Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On "Loving Yourself"...

This subject came up on Facebook today and I really wanted to give a thorough response as follows. I have decided to quote it here rather than making a Really Long (un-formatted) "comment" on FB.

From: "The New Guide to Rational Living" by Albert Ellis, Ph. D., and Robert A. Harper, Ph. D., Chapter 10 - Tackling Dire Needs for Approval. (There are newer versions but this happens to be from the 1979 Edition, Pp. 94-101 - I wish I could quote the whole chapter, but I'm going to start about half way in.)

...Your accepting yourself and devoting yourself to outside activities may constitute reciprocal goals. For if you really follow your own basic bents and do not overly concern yourself about what others think of you, you will have so little time to spend in self-centered worrying that you will feel virtually forced to find absorbing interests on the outside. By the same token, if you throw your energies into outside activities and actively devote yourself to other people and things, you normally will tend to feel less concerned about what others think of you and, hence, to respect your own values.

Put somewhat differently, if you devote yourself enthusiastically to long-range hedonism--to activities that you consider desirable and enjoyable from a long-term perspective--you will clearly accept yourself because you do what you really want to do and do not falsely follow what someone else thinks you should do. Our clients and associates frequently ask: "I can see that accepting myself rather than desperately needing the love of others constitutes a more realistic orientation. But how will this help me love other people? As I less and less concern myself about whether others approve of me, won't I find it more and more troublesome and unnecessary to give a damn about them--to relate lovingly to them?"

No, for several reasons. First of all, if you direly need love, you will feel so preoccupied with obtaining it that you have as much chance to honor your own choices or to love others as a dope addict has to relate freely and self-confidently to the person who supplies him with drugs.

Secondly, if you surrender your dire need for love, you will still retain, in most instances, a strong desire for acceptance by others. People often wrongly assume that your not direly needing love means the same thing as your feeling love has no value. Not at all. You can easily enjoy well-written stories and plays even though you have no need to do so. Why can you not, then, enjoy and seek intimate relationships without believing that your life depends on them?

Thirdly, when you free yourself from your demands that you receive love, you can better love. You can see more clearly the lovable traits of others; stop hating them when they do not immediately respond to you; learn what you really enjoy in relationship; risk committing yourself to loving, even when you know that a given affair may not work out well; and feel unanxiously free to experience and experiment with loving because you realize that although you may lose your beloved you can never lose yourself.

Another frequently asked question: "Granted that loving has more rewards than desperately needing love, should I therefore give up all my desires for approval and recognition?"

Answer: Certainly not. Complete self-sacrifice or the total surrender of your own desires for approval can prove just as foolish as your obsession with winning esteem of others. Again for several reasons:

1. You act quite normally when you want to express your own unique conceptions of the world to others and want them to take pleasure in some of your expressions. You would hardly seem human if you did not derive some satisfaction from relating to others.

2. Wanting acceptance from others constitutes one of the main essences of desire; and men and women entirely free from desire again do not appear entirely human. According to the Hindu classic the Bhagavad-Gita, the strongest individual "has indifference to honor and insult, heat and cold, pleasure and pain. He feels free from attachment." A few select individuals find this a worthy ideal. But we doubt whether many humans could ever attain it.To lean so far over backwards to get rid of psychological pain that you also eradicate all pleasure does not seem too rational to us. By all means try, if you will, to eliminate your extreme, unrealistic, self-defeating desire; but not desire itself!

3. From a practical view, if you ardently want various things--such as material goods or more leisure--you had better win the approval or respect of certain people such as your parents, teachers, or bosses. Though you may wisely eliminate your inordinate demands that others love you, you'd better sanely retain, in any social group, some wishes for acceptance by other group members.

Granted that having an inordinate need for others' love will serve to defeat your own ends, and that having some wish for acceptance seems eminently sane, the question arises: How can you somehow manage to attain a middle-of-the-road policy in this respect?

First and foremost, by admitting that you do have a dire need for love in many instances; by making a continual effort to observe this need in operation; and by then continually challenging, questioning, and disputing it....

