Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine's Day. You don't have to love yourself.

It will come as no surprise to many of you that I'm not my biggest fan. It will come as a huge surprise to others of you, I suppose. Because speaking positively about yourself (an absolute necessity in this industry where you are essentially your own agent) is seen as a sign of self-confidence, rather than someone potentially doing what they must under duress.

How would I describe myself to someone scouting me for work? I've been writing for more than half my life. I've engaged in multiple collaborative creative works, many of which have gone to print. I am published in three companies and am currently a news and features writer for arguably the world's biggest anime streaming site. List off education, interviews I've given, etc.

How would I describe myself to a friend asking why I'm in a bad mood? I feel deeply underqualified and untalented. And yet, I take it much too personally if a comment directed at me in any way implies (or can be inferred by me in a bad mood as meaning) that I am not being trusted to do my own job. I love my writing until the moment it leaves my hands, at which point it's terrible. I'm hypocritical, have a temper I am not proud of, and -- on a purely superficial level -- when I look at myself in the mirror I don't find what I see attractive.

Real talk, I am not my biggest fan, and odds are I'm my second or third biggest detractor.

One of the most harmful things I hear people say is that no one will love you until you can love yourself. Because dear God, that's disappointing. I have days when I'm okay with myself, and maybe with continued effort I will look at myself more kindly. But I am relatively sure I will never be able to "love myself."

Really, I don't think anyone is required to "love" themselves. That's a tall ask. Come to terms with themselves? Yes. Understand that the things they are dissatisfied with about themselves are largely human and almost certainly not something only they possess in the entire universe? Sure. But just as I side-eye Dove's behests to find ourselves beautiful, I side-eye loving ourselves.

Can you? Great. Good for you. You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din. I don't distrust people who like themselves or people who look at themselves in the mirror and say they're beautiful. I deeply distrust anyone or anything that tells us that we will never accomplish anything until we can, though.

My boy Carl Jung talks about the "shadow" a lot -- you'll see it in a lot of literary analyses, and you'll see me talk about it a fair bit. It's relevant to both psychological and literary interpretation.

Your Shadow isn't necessarily your "bad side." But it is an amalgamation of things about yourself you don't like -- put together, they make up the person you don't want to be. Every buddy cop movie is a Shadow story in its way: two opposites thrown together, hating what the other is, but eventually coming to terms and cooperating.

I'll use myself as an example.

Kara Dennison is the professional writer and interviewer. She's always made up, hair done with bright colors, fluffy dress, shiny Doc Martens. She's well spoken onstage, friendly at the bar, generally has a good joke to thrown back.

Kara's Shadow slumps around in pajamas and doesn't want to do laundry. She has terrible writer's block, a stutter, and is terrified of being around people. She's easily offended, easily angered, and gets jealous when she knows there's no reason to.

Both of those are things I have in me. But here, I've compartmentalized them into two "identities": the one I try to be and the one I try to stop being. The one I like and the one I hate. The version of me I think has a chance in the world, and the version of me I really don't need getting out. Me and my Shadow.

In fiction, you can either destroy your Shadow or align with it. In reality, aligning is really our only option -- in a large part because we need what we dislike about ourselves.

If I were not all those things I don't like -- the tired, lazy, stuttering, easily offended, jealous girl behind all her deadlines -- I couldn't empathize. Because I have this side of me, I can look at another person behaving a certain way and ascertain why. I can tell very quickly if someone's attitude is because they're genuinely angry, or because they're tired, or because something has struck a specific nerve. If I didn't possess all those aspects to myself that I dislike, I'd have no context to work from.

And that's why "loving yourself" is a weird order: because you also have to embrace your Shadow and, instead of relegating it to that person you don't want to be, understand it and make it work for you. Loving yourself while acknowledging those elements of yourself is a bit much. And that's okay. You don't have to love or even "tolerate" yourself. Because the longer you try, and the longer you fail, the more you'll beat yourself up. Rinse, repeat.

At the absolute most, all you gotta do is go a little easier on yourself. Cut yourself some slack. The person in the mirror doesn't have to be beautiful or your best friend, just as long as you go a little easier on them. That in itself is a big step.


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