The Line Between Love and Narcissism

image: unpefect

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
- Galatians 5:19-21

Disconnected from our human and spiritual roots, we flail around in a world that is oblivious to the suffering of others. Lacking a gentle mindfulness toward our own feelings and vulnerability, we quickly LOOK AWAY from who are suffering or the environmental havoc were creating.
- Spiritual starving.

There’s a lot of “take responsibility” platitudes in the personal development space, and they are largely nonsense. People tell others to take responsibility when they don’t want to understand.
- Everything doesn’t happen for a reason.

“If you are wise,” she said, “You’re not only regulating your emotional state, you’re also attending to another person’s emotional state.” She added: “You’re not focusing so much on what you need and deserve, but on what you can contribute.”
- The science of older and wiser.

Why I’ve Come to Think the Notion of “Self-Love” is a Myth

By Umair Hague
Eudaimonia
August 9,2019

The other day, Tig Notaro said something on Twitter that struck a chord with me to the effect of:

Isn’t it funny how the people who should hate themselves the most don’t, and the ones that shouldn’t do?

It’s funny. Because it seems to be true. There’s a stranger truth, though, of human nature. We lionize self-love these days. And yet it always seems that were falling short of it. It seems like an impossible struggle, in fact. You want me to love… this person - whose flaws and failings I know only too well? And yet there’s an intimate link there, too, to the rage consuming this age, that’s boiling over into extremism (I’ll come to that, first a little psychology.)

Here’s a secret. One that especially us Americans aren’t familiar with, haven’t quite understood. And it goes a very long way to the heart of our failings as a society (and as a world, too.) It goes like this.

Everyone hates themselves. Yes, really. Everyone hates themselves (and the Trumps of the universe hate themselves most of all, which is why they’re always trying to prove how “great” they are.)

And not in a superficial way. I hate myself because I’m not pretty enough, rich enough, thin enough, ripped enough, popular enough, famous enough. Nor in a social way: I hate myself because they have more than me, I hate myself because I’m not part of the right tribe, the in-group, the elite (lets band together, incels, and go kill us some women.) Not in that thin, surface way at all.

Everyone hates themselves in the deepest way of all. In an existential way. Inescapably. Deep, deep down. What do we hate ourselves for? Just for existing. For being. In our predicament. For being mortal. For being alone. For being finite. For being limited to the prison of our individuality. For being helpless and powerless to change any of it one bit. We hate ourselves existentially, and it cuts at the deepest part of us. We hate ourselves - and it takes courage and more than a little self-reflection to see it just for the condition of being alive, for its irresolvable uncertainty, its unknowability, its impossible beauty. But who wouldn’t? To exist is a terrible, unbearable burden. Nobody knows why, how, when, where we go, where we came from, what happens to us, what were made of, what the point of us is. We flicker out after barely having taken a breath. The only alternative to the burden of living all that is death. Dilemma. JUST EXISTING IS MORE TERRIFYING THAN ANY HELL ever invented.

Now. Really think about that for a second. Think about all of us, carrying all that self-hate around, every day - and all of us trying our best to deny it, ignore it, bury it, because its the deepest pain that we have. The primal wound in us. All of us. All that hurt, all that aching, pulsing around the globe, every second of every day. Each one of us has that primal wound, burning. But how many of us admit it?

What do we do with it? Well, mostly we try to run away from it - by focusing on the superficial forms of self-hate, because we imagine they’re things we can fix. I can get thinner. I can get richer. I can get more popular. But I can’t get any more life, any more power over death, any more time, any less finite, any less helpless. No matter how hard I try or what I do.

Yet think about futile and useless it is to try and address the superficial forms of self-hate without dealing with, as we say these days, the deep one. You can pile up money and fame and likes and be the prettiest most ripped one of all. What happens? Does it do anything at all to ease the hurt right down in the soul? Not a bit. If you doubt that, take a look at how many happy Instagrammers or YouTubers or even Hollywood stars or bankers there are.

As a culture, we tell ourselves three key myths of self-love, which are also therefore myths of self-hate. The first is that we can outrun our self-hate in a competitive way by outdoing the next person. That one weגre proven false. The second one is that we can force self-love on ourselves, by repeating mantras, by BEING POSITIVE, and so forth. And the third is that self-love is some kind of great and shining prize, without which happiness isnt really possible. What about those two?

If positivity could make people love themselves, then American should be the happiest people in human history. But they’re not. THEY’RE PRETTY MISERABLE, in fact. Depression and loneliness are endemic. Suicide is skyrocketing. A nation of self-lovers? Not quite. Americans have set themselves an impossible bar: perfect lives, which have to be loved - or else life is barely worth living at all. Neither one of those things is true.

We forget how deep self-hate, of the existential kind, really cuts through us. How can I love this thing - this being that will die, never knowing why it lived? How can I love this being - this one that is exiled to be alone, no matter how close another ever gets, even if we spend a lifetime in each others arms? How can I love this one - the being who is finite and fragile, and helpless to change that finitude and fragility in any real way at all? Who could love a thing like that?

It’s NO SURPRISE that as a culture, we try to run away from this PREDICAMENT. As Sartre said, “it feels sickening.” As Camus said, “it’s absurd and horrific.” As Kierkegaard said, “it’s terrifying.” To be this thing, this being, that needs to be loved, held, seen - and yet knows its own fragility and mortality and smallness all too well. We run away from it with RELIGION, with ESCAPISM, with CONSUMERISM, with CRUELTY, with VIOLENCE, with war, with greed, with HATE. We run away from it all the way down into the abyss.

