The Self-Awareness Movement has become a Joke

A tremendous amount of self-help dogma out there says “you are enough.” Enough for what, exactly?

The Set-up

There’s a chorus of prominent voices in the mental health community – and the media – drubbing out the mantra that “your primary relationship is with yourself.”

Okay. Sure.

But I mean, where are we as a culture that *that* needs to be stated? And why has no one qualified what “primary” means. Is it “most important”? “Longest held”?

Well, shucks.

As a semantic framework – a method to change the way we think about a particular situation by just changing the language we use to describe it – I think it’s incomplete. And the trouble with that, is that you can justify a lot of shitty behaviour toward other people while you’re looking out for number one.

My therapist says I need to put myself first.

Right.

The Mix

I’ve even heard the Buddhist tenet of non-attachment used to rationalize avoidance of compassion and intimacy. Imagine that.

Yeah, I’m really just putting my happiness first. So, I just can’t get attached to anyone right now.

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing, I guess.

It’s a popular refrain though. Easy to deliver in books, on YouTube, even in session. It feels like growth, and for many it definitely is, but for others it’s a fix and, what-do-ya-know… that’s enough.

The Act-Out

At the same time, many of the same prominent voices in mental health – less so in the media – point to solid evidence that empathy (which requires vulnerability) and service to others brings more meaning and contentment – i.e. JOY – to our lives in the long term (which means reframing your primary relationship with yourself…).

The Punchline

It’s fun to put yourself first. It feels good, and it really never stops feeling good unless you stop doing it.

But it sucks for people who need you sometimes. Thats why there are centuries of cultural precedents in which social circles check one another’s egos with jabs and sarcasm so that individuals don’t leave groups: for their mutual survival.

Granted, ostracism and chiding has been taken to an extreme in our compressed, digital world, and there are people who legitimately need to learn how to look inward for self worth.

The Joke’s on Us

Empathy and service aren’t sexy, so no one’s interested, especially not if they’re getting what they want in the here-and-now by doing what feels good – maybe even happy – for their best buddy: themselves.

But it’s still true that empathy and service, like most things that are harder to do, are infinitely more rewarding.

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