My instincts told me that no berry flavored drink is ever good. Why didn’t I listen? The scientist in me decided that it was worth challenging my bias, given that the two other flavors were good, for the chance to discover something unexpected. That guy was an idiot.
Ultimately, all of these articles propose that, when facing issues relating to self-love, focusing on loving others or God is the way forward.
Years ago, I probably would have identified myself as a “seeker of truth”. I no longer think of myself that way, at least not for the mean time. Even so, I am putting in a mild but sustained effort to learn more about Christianity and the Bible. The Bible is relevant historically, socially, and philosophically, and it claims to answer important truths that are too disturbing to be ignored without genuine investigation. For me, Christianity is merely the most accessible lens through which to approach the most popular bible.
Having participated in a bible study group for the last few months, there are already things I’ve cherished from that experience. However, I identify as agnostic and do not participate in the group prayers. There are several reasons why I’m not “ready” to delve further into Christian experiences. Even if I become a pseudo-Christian or adopt biblical beliefs one day, during this phase of my life I see it as my spiritual duty to not accept Christianity into my life as anything more than a topic of interest. Most of the reasons can be accounted for by the following idea of mine:
It is most dangerous to seek truth when one has nothing to hold on to.
When one’s foundation in themself is lacking, it’s much easier to latch on to the nearest distraction or addiction or any other substance, even truth, while one’s judgment is clouded by distorted perception. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re approaching or studying the truth, because your poor judgment will inevitably lead you astray.
To jump into the crux of the matter, I’m not ready to test Christianity because I know it would directly conflict with my emotional self-development. In particular, I find Christian ideas on self-love to be dismissive or neglectful. One cannot love or serve God in the way that they’re supposedly meant to if one has no concept of self or identity. One cannot live righteously while failing to demonstrate basic love for themself. One cannot earnestly choose God if one lacks consciousness or free will or control of their own life.
It can be rather difficult, if not impossible, to convey these thoughts to older Christians. Doing a quick search of Christian perspectives on self-love, I’ve summarized the stances on the nature/role/importance of self-love expressed by several independent articles:
- Focusing on self-love in a marriage can be more harmful than porn.
- The need for a Christian counselor to teach another to self-love is non-existent, since everyone possesses that self-love and seeks happiness without exception.
- Self-love is unsatisfying and doesn’t work.
- Self-love is assumed, not commanded.
- Low self-esteem is a sin, because it prevents us from carrying out God’s work. Jesus came to set us free from all sin, including this one.
- Self-love is vital. Self-rejection, low self-esteem, being ashamed of yourself, etc contradict God’s good image.
- Christians should love and accept themselves, and can do so while having appropriate humility.
- All the selfisms (self-love, self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-actualization, etc) are sins spawned of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Research does not show that promoting self-esteem has any impact on personal or social responsibility.
- Someone who is worried that he doesn’t love himself enough has the wrong focus.
- Surprisingly, the first step to recovery from low self-esteem does not include loving ourselves more. The first step is to love God more and then to love our neighbor as ourselves. [The most relevant/interesting article in the lot.]
Out of 10 articles, six of them neglect or dismiss the idea of self-love as being a valid concern, while the other four acknowledge the need to address issues with self-love or low self-esteem. Ultimately, all of these articles propose that, when facing issues relating to self-love, focusing on loving others or God is the way forward.
I find it somewhat surprising that all of these articles come to the same conclusion, given that the bible says hardly anything about self-love. In fact, Matthew 22:39 seems to be the only strictly relevant verse, but self-love is merely referenced and is not the subject of focus. I guess it’s not so surprising after all, that Christians pounce on the only quote that there is. I really only see two possibilities. Either:
- the Bible has nothing instructive to say about self-love, and it is outside the scope of its messages, or;
- that single quote and what little else can be inferred about self-love in the Bible is meant to be sufficient.
The common Christian would indeed assume that the second case is true. I have reason to disagree, and even though I admit the second could be true, it makes far more sense to act on the first premise, and consider the alternative only if progress seems impossible, which in itself would be a worthwhile outcome.
Self-worth is about recognizing your value as a person.
Self-esteem is about how you think or feel about yourself.
