Love Better and You Will Be Better by the Act Alone

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

 

Humans are social creatures, and we need to feel connected, understood, cared about, and loved, and we need it like we need food, water, and air. We’ll do anything to get it, and when we get it, we’ll do amazing and ugly things to keep it. Sure, being loved makes you want to be better, it’ll make you want to do the right thing, be the hero, be the bigger person, but when you can’t, it only makes you better at hiding who you are.

When we love someone we want to give them our very best. It’s normal and completely understandable. We do it because they deserve it, and, if we’re being honest, we do it because we are afraid to lose them. We hide the truth of who we really are and give them a storybook version we long to believe in ourselves, but the truth is you are not made only of giving and grace. You are also selfish, needy, angry, frustrated, sad, scared, and stupid, but none of that is very loveable is it? So it has to go away. We cut it out and pack it away, and we believe it’s gone forever.

Love has made us better, right?

Sadly, no. What happens when we cut ourselves in two like that, banishing one half to the crawl space, is that all that ugly only festers. When there is no one to check its size and power it grows, and it learns there are other ways out. Emotional baggage, childhood trauma, and all that fucking fear twists itself up into unrecognizable shapes and re-emerges in strange, troubling, abusive, and suffocating ways and the more of you it takes over, the more of yourself you hide, and humans will tend to be the worst versions of themselves in secret.

When you care for someone, you have to face your truth and learn to be your whole self, and you have to do it continuously if you want to have any hope of being your best self for them.

The truth is you are not perfect, and your loved ones should know that. Not just because honesty is always the best policy, or even because by hiding so much of yourself in dark and damp corners you allow the worst parts of yourself to fester, but because you cannot really love someone if you are faking who you are. It is through wanting to love someone well, rather than wanting to be loved that we strive to become better versions of ourselves.

Here “striving” means failure and fucking up out in the open for all to see but learning from it and trying again and again to do the right thing and “better” means a more whole, healthy, and authentic you. Real, healthy, fulfilling and freeing love comes out of growth. It’s a process, and it can’t happen in the dark. Love can’t happen in the dark.

But we’ve been doing it all backward. We’re trying to be better for love rather than allowing the act of loving to make us better. We are trying to be worthy of receiving love rather than becoming the biggest and best source of love we can be. My God we are doing it all wrong.

I hate to say it so plainly, but getting someone to love you is among the easiest things to do in this life. It’s as easy as a few well-placed lies and a bit of clever manipulation. No human has ever proven themselves above using such tactics. Hell, I would go so far as to say such shady strategies have been encouraged. Society has turned love and friendship into games people play, and in our need and greed, we’ve forgotten the whole point.

Being loved is no confirmation of how good, beautiful, smart, funny, or valuable you are. The truth of who a person is always shown in how they love. And when we combine honesty with all that love we have to give, we give the kind of love that is real and right and finally become that person we have been pretending to be all along.

But you can only do that by being your whole self first. Bring all your ugliness into the light and love the best you can, with all you have, right now, then growing as you become wise, confident, secure, and happy.

Strive to love better, and you will become better by the act alone.

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Featured photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

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Self-Loathing for the Egoist

 

“He who hates himself is not humble.”

— Emil Cioran

What is it about self-loathing that is so damn satisfying? When I say satisfying, I don’t mean that it feels good. It hurts to hate yourself. It’s depressing, and it hinders you from realizing your potential, from taking care of yourself, and from being truly happy. It’s cruel and abusive, and yet, we all do it, some of us compulsively. Why do we do it? Why can’t we stop?

I am a chronic self-hater. I don’t like myself very much. I don’t see any reason why anyone else should either. I think I am a failure. I think I am ugly. I think that I am annoying and stupid and I feel like a burden to everyone around me.

I am hard on myself. I keep a running tally of all the ways I have pissed people off, said something stupid, made mistakes, made more work, or made the wrong choice. I remember that I always do this, that I always forget, and that I am always wrong.

