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The clock is ticking loudly.
The plant is fake.
A print of a Monet hangs to the man’s left; That footbridge one.
A woman gazes at him; her expression is a mixture of care and professional distance. “What’s going on this week?” she says, gathering herself around her notepad.
The man eagerly spills his guts, carefully listing every interpersonal problem and negative thought. Nobody he’s not paying listens, so it builds up during the week. Hell, he barely can stand to hear himself.
“Mh-hm,” she says comfortingly but cooly, “Dan, would you say you love yourself?”
“Love myself?” he says, scoffing. “Are you kidding? I’m all I can think about!”
What causes mental health problems?
Alcoholics become alcoholics, for example, when they discover that alcohol cures their hangover.
Depression worsens when the negative mood causes isolation, which causes more depression, more isolation, and so on.
You’re going to think I’m over-generalizing–but I challenge you to think of a disorder that isn’t a feedback loop.
Think about this: the word we use for negative emotion is self-conscious. A feedback loop.
The cure is not more thinking about ourselves. That’s like curing alcoholism with stronger booze.
What is Narcissus doing in that famous image? In the throes of “self-love.” You know how the story ends? He drowns.
By focusing on “self-love,” “self-compassion,” and “self-care,” we’re collapsing more and more in on ourselves like a dying star.
How do we end this madness?
The social media feedback loop
When I was in 9th grade, Zuck released Facebook.
Only the most insecure and self-absorbed among us started posting selfies. At first, we made fun of them. Remember when taking a picture of yourself was an embarrassing thing to do?
But then, they started getting a hell of a lot of attention. Slowly but surely, more and more people wanted in on the fun. The website made sure to give out lots and lots of dopamine to those who dared.
Then, it hits critical mass. Everyone is pulled into the social media beast out of a sense of FOMO.
In around 2012, this process hit critical mass worldwide. Social media went from optional to required.
All hell broke loose.
You know the damn stats–I’m not going to list them.
It’s bad. Gen Z is suffering the worst.
Out of this crisis emerges the whole self-love industry. Gurus, mystics, and self-helpers pop up on every feed, selling better and better ways to “love yourself.” Trying to inject positive emotion into the vicious cycle.
It’s like trying to make music out of screeching feedback. It ain’t working. My ears are bleeding.
The way out is not self-love.
When you’re truly in the moment, you forget yourself. The zone. Self-transcendence.
When I feel good, I’m putting these words together for you. I’m barely aware I’m sitting at my laptop. It feels good.
I search every corner of my being to make your life a little easier. I do that with genuine urgency. There's no sense of self-love. It’s all outwardly focused. Thank God. What a relief.
I could stop existing at this moment, and I wouldn’t notice. That is love–no “self” required.
True love is in self-forgetting.
There's a destructive loop in our world compounded by the idea that we must love ourselves. We don’t.
Narcissus has a mighty weight on his shoulders. The only cure is to forget himself.
If you feel like garbage, nothing with the word “self” in it will help. Go outside or something.
Stop looking in the goddamn water.
Thanks for reading,
What’s moving me:
“Whoever loves becomes humble. Those who love have, so to speak, pawned a part of their narcissism.” ― Sigmund Freud
“Drive nature out the door, and it will fly back in the window.” — Dostoyevsky
“The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.” — William James