I’ve come to realize that I still have low self-esteem and self-worth. Although I don’t beat myself up as much with negative self-talk anymore, my self-perception still works against my well-being and limits my opportunities.
I haven’t communicated in any way with my ex since the 10 or so months ago that we broke up. Although we’ve passed each other a few times, it’s a good thing she has never noticed or pretends not to. We could never simply be good friends given what we’ve been through and the fact that she never did have the virtues of a good friend. If we ever did bump into each other and exchange a word or two, we, or at least I, would probably laugh uncontrollably. It’d be a helpless laughter, perhaps not so different to the kind a soldier would share with his enemy if they had a brief moment together just after having killed each other. That laughter: a recognition of mutually assured destruction.
For the third year running I felt the need to reread “Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect” by Jonice Webb, a book I very highly recommend. It took three days. It turns out that more things have slipped through the cracks than I had suspected. Here’s my summary of things pertinent to me this time.
My parents fit under five different categories:
- Overly Permissive
- Achievement/Perfection Focused
- Feelings of emptiness
- Unrealistic self-appraisal
- Side example: not knowing what I’m capable of or what to tell myself
- No compassion for self
- Guilt and shame
- Poor self-discipline
What to do with feelings
- Self-monitor and name feelings
- Identify, Accept, Attribute, and Act (IAAA)
- Express feelings assertively and with compassion
- Nurture yourself
- Put yourself first
- Ask for help more
- Put yourself first
- Self-discipline: Practice Three Things
- Self-soothing: Create and maintain a list of strategies
- The Golden Rule in reverse
- Speaking wisdom and compassion to yourself
- Develop a loving but firm inner voice
- Hold yourself accountable for mistakes without blaming or judging
- Distinguish which part is your fault and which part is due to the circumstances
- Determine how the same error can be prevented in future
- Learn and move on
“Emotions do more, though, than drive us to do things. They also feed the human connections that give life the depth and richness that make it worthwhile. It is this depth and richness which I believe provides the best answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” Emotional connections to others help us stave off feelings of emptiness as well as existential angst.”
“It means noticing your child’s natural likes and dislikes and strengths and weaknesses, remembering them, and feeding them back helpfully to the child. This is how a child internalizes a realistic sense of who she is.”
“Stern posited that the mother’s emotional attunement, beginning from the point of birth, communicates to the child that he is understood and that his needs will be met. This provides a solid foundation from which the child can spring forward to take risks and explore the world.”
Although there are multiple things I need working on, by far the most relevant, important, and realistic challenge for me right now is the exercise of monitoring/recording feelings on a daily basis and applying the IAAA steps.
Mood affects my piano playing. I don’t know how such a simple realization has evaded me for well over a decade. I wish I had people around to tell me obvious things about feelings and emotions that take me years to figure out on my own.
Influence does matter after all…
I just made a mind-blowing realization about how my chronic state of being socially understimulated has affected my psyche over time. I often find myself inexplicably craving instant gratification and validation, which I receive almost none of. This is a common defect, but why is my want so strongly directed towards the instant? It’s because I don’t get enough instant responses from people.
By avoiding my flatmates, by choosing the self-checkout option every time at the supermarket, by ignoring passers-by, by not having enough friends and not meeting them in person, by always being too respectful and never demanding attention, by not having reliable texting buddies, and by fading into the background in group conversations… I’ve almost completely starved myself of having people respond to me in the moment. I have almost no influence over people, and I don’t exercise what little influence I have, even if it’s just saying hello and expecting a greeting in response. It seems to follow that, given my usual behavior, it wouldn’t make any difference to other people whether I’m present or not. I may as well not exist.
This also explains why receiving something so basic as attention can have such a potent effect on me, especially when it’s sustained in a newly developing friendship.
I feel that it’s true to some extent, that I lack psychological and emotional evidence of my own existence, presence, and participation in the world. Anyone could struggle to acknowledge their own existence if others do not acknowledge it either. The logical conclusion, which hopefully is not Machiavellian in nature, seems to be that I need to hold people accountable while attempting to exercise the influence of my existence. I need to “bother” people by saying hello and approaching them more and asking things. I need to dare to smile at random strangers and see if they smile back. If you never expect anything from anyone, it’s true that you’ll seldom be disappointed, but you probably won’t receive much of anything at all.