworthy.]

Please read this theory, it’s SO liberating:

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This warped view of self and others’ views of us is especially true for those of us with mental health issues, stress, low self esteem – all of us, in other words – whose internal hard drive is compromised by these viruses, not just the software.

How do you run functional software when the hard drive is compromised? And how do you fix the hardware of your brain with the hardware of your own brain in order to run functional software free of viruses?  More on ways of thinking when your thinking is untrustworthy because of external and internalised stigma here (coming soon).

Self-love as an inside job: the old joke about how many therapists it takes to change a lightbulb: Only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change. Recovery IS an inside job, but if you’re not asking for help from those who can help you, it’s impossible.

S(ave) O(ur) S(elves) - SOS on inside of toilet door, Tara Psychiatric Hospital

S(ave) O(ur) S(ouls): Message written on the inside of a toilet door at Tara Psychiatric Hospital, 2011.

Not very helpful writing a note for help on the inside of a toilet door, when you’re the only one inside it, and the person following you needs as much help as you do… (Yes, psychiatric hospitals can and mostly do cause more trauma than help, but again, it’s about finding that one person who SEES you and LISTENS).


 

How did this change (and continues to change) for me?: The waiting to be saved vs. saving myself with the aid of chosen family and healers?

(Also spoken about previously in my post about spirituality. [Link to: Why I’m zen in the midst of chaos: Spirituality for recovering-Christian Atheist Literature Snobs like myself (& images of my text tattoos]).

How can self-love only be an inside job when we don’t live on an island by ourselves and the mirror we look into shows us how we see ourselves, not how we are? The only truly reflective mirrors are those who love us – truly love us, unconditionally; those who SEE us for who we are, no for who they want us to be for them. This is why Chosen Family is so important.

It was one of the exercises they did with me at one of my Tara (psych hospital in Johannesburg) stays [link to Loony bins #lettersfromselvespas(t)sed]A room full of suicidally self-loathing people writing down good things about each other, then giving them to each other, with that message: if only you could see yourself the way I see you (which inspired my image-making as a ‘photographer’) [link to my website of images created by, for and in honour of all the No one is more YOUer than you” peeps].

 

From that day, after that exercise in a Tara group therapy session, I made a point of asking people I trusted what they liked about me (psychologists call this “reality testing”). And I started fighting the programmed lesson that self-pride is selfish and narcissistic and boastful and the innate compulsion to brush the compliments off and started taking them in. Especially those repeated by more than one person, and those that rung true in the deepest part of me that I kept telling to shut up because I was worthless. That’s how the endless (because it’s always in progress)  journey of self love began for me.

 

Self love is an unconditional acceptance of self as we are, without the “I can be so much more and so much better”. Self love is “I am enough”. Self love is unconditional. Yes, we can want to be our best selves.

But:

Firstly, this is a continuous process, a being, not a goal; and, secondly, this becoming is only possible through the constant reiteration of unconditional love from those around us and ourselves. 

Which can only flourish in a letting go of those who do not see us, those who do not love us unconditionally. However difficult that may be. Because the only thing more difficult than letting go of “loved ones” and loved things that don’t serve us, is keeping them and self-loathing in our lives. 

Is any of this easy? Fuck no. Is any of this achieved overnight? No, fuck no. Is any of this achieved, a done deal, over and “here’s your certificate”? Only if you’re a monk living in the mountains meditating 12 hours a day.

It’s a process, one day at a time, one decision, choice, feeling, action of “I’m choosing my self-love/self-care/Spoonie  voice over my internalised critical voice” (which is never ours, but our mother’s/father’s/religion’s/society’s and all of them at once).


 

Change the metaphor

I loathe the term “it’s a learning curve”. Really? We go from 0 to 50 to 100 and reach enlightenment, self-actualisation, Nirvana, success, the goal, self-love? Such bullshit. Instead of a curve, think of W.B. Yeats’ gyre – a constant widening and upward moving spiral, which narrows again – because nothing is linear.

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It’s a two steps back, one step forward dance, which as we get better at it becomes a three steps forward, one step back dance, and more often than not back to two steps back, one step forward – but NEVER to the same step.