....If you do have a dire need for love; if you accept the fact that you have it; and if you keep challenging, questioning, and disputing it, it will ultimately, and often quite quickly, start decreasing. For remember: It remains your need; and you keep sustaining it.

Other methods you can use to combat and minimize your inordinate love needs include the following:

1. Ask yourself what you really want to do, rather than what others would like you to do. And keep asking yourself, from time to time: "Do I keep doing this or refusing to do that because I really want it that way? Or do I, once again, unthinkingly keep trying to please others?"

2. In going after what you really want, take risks, commit yourself, don't desperately avoid making mistakes. Don't act needlessly foolhardy; but convince yourself that if you fail to get something you want and people laugh at or criticize you for your failure, they may have a problem. As long as you learn by your errors, does it make that much difference what they think?

3. Focus on loving rather than on getting love. Try to realize that vital living hardly consists of passive receiving but of doing, acting, reaching out. And just as you can force yourself to play the piano, do yoga exercises, or go to work every day, you can also often forcibly commit yourself to loving other humans. In so doing, your dire needs for love will probably decrease.

[What follows is probably the most significant part to me...LB]

4. Above all, don't confuse getting love with having personal worth. If you must see yourself as having any intrinsic worth or value as a human (which we would not advise, since we think that any kind of self-rating, positive or negative, tends to bring pernicious results), you'd better claim to have it by virtue of your mere existence, your aliveness, your essence -- and not because of anything you do to "earn" it. No matter how much others approve you, or how much they may value you for their own benefit, they thereby can only give you, as Robert S. Hartman explains, extrinsic value, or worth to them. They cannot, by loving you, give you intrinsic value--or the worth you have to yourself. If intrinsic value exists at all (which we seriously doubt, since it seems a well-nigh undefinable Kantian thing-in-itself), you get it because you choose, you decide to have it. It exists purely because of your own definition. You emerge as "good" or "deserving" because you think you do and not because anyone in any way gives you this kind of intrinsic value.

If you can really believe this highly important truth--that you need not rate yourself, your essence at all (and that you can choose to call yourself intrinsically worthwhile just because you decide to do so)--you will tend to lose your desperate need for others' approval. For you need--or think you need--their acceptance not because of the practical advantages it may bring, but because you foolishly define your worth as a human in terms of receiving or not receiving it. Once you stop this kind of silly defining, the dire need for their approval generally evaporates (though the strong desire to have them like you may well remain). Similarly, if you rid yourself of your dire need for approval, you will find it relatively easy to stop rating yourself as a person, even though you continue to rate many of your traits, and to accept yourself merely because you remain alive and kicking--and for that reason alone "deserve" to continue to exist and to have a maximally enjoyable life.

To underscore this last point about human worth, consider the case of Herbert Flisch, a forty-year-old successful businessman who recognized, after eight sessions of rational-emotive therapy, that almost every single one of his actions for the past four decades had stemmed from his dire need to win the approval of his parents, wife, children, friends, and even employees. At his ninth session he asked:

"Do I understand you correctly to mean that if I stop trying to win everyone's approval and do what I think I would like to do (and what would not at the same time defeat my own ultimate ends) that I'll then love myself because I'll consider myself more worthwhile?"

"No," the therapist replied. "Those of us who have worked to develop this system of rational-emotive psychotherapy have come to realize that worthwhileness proves just as illegitimate a concept as its counterpart, worthlessness; and that, in fact, just as soon as you tend to think in terms of personal 'worth' you must almost automatically tend to think, at the same time, in terms of personal 'worthlessness.'

"Thus, if you consider yourself 'worthwhile' today because you function effectively, make wise decisions, or think bright thoughts, you'll tend to consider yourself 'worthless' tomorrow because you then function less effectively, make some unwise decisions, or think dull thoughts."

"But wouldn't I have no worth if I never functioned effectively?" asked the client.

"No, definitely not. Even if you had mental deficiency and never functioned well, you would then have no extrinsic 'worth'--meaning that others might not find you a suitable companion or employee--but you could have, intrinsically, as much 'worth' to yourself as any other more efficient individual. You would have 'worth', in other words, if you believed you had. But if you believed, as you obviously do, that inefficiency makes you 'worthless,' you would then feel exactly that."