I find some point in time when my actions could have changed everything and because I acted this way instead of that the whole train of events, and all the hurt feelings and frustration that result are on me. I can trace my negative impact all the way back to my birth. I am the worst; I tell myself this at least once a day.

I don’t want to feel this way. Hating myself is not something I enjoy doing. I want to love myself because somewhere deep down I know that I not only need it, but that I deserve it. I know this but I can’t get there. I have listed things I like about myself. I have told myself I am no more flawed than anyone else. I tell myself I am beautiful and smart and kind and worthy of love and happiness. I have treated myself and forgiven myself, and still, I fall back into old habits. I have tried, and some progress has been made, but I still can’t help hating who I am.

Clearly, giving myself a few compliments and staying hydrated are not the way. Or, they aren’t the only way. Self-love needs more than words; it needs an acknowledgment of the pain that brought you to such self-loathing. It needs an investigation into what purpose it serves and what satisfaction is derived from such thoughts.

Within each of us lives the ego, or our identity and sense of self. To act in an egotistical way is to put oneself at the center of your world at the exclusion of others. When we think of the egoist, we think of someone who is selfish and mean, ruthless and uncaring. Someone who thinks they are better than everyone else. We don’t think of ourselves as acting in an egotistical way when we heap hatred on ourselves because to us we are acting in a way that put everyone else above us.

We love other people more than ourselves. We value them more than ourselves. We take their blame and pain and anger and place it on ourselves. We carry the load for everyone and put ourselves down for not doing more. We don’t think we deserve as much as them. We don’t think we are as good.

But who we place above anyone else has nothing to do with who we are placing at the center. When we are so focused on ourselves by imagining ourselves greater than others and worthy of more, even if what we are giving is hatred, negativity, and insults, we are still acting in an egotistical way.

Maybe this is a form of control, a way to make sense of the world and feel some part of which way it turns. Maybe we are like a child who has simply gotten into a habit of seeking out negative attention because it is better than no attention at all. Maybe this is a way to make yourself feel important. Maybe we want so badly to be the best at something that we are willing to accept being the best at being the worst.

Self-hatred is a real concern. It is unhealthy and negatively impacts your mental health and quality of life. The pain that led you here is real, and your feelings are valid, but the result you are chasing may not be what you think it is. You are not giving yourself what you deserve, punishing yourself, or being honest with yourself. You are not making the world better or making people around you feel better either. You are putting the spotlight on you.

I realized this when someone I love, and who loves me too, pointed out how the feelings of others often got overshadowed by my self-hatred. When things went wrong, when I hurt someone’s feeling, for example, I focused on how I was always doing this and making mistakes and saying stupid things and fucking everything up, not on the person I had hurt. I thought I was helping by letting them know how awful I was, but I wasn’t. I was serving my egotistical self and making myself feel better by focusing on myself.

Admitting that I have been acting in an egotistical way has made me view my self-esteem in a new light. There is more to it, of course, but it is helping me make further progress in my healing. It is helping me see the difference between what is real and what isn’t. It is helping me find the right path forward.

So, take a look at how you feel about yourself. If you are you a chronic self-hater start asking yourself what purpose it serves and explores why it is so hard to stop. When did you start to hate yourself? When did you start to believe that you were less worthy than anyone else? What prevents you from seeing the flaws in others as well, or letting them take responsibility for them? What effect has your self-hatred had on others?

Often the expectations we put on ourselves and the blame we place there are unrealistic and wildly beyond what we would place on anyone else. Sometimes our motives for doing so aren’t apparent to us. We have to consider that we may be indulging in giving ourselves special importance as someone who is especially damaged. We may be looking for someone else to give us the love we should be giving ourselves. We may be looking for ways to be rescued or special acknowledgment for how we suffer.