I’ve always said there’s no such thing as rock bottom. There are multiple rock bottoms, with each one of them being on a another level, never the same ‘downward’ level.

And speaking of steps: Capitalism with its metaphors of ascending ladders, goals reached, success, perpetual forward motion REALLY sets us up for failure, because it has the antithesis of failure of “success” – an ever-changing target that no one can achieve. And why should we? The “success” that Capitalism allows us to achieve means very little for us as human beings, not corporate automatons.

Of course the artist above depicts this as failure, because in the “success” metaphor of life, this is success, and, obviously, leads nowhere.

So rather than these steps think of steps in this way: Not upward steps, Escher/Hogwarts steps: not success, but growth (growing); not a linear learning curve, but a gyre; not achievement, but being; not I love myself, but, I am learning every day, through those that love me unconditionally, to love myself. Sometimes I’m in the middle of the tornado-like gyre and things are shit, but as things fall apart, they also expand and grow, and so do I. (I love Escher for so many reasons, but also because it reminds me of the magic of Hogwarts).

 


 

Closing thoughts, for now, on this subject:

Why do we not want to heal? Yes, we say and believe we want to heal, but something holds us back. What is it?

  • I don’t heal because healing = “fitting in”, being part of the status quo, being one of the sheep, not being an individual. Staying sick (depressed, addicted, stressed, whatever) becomes an addiction, a coping mechanism.
  • I don’t heal because society proves that those that don’t fit in, the Black Sheeps, the Anomalies, the Freaks, the Individuals, are either swallowed by society (treated and made part of the pack), or pushed to the edges of society (jail, psych hospitals, communes in the middle of nowhere) (Read Claude Levi-Strauss on the anthropoemic vs. anthropophagic society).
  • So I fly my Freak Flag high, to stay an individual, to stay apart from the sheeples, to distinguish myself from the herd. Because “normalcy” and convention and politeness and society and civilisation in all its forms – religion, school, authority figures, etc. have rejected me.

But the truth is: we are ALL freaks. None of us fit in. None of of us are sheeples. Some of us are plugged into The Matrix, and others aren’t. We have no right to judge those who see the world the way the world wants us to see it. Those plugged into The Matrix have stories, hopes, dreams, traumas, insecurities, and want, so desperately, not to fit in, but do the best they can to fit in out of fear.

It is our responsibility as The Fearless, Terrified Ones who want to heal to learn these stories, to speak other people’s languages – their home languages, their cultural languages, their Sandton languages, their Bloemfontein languages, their corporate languages, their love languages; so that we can get over the romanticised and dangerous notion of the mad, starving artist; the square peg trying to be pushed into a round hole. The more we learn we’re not alone, the less lonely we feel, the more we connect with those around us, the more we heal.

Hermit-ting has its place. The mad artist moments have their place. The sheeple moments have their place. (And let’s not for one second argue we’ve never been a sheeple, in some space at some time for some reason). No one is an island. No one has a monopoly on pain.

We are all worthy of love, healing, being heard. There is nothing glamorous about suffering in silence. Let’s stop being so fucking polite and judgemental; ask for help, give help, love others who love us, and allow those who we know on a gut level are good for us into our lives.

There are billions of people on the planet. Rejection from a parent, a loved one, a church, an authority figure, a rapist, etc. is ONE ISOLATED (and sometimes not isolated) incident. Why should it define us?  We are enough. I am enough. I deserve to heal. I deserve to be happy. I deserve love. I just need to prioritise who I expect if from: me, and those who SEE me (in the Avatar sense). The Spoonies. The soulmates. The tribe members. The chosen family.


 

As always, this is a work in progress and notes towards the book I’m writing. This is all my opinion as I sit here today. I’m writing as a #notetoself to remember these lessons so that I don’t have to re-remember them as often any more, so that I remember the Escher steps rather than the Capitalist steps. So that I remember my self, my selves, and all the selves I can be.

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3 thoughts on “Why is self-love so fucking difficult? #selfcare #selflove #recovery #healing

  1. Pingback: Learning to trust yourself & make decisions when external & internalised #mentalhealthstigma makes you untrustworthy #selflove #selfcare | life writ large

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