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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

'Me' Before 'We': A Fine Line Between Self-Help and Narcissism

A wise friend once said to me, "it does not help us to think about how others have it worse off when we're going through our own trauma. We can only go by our own experience, so what may be petty to others can be rightfully major to us"... and, I agree... to an extent...

First thing's first: this is not a warm and fuzzy post about how truly wonderful you are. I'm not going to tell you how to love yourselves... 'cause really, I don't think that's the problem. So, if you aren't prepared to hear that you're not the be all and end all, you might wish to surf elsewhere.

So, what is "the problem"?

The problem is that we do not know how to love one another. In fact, I'm willing to bet there are some of you who grunted and/or rolled your eyes when you read the previous sentence. I don't blame you, if you did. After all, all of the leading experts in the field of bullshit popular psychology will be quick to let you in on the secret to happiness (all you have to do is buy their book)! According to many of these 'experts', the secret to true happiness is self-worship.

Okay, so maybe that last statement was a little extreme... maybe... but I doubt it.

Think of it... we're told, more and more, how we need to take care of ourselves... which is great (and very important)... but now that we're used to that idea, we're beginning to accept the idea that we shouldn't put our energies into others. Instead, we're being taught we should allow others to fend for themelves; we're being taught to walk through life without the weight of the world on our shoulders. Problem is, we're being taught to walk (or rather, sit) through life without any weight on our shoulders. We have become emotionally delicate in regards to ourselves, yet emotionally hardened in regards to others... and I really fail to see how that's made any of us happier, or healthier.

I am a huge advocate of taking care of your own needs. I believe you need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. But, we seem to forget the importance of taking care of others... and we almost act as though it's ridiculous to put the needs of others, no matter how pressing, before our own. We have become so self-centred we actually believe anything that causes any sort of discomfort or feeling of unpleasantness should be completely avoided. I'm really not surprised though... as long as the pop. psychologists keep telling us we come first, we will continue to ignore those around us. So, when we need someone to turn to, we can go and pay the "doctor" who told us to shut out the outside world. And really, problems are not discussed over a cup of tea, with friends, nearly as much now as they are with doctors... we've grown to think it unacceptable to help each other out (or ask for help) without some sort of fee.

So, how do we start loving one another? Well, we bite the bullet and realise we are not the centre of the universe. We meet our basic needs, then we help others meet theirs. We listen to that friend with the crisis... especially after they just listened to ours! We listen... period (turn off the mind chatter when other people are speaking to you). We really mean it when we say "how are you?". And, we take the time to think of those we love even when they're not in front of our faces... among many other things. Honestly, I'd hope this would be obvious to anyone reading.

Some of you (who took the time to 'listen') will remember my opening quote... about the friend who told me we can only see the world through our own eyes. She's right... and like I said... I agree... to an extent... the fact that people have problems worse than yours does NOT make your problems any less severe... and I'm certain that is what my friend meant.
However, for anyone who may take from the quote: "disregard the experiences of others", I believe it is our responsibility, since we have the ability, to force ourselves to see the world through the eyes of others. Yes, our problems may be severe, but it does not give us the 'right' to diminish the problems of others. If we want sympathy, we'd best give it.

So, what do you think? Do we really put selfishness above selflessness? Do you think we should? If so, why?


Anonymous said...

This may seem harsh, but from my experiences, depression stems from being too self-focused. The easiest way to get out of deprssion is to help others.
I've said to people I want to dedicate my life to helping others because its a win/win situation - it helps them while making me feel good, and someone said to me once that thats selfish, lol. (You cant win!)
But I wholeheartedly agree. Communication and relationships arent valued like they used to be. I think that will change, though. Not sure how, but it will - I have faith! :P

Da Old Man said...

This is deep. You're making me think. I hate that.
But being serious, one of the tenets of any 12 step program, based upon the Alcoholics Anonymous model, is that we need to help others to truly help ourselves.
Brilliant piece of writing, my friend.

ian in hamburg said...

Hi X...
Have you ever met an actual narcissist? A textbook case of NPD? They are truly scary. They are so charming they can have their hooks into you before you realise you've been lied to from the word go. One good thing about them, though, is the overwhelming feeling of relief you get when you cut them out of your life for good. Sound harsh? Survival skill when dealing with a narcissist.

~*~Shadow.Crystal~*~ said...

Ivy... I love your theory on life (helping others and therefore helping yourself)!

Da Old Man... thanks for the lovely comment :-)

Ian... I, unfortunately, have had the pleasure of meeting (and becomming friends with) THREE people with true narcissism.... none of whom I still speak to.

ian in hamburg said...

One was enough for me - I consider it to be a vaccination against poison.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I'm a big believer that what you put into the universe, you get back - so while I definitely believe in looking after myself, I think how you treat others is equally important!