Self-criticism is the middle road you should be trying to achieve. A realistic view of your strengths and weakness and your progress toward becoming a healthier more whole version of yourself through the pursuit of wisdom and fulfillment. Self-criticism is an important part of self-love. It is nothing less than what we would offer another human being that we loved. Able to see their flaws and their strengths without placing them above or below what is normal. To do otherwise would be cruel.

Be humble in your ideas of both the positive and negative aspects of yourself. Remember that you are never to blame for as much of the good or bad that happens in this world as you think you are. You are just plain old regular good and ordinary everyday bad.

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Featured image via Unsplash

How Are You Hurting Other People?

I was scrolling Tumblr the other day and came across a text post that really made me think:

I really fucking hate the fact that there are rarely any posts on here that talk about how YOU can negatively affect people. Yes, it’s important to space yourself out from people who hurt you but you also have to recognize how you are hurting people. Take some responsibility for your actions.

melissaahhsss

Wow, now there is something that doesn’t cross my mind everyday, how do I hurt other people? My first thought was that, to my knowledge I haven’t hurt anyone badly in a long time, but I do wonder in what ways I am a negative influence in other’s lives. I make a lot of effort to distance myself from people who affect me negatively but now I wonder if there are people who might distance themselves from me because I have have be a negative influence in their lives.

I mean, I’m sure the people who I think need to get their act together don’t know what they are doing or why so it is quite possible that I could be doing the same to others and not know it. The only way to find out for sure would be to ask but I think I should start by assessing myself and what ways I do know I can be a negative influence in the lives of others.

I can be very condescending and dismissive. I have always been afraid that I make people feel bad by talking down to them as if they were stupid. I never mean to do this of course but there have been many instances in my life when a person has come to me and said that I have made them feel stupid or was dismissive of their opinions.

When I feel like I am right I state my case and then, for me, that is the end of it. It doesn’t happen often, and only in cases of debates over social issues and in the workplace when working with a team on a project. Once I see something as the “right way” anything anyone else says means nothing. In here is nothing the other person could say that would top a point I have already made. I am right and that is the end of it.

I know this is incredibly egotistical and I know I shouldn’t think like this but it is my nature and as much as I try to change I do fall into old habits sometimes. I need to hear other people out and be more of a listener and not continually dismissing the thoughts and feelings of others. For one, I hate when someone does it to me and we should always treat others the way we would want to be treated. And two, I am not so smart that there is nothing I could learn from others if only I would give them a chance.

I think I have a corner on suffering. I have been through a lot of hard times. Not a lot, but more than most. When I hear others complain about their lives and I feel I have picked myself up from worse my first thought is that they are whiney cry-babies. It pains me to write this about myself because deep in my heart of hearts I respect everyone’s struggle, but I am human and I think bad things sometimes too. Sometimes these feelings may show on my face and I tend to make other’s feel like their suffering is small.

There are times when I believe this is justified, such as in the case of what we call a “first-world” problems. Starbucks being out of hazelnut syrup or your charger cord snapping is a first-world problem and I do not feel sorry for you. But where when people complain that they are really having a hard time in their relationships, in their finances, or in their work life and I feel they have gone on long enough I will often tell them, in the nicest way I can, that it’s not that bad and either fix it or shut up. This is extremely invalidating and, once again, I would hate it if it someone did it to me.

And lastly, I am a chronic enabler. On the surface this doesn’t seem like it’s so bad but I really have trouble with telling people no and setting boundaries. While this may seem like it only creates a negative effect on my end, after awhile it does start to impact the other person when I begin to resent them.

The pattern is always the same,I tend to try my best to be nice and accommodating to another person. They begin asking me for more and more of my time or my money. I give them the benefit of the doubt even when others tell me to say no or to talk to the other person about what they are asking of me. Of course I don’t because I hate confrontation and don’t want the other person to feel bad. Then they push me too far but by that point I am so confused about why I am helping this person anymore that I don’t know how to explain how I feel, so I start being passive aggressive.