"So I remain worthwhile if I think I do--no matter how inefficiently I may actually perform in life?"

"Yes--except that, as I said before, the very concept of 'worth' has dangers, since it implies the concept of 'worthlessness.' Just like the concept of heaven implies the concept of hell. In fact, the way we usually employ the terms, to have 'worth' really means pretty much the same thing as to behave angelically or heaven-directed; and to have 'worthlessness' means to behave demonically or hell-directed. Doesn't it?"

"In a way, I guess it does. I can see what you mean," said the client.

"Moreover, if you have concepts of 'worth' and 'worthlessness,' even if you avoid extreme self-designations in using these concepts, you will tend to remain preoccupied with varying degrees of 'worth.' Thus, you will tend to say to yourself: 'Today I have great worth; yesterday I had less; I hope and pray tomorrow I can have more'

"This kind of concept of 'worth' (and, hence, of the lack of worth or less worth) carries with it irrational and undesirable aspects of guilt, self-disrespect, self-blame, shame, anger, hostility, and other self-sabotaging emotions. The counter-concept, that you have neither 'worth' because of your effectiveness nor 'worthlessness' because of your ineffectiveness, but that you merely exist, this concept, difficult as it seems for almost all people to see and accept, safely eliminates the notion of intrinsic 'worthlessness' and self-damnation."

"I'll have to give this some more thought," said the client. "But, it does seem to have something to it. However, how does it tie in with self-acceptance?"

"It has a most important tie-in with self-acceptance. For self-acceptance means fully accepting yourself, your existence, and your right to live and to devise as happy a life as you can for yourself--no matter what traits you have or performances you do. It does not mean self-esteem, self-confidence, self-respect, or self-regard. For all these terms imply that you can accept yourself because you do something well or because other people like you. Self-acceptance, however, merely means that you accept yourself because you remain alive and have decided to accept yourself. Only a relatively limited number of talented, intelligent, competent, or well-loved people can gain self-esteem or self-confidence. But anyone, merely because he chooses to have it, can gain self-acceptance."

"Does self-acceptance mean that I consider myself worthy or deserving of living and enjoying no matter what I do?"

"Yes, though we don't like the words worthy or deserving, since they imply a rating--that you have to do (or refrain from doing) something in order to feel 'worthy' or 'deserving.' When you have what we call self-acceptance, you make minimal assumptions about your (and other people's) intrinsic worth or value."

"What minimal assumptions?"

"Several: One, you exist. Two, you can probably, by continuing to exist, achieve more pleasure than pain, thus making it desirable for you to keep living. Three, to a considerable degree, you can help minimize your pain and maximize your pleasure. Four, you decide--and this constitutes the essence of self-acceptance--that you will try to live and make your existence as pleasurable and as unpainful as you can make it. Or, putting it another way, you choose as the main purpose of your existence short-range (here and now) and long-range (future) enjoyment. Not achieving for the sake of achieving. Not receiving adoration from others. Not proving your greatness as a person. Not getting into heaven. Just plain damned enjoyment!"

"So instead of my continuing to ask myself, 'What worth have I?' 'How do I keep proving myself?' 'How can I outstandingly impress others?' or 'What do I have to do to ennoble myself?' I'd better, instead, ask, 'How the devil can I avoid needless pain and find out what I truly enjoy in life and do it?' Right?''

"Exactly right! You make the purpose of your existence having a present and future ball--in whatever idiosyncratic and harmless ways you experimentally discover."

"You mean that I may then enjoy myself and accept myself and my existence as more enjoyable. But that I still will not really exist as more 'worthwhile'--only more alive, happier?"

"Right. And you will not, we hope, blame yourself or punish yourself whenever--as an imperfect human--you do something wrong or unwise. You will accept yourself with your foolish thoughts, feelings, perceptions, or actions, and use the experience that you get as a result of these unwise acts to help you enjoy yourself and behave more rationally in the future. What greater acceptance of self (and through that, potential acceptance of and tolerance for other humans) could you then have?"