Now we come to a great paradox of the human condition. You and I have this burning need to BE HELD, to be seen, to be known. And yet we hate ourselves for the knowledge of who we truly are. Do you see the irony? Its a terrible plight. It’s tragedy within tragedy. First, the tragedy of mortality and finitude and then the double tragedy of hating one’s self for it. How do we resolve this tragedy? Can we? Are we just empty, meaningless things? Or does the paradox itself hold the keys to a higher meaning, a greater purpose, something that finally matters? It does of course it does.

In that paradox lie the beginnings of all that is true and noble in us. Empathy, courage, wisdom, defiance, grace. The power to love is born right there. I can say: “I know myself as a thing who hates itself for its finitude, its fragility, its powerlessness. But you are just that thing, too. Ah I see you in me. I can’t love myself for being this thing. But you are not me. Perhaps I can love you. Here take my hand. Let us wander this desert together.” Our wounds in that way are our guides.

Do you see what I mean? Let me put it a little more succinctly. Its in the recognition of self-hate as an inescapable and universal condition of being human that love is born. I empathize with you. I hold you. I see you. I know you. As someone who is always, deep down, aching and hurting just like me. Always. Forever. Until the last breath. Are you not worth loving? I can’t love myself. I know myself too well. I will always hate myself, a little but I can love you.

We need ONE ANOTHER to be CAPABLE OF LOVE. If you are not there, who will empathize with me? I I am not there, who will see you, hold you, know you? Doesn’t it seem obvious when I put it that way? How could such a thing as self-love ever really have been?

Ive come to think that “self-love” is a myth. Perhaps the logic above shows you why. I can’t love myself because Im the subject of my own finitude, fragility, helplessness, no matter what I do. But you are not. I can love you.

I think it takes people, really seeing each other, to teach one another what love is. One can’t love ones self in a vacuum any more than an atom in a vacuum can catch fire. Perhaps that’s why Americans chase this glittering prize called self-love but forever fail to find it. Itגs an illusion to begin with. If the idea that loving yourself makes you love others were trueӔ, after all, wouldnt America be a functioning society? ItҒs full of little narcissists, of egoists but that is all. And that, I think, is where the modern obsession with דself-love leads. America is what happens when the wound is not the guide.

If there is no one else there, just a vacuum - then our well of self-hate will soon take over. And that, it seems to me, is what happened to America. Americans are, as the saying goes, “lonely together.” Trapped in little isolated bubbles of lonelinss - desperately seeking self-love -being positive - reciting mantras - chasing a thing which doesn’t really exist - and so as a society, America goes nowhere, except down and down, because nobody is doing the emotional work of really seeing, holding, or knowing anyone else. Self-hatred comes to rule. Hence, Americans are renowned for their cruelty, their lack of empathy, their hate, their greed and violence. The yellow brick road of self-love ends in the sandcastles of narcissism.

Now. If there’s no such thing as “self-love,” then what is there? There’s something much more like peace. Like knowing. Like a gentle consolation. Like a last stand. Like an embrace of acceptance. This is me. In my finitude. In my helplessness. In all my fragility. I am standing inside my mortality. I am reaching upwards to the sky, anyways. I am this thing, made of, as Kierkegaard said, fear and trembling. Let me admit it. Let me be just that thing. Instead of pretending to be something else. Isnt that living a lie? As difficult and painful as it is - let me be just that thing. Without pretense. Authentically. Let the wound in me be my guide.

Do you see the difference? What I’m describing is an ambivalent thing. It isn’t a kind of passionate, egotistical, narcissistic infatuation “look how awesome I am!! It’s a conflicted thing, a position that’s bent-over, the crook of a gnarled tree, the bend of a river. I don’t know if I can love myself. I know myself too well for that. I know that Im alone, I’m helpless, I’m ignorant, I’m mortal things I donגt want to be, cant bear. I can, perhaps, know that. Admit it. Accept it. With a kind of defiance.

I can rebel, as Camus said - but only if I have the courage to know who and what I really am. I can never love that thing, that bent, broken, helpless one I call myself. But perhaps I dont have to hate it, either. It is just who it is. Who it was born being. Who it is condemned, as Sartre said, to be. Perhaps I can offer it as it is to someone just like it.

All that I can do in this life is to reach out my hand. And walk beside you. I can love you, perhaps, for your fragility, for your finitude, for your littleness - but never myself, because I am me, the subject of all my own finitude, and you are not. The same is true for you. In that way, love is born. The wound is your guide.

But that also means that we have a choice in this life. Either we love ourselves which is to say glorify, aggrandize, and reward them, none of which are really love, but all numbing escapes from the central existential challenge of self-hate. Or we love. We just love. The river, the mountain, the tree. The soil that becomes the forest. The word, the letter, the song. And if weגre lucky, that way, perhaps we find someone we see the whole universe in.

I think that America chose the illusion called “self-love.” But the more that I reflect on it, the more I conclude: there’s no such thing. There’s an ambivalent, conflicted, difficult peace. With the position of finitude and fragility that makes us us. But we can’t love ourselves for being these things - the MOST WE CAN DO is not hate ourselves for being who and what we are. And yet those are precisely what make love - which is always the discovery of meaning beyond the finite, helpless, limited self - possible.

SOURCE