I make snide remarks, I get short with them, I joking tell them thing I think but not in a way that they could ever understand what I really want from them, which is to give me a break. Eventually I get so frustrated that they haven’t gotten any of my “hints” that I blow up and make them feel like crap. Then I feel terrible and say I am sorry and do something nice for them and they think every thing is ok so they go back to asking for more than I can give and the cycle begins all over again.

Instead, I need to learn to say no and express my feelings better. I need to stop worrying so much about pleasing people and making them feel comfortable all the time. I don’t mean being mean I mean being honest. I think in the long run my relationships with other people would benefit from the boundaries and other people would respect me more. And, if nothing else, people wouldn’t be negatively affected by me being passive-aggressive and they might gain some awareness of the negative effects they have on other people.

I think there are ways that we all are, unintentionally, negatively affecting the people around us and it is a good exercise to occasionally look at ourselves and try to make changes to our own thoughts and behaviors. No one wants to be mean or to hurt others but we do, the important things is to take responsibility and do our best not do it again. We all want other people to be a good influence in our lives, we have to do it for other people too, right?

How might you be hurting other people?

The Unexamined Life is Not Fully Lived

I recently listened to an old podcast on the Partially Examined Life regarding Plato’s The Apology of Socrates. The Apology is basically Plato’s version of the speech Socrates gave when he was on trial for “corrupting the young, and by not believing in the gods in whom the city believes”. Long story short, Socrates decides to defend his actions and stand his ground rather than repent and so is convicted, to death. I haven’t read the speech, although I plan to, but the podcast was interesting to listen to anyway.

The part I found particularly interesting was Socrates’ idea that the “unexamined life was not worth living”. I have had this idea in my own head for a long time but when it was presented to me in this quote I had to examine the statement and determine whether I believe it is true or not, and in what way, and why.

To examine life is to take a step back and to think about why you do what you do and why. It is to think about what you think and what your life means. And it means to pose those questions about the whole of humanity too. It is to live a life of questions and skepticism, to find the truth of things, and to come to your own conclusions for your own reasons. It’s self-knowledge and self-critique.

The ability to do this is, as far as we know, a purely human trait. We can not only question our own motives but we can change our own minds and better ourselves purely through thinking about why we do what we do. To not do this is to deny a fundamental part of being a human being. You could argue that by not examining your life you are not being human and rather are acting more like an animal, running on only instinct and reaction to outside stimuli.

But while self-knowledge can be valuable the question is whether a lack of self-knowledge make a life less worthy. I would have to say no, all lives are worth living. I also believe that practicing philosophy and introspection is an activity of the privileged, there are people in this world for whom their chief concern is to just survive. Is their life worthless? Of course not.

I think Socrates must not have meant this statement in a literal sense. I choose to believe that he could not think that there were lives that are worthless simply because the go unexamined. I think he made a bold statement to illustrate a point but he only means that reflecting and questioning is something that all humans should try to do. Through this pursuit of the truth within ourselves we can change what we believe and do and if we do it as a whole species we could “do better”.

There is an undeniable logic to the idea that if you know who you are and what you believe and why you are more likely to make choices that move you towards a happier life. A person who has self-knowledge and asses themselves regularly is less likely to be a reactionary person. This person is less likely to make choices that are detrimental to themselves and others. I believe we all ought to try to regularly sit ourselves down and have an internal conversation with ourselves about our beliefs and goals and adjust ourselves accordingly.

I still think that even the unexamined life is worth living, considering the rareness of any life at all, but I do think that the examined life is a more fully lived one. Not that Socrates or I could ever decide whether or not any life was worth living or not. Each of us must decide for ourselves whether our lives are worth living or not, but by merely asking the question you are engaging in the very examination that makes your life worth living! And once that door is opened you cannot help but to step all the way through. Don’t worry though, once you do everything can change for the better.

Know thyself.