Forget Your Self

In adolescence, I hated life and was continually on the verge of suicide, from which, however, I was restrained by the desire to know more mathematics. Now, on the contrary, I enjoy life; I might also say that with every year that passes I enjoy it more.

This is due partly to having discovered what were the things that I most desired and having gradually acquired many of these things.

Partly it is due to having successfully dismissed certain objects of desire - such as the acquisition of indubitable knowledge about something or other - as essentially unattainable.  

But very largely it is due to a diminishing preoccupation with myself.

Like many other who had a Puritan education, I had the habit of meditating on my sins, follies, and shortcomings. I seemed to myself - no doubt justly - a miserable specimen. Gradually I learned to be indifferent to myself and my deficiencies; I came to centre my attention increasingly upon external objects: the state of the world, various branches of knowledge, individuals for whom I felt affection.

Every external interest inspires some activity which, so long as the interest remains alive, is a complete preventive of ennui.

[Bertrand Russell]
The Conquest of Happiness, p.6

[...] psychologist, Jean Twenge, [...] has been [analyzing] what she describes as a "narcissism epidemic" in the US that is disproportionately affecting women.

The narcissist has huge expectations of themselves and their lives. Typically, they make predictions about what they can achieve that are unrealistic, for example in terms of academic grades and employment. They seek fame and status, and the achievement of the latter leads to materialism – money enables the brand labels and lavish lifestyle that are status symbols. It is the Paris Hilton syndrome across millions of lives.

An individualistic culture has, in turn, reinforced a preoccupation with the self and its promotion.

The narcissist is often rewarded – they tend to be outgoing, good at selling themselves, and very competitive: they are the types who will end up as Sir Alan's apprentice. But their success is shortlived; the downside is that they have a tendency to risky behaviour, addictive disorders, have difficulties sustaining intimate relationships, and are more prone to aggressive behaviour when rejected.

The narcissism of young women could just be a phase they will grow out of, admits Twenge, but she is concerned that the evidence of narcissism is present throughout highly consumerist, individualistic societies – and women suffer disproportionately from the depression and anxiety linked to it.

This is what alarms psychologist Oliver James [...] He points to the pressures of a "consumerised, commercially driven version of femininity" that puts huge emphasis on girls' appearance.

The expectations of girls and women have multiplied and intensified – on every front, from passing exams to looking good and having more friends and better photos on Facebook.  

Technology proliferates the places in which one is required to self-promote.

[Madeleine Bunting]
From article on Guardian website ('The narcissism of consumer society has left women unhappier than ever'), here.

I used to live in a room full of mirrors
All I could see was me
Then I take my spirit and I smash my mirrors
And now the whole world is here for me to see
Now I'm searching for my love to be

[Jimi Hendrix]

I've noticed that I've enjoyed life more recently when I've taken myself out of the equation, when I've thought less about myself.

I usually don't take much of an interest in other people, I'm usually quite self-absorbed, mostly interested in my thoughts and feelings. I can get too concerned about how I look, my appearance, the expression on my face, how I come across, and it wears me out.

Recently I've been having phases of feeling like an observer, invisible, in a good way. Not concerned with myself but other things. Usually, some part of my mind is taken up with thinking about what other people see when they look at me. Always concerned.

But then that switched off, somehow, just here and there, and it felt good. It felt like decades of self-consciousness were over.

And the way I've been chatting with strangers has changed. Chatting or looking or any kind of interaction like that. I feel closer to them.

I think it's maybe all that stuff about free will being an illusion that's spurred it on. I've always liked strangers, but now feel closer. Not every stranger, all the time, I don't mean I'm going up to people and cuddling them. It's just a minor change, but a big yin anaw.

I feel like I care less about being hurt by people because I take it less personally, I feel like I almost don't matter, and it's good.

I feel more predisposed to smile at a stranger in the last few weeks than I did before. Before, I was scared of how I looked. I was scared of my smile or whatever being ignored, which would usually hurt my feelings, but now I don't care. It feels less about me.

I was lying in bed thinking about it, how much I love people, even the ones I'd like to lock up for the rest of their lives.

In short, I want to like people, that's what hit me in bed. I want to like them, I don't want to hate them, I want to like them. I felt like I had made the decision to like people, even if they didn't like me, even if I felt I should hate them. Basically, I felt like I had an unconditional love (or just like) for everybody, if not for who they are but who they could be.

I'm no quite making sense anymore. But you know what I mean. Sort of hippy feelings you get sometimes, then go oot the windae 10 mins later. By "hippy" I mean sort of wishy-washy, wouldn't-it-be-nice thinking that doesn't work in the real world over a long period of time.

Maybe I'm just tired of working out who to like and dislike and why and how to react to what and to what extent. I want to like everybody. I just feel myself drifting more into an unconditional friendliness towards people as a default frame of mind.

Whether that actually comes across to the outside world is another matter, but it's how I feel inside.


Objectivity can mean a selfless openness to the needs of others, one which lies very close to love.

It is the opposite not of personal interests and convictions, but of egoism. To try to see the other's situation as it really is is an essential condition of caring for them.

[...] genuinely caring for someone is not what gets in the way of seeing their situation for what it is, but what makes it possible. Contrary to the adage that love is blind, it is because love involves a radical acceptance that it allows us to see the other for what they are.

To be concerned for another is to be present to them in the form of an absence, a certain self-forgetful attentiveness. If one is loved or trusted in return, it is largely this which gives one the self-confidence to forget about oneself, a perilous matter otherwise.

We need to think about ourselves partly because of fear, which the assurance which flows from being trusted allows us to overcome.

[Terry Eagleton]
After Theory, p.131, 133-4

In a society governed by ritual, there is no depression. In such a society, the soul is fully absorbed by ritual forms; it is even emptied out.

Rituals contain aspects of the world, and they produce in us a strong relationship to the world. Depression, by contrast, is based on an excessive relation to self.

Wholly incapable of leaving the self behind, of transcending ourselves and relating to the world, we withdraw into our shells. The world disappears. We circle around ourselves, tortured by feelings of emptiness.

Rituals, by contrast, disburden the ego of the self, de-psychologizing and de-internalizing the ego.

[Byung-Chul Han]
The Disappearance of Rituals, p.14

Related posts:-
Love Your Self
Local Hero
Playing with ourselves
Firm Foundations
Knowing Your Place
One Love?
Communal Benefits
Buddhism and Psychoanalysis
Standing the Strain
Positive Space
A Pat on the Back
The Middle Path