The Destructive Force of Self-Love
Sometimes we have to look backwards to see the future. The times we live in today were actually spelled out to us around 2,000 years ago, in no uncertain terms.
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
Strong words, and oddly pertinent in today's self-obsessed western culture. Are we heading towards the last days? It sometimes feels that way. These are certainly terrible, perilous and distressing times. We spent two years at the absolute mercy of self-appointed deities of Science and Medicine, lining the pockets of the Pharmaceutical magnates and the single-use plastic plutocrats , giving up bodily autonomy to experimental science, many paying for the privilege, and giving up control of our lives and freedoms to incompetent, bewildered governments, who immediately on coming up for air from the deep oppression plunged us into a major war. Perilous times indeed.
Such events don’t come from nowhere. We make them. As we entered the (so-called) Age of Enlightenmentwe cast aside God as an ideal, and believed instead in the omnipotence of man. Reason, logic, fact and evidence took over from simple trust, intuition and faith. In this process we created for ourselves a spiritual vacuum, a vast void of meaningless, a void that had to be filled. We filled it with arrogance and pomposity, and ultimately with the new, man-made god we named Science—distinctly with a capital S.
Over the following centuries such obsession with the power of self inevitably developed into what we today refer to as self-love. And it is this self-centered obsession that has become the ruination of the western world. We know this today, because it is cynically big business now to encourage and promote self-love, in its myriad forms. Everyone with even the slightest emotional or mental ailment is propelled towards self-indulgent ‘talk-therapy’ aka psychoanalysis, where, at great cost, they become the centre of attention for an hour or two each week, maybe even daily, encouraged to wallow in the obsession of self, to analyse their dreams, to pick apart their relationships, to relive, over and over, minor traumatic memories of their past until they grow bigger and take on greater importance, and through a cult-like belief in the omnipotence of the therapist even create false memories of harms done to them,leading to indignation, anger, blame and sometimes even resulting in court cases against their imaginary abusers, breaking up families, destroying friendships. I’m not making this up.
We even see the promotion of self-love in the corporate world, with a plethora of lunchtime and eveningworkshops on how to love yourself. What used to be thought of in negative, right-sizing terms such as conceit, pomposity, ego-centricity or vaingloriousness, has more recently—and quite suddenly—become positive and uplifting. This is good, you might think. Think again. It is not for nothing that the writer of 2nd Timothy places those lovers of themselves ahead of all the other sins/misbehaviours in the list.
You can't love someone else until you love yourself, we've been taught—or we've been tricked into believing. It is blatant nonsense, because of course you can. All you need is a modicum of kindness, and the ability to listen. This requires absolutely zero self-indulgence, self-love, or self-whatever. In this age of psychoanalysis we've been tricked into thinking that happiness lies on the journey into self. It does not. That way leads to self-obsession, dwelling on the past, and consequent depression, anxiety, neurosis and misery.
We'd all do well to take a journey out of ourselves, a journey towards the other. In these times, perhaps more than any other time, we are called to listen to the other, the weirdo, the politically wrong, the ignorant, the stupid…the enemy.
How do we know that we are thus called? Because those people are everywhere. Just pay attention. Why do you encounter so many people who disagree with you? Because you are being called, called to step up, to shut up, to listen for once, to learn, and ultimately to heal, to heal both self and more importantly, society. It is in your hands. And mine. Let us rise to the occasion.
2 Timothy 3:1-4 (NIV) Please consider that you don’t need to be a Christian to appreciate this text. Simply change the term “God” for “The Greater Good” (or similar). By laying aside innate prejudices, even temporarily, much will be revealed.
The Age of Enlightenment, Wikipedia entry
False Memory Syndrome: “…a condition in which a person's identity and interpersonal relationships are centered around a memory of traumatic experience which is objectively false but in which the person strongly believes. Note that the syndrome is not characterized by false memories as such. We all have memories that are inaccurate. Rather, the syndrome may be diagnosed when the memory is so deeply ingrained that it orients the individual's entire personality and lifestyle, in turn disrupting all sorts of other adaptive behavior. The analogy to personality disorder is intentional. False Memory Syndrome is especially destructive because the person assiduously avoids confrontation with any evidence that might challenge the memory. Thus it takes on a life of its own, encapsulated and resistant to correction. The person may become so focused on memory that he or she may be effectively distracted from coping with the real problems in his or her life.” — Dr. John F. Kihlstrom, professor of psychology at Yale University
“…whole families were pulled apart as a result of supposed memories of parental sexual abuse being ‘uncovered’ in therapy. The European Therapy Studies Institute, the predecessor for Human Givens College, put on the first major seminar to alert clinicians to false memory syndrome. In one case, a young woman recalled in therapy that she had been repeatedly raped by a group of Satanists that included members of her family and others in the local community. But it emerged later that she had been confabulating, along with her therapists. So therapists need to be vigilant not to make emotionally arousing suggestions, even in the form of questions (such as about the possibility of childhood neglect or abuse or that a partner might be having an affair), which a client may then dwell on and consequently dream about, then recall the dream and give credence to it, without due evidence.” — Ivan Tyrrell, Human Givens Institute, The uses and abuses of hypnosis
Making sure it is done in the employee's time, not the employer's.
Take a look at the 50 or so synonyms for self-love on Word Hippo. Not one of them offers a positive take on the concept. Not one.
A few words on the illustration. Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection and withered away in his self-indulgent obsession, “is the origin of the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself. This quality, in turn, contributes to the definition of narcissistic personality disorder, a psychiatric condition marked by grandiosity, excessive need for attention and admiration, and an inability to empathise.” (Wikipedia) Our corporations are populated by many such characters—maybe you are one, or possibly in danger of joining their ranks. Pay attention.
Note: a skeletal version of this article first appeared as Reflection 328: Lastdays on my KJV365 project, 24/11/21