John Walker's Electronic House

by on Nov.06, 2003, under The Rest

A friend asked me about whether I thought self-perception could be affected by others, and about the issues of asking for help. With permission, I’ve put my response up here:

I believe that our self-identity can be greatly formed by those around us. We can recognise ourselves in the reflection shown in other people. A lot of who were are is defined in this way. So if this is true, I think other people can greatly help you with your self-perception.

I have a theory that most people disagree with, but normally because of semantics. I don’t think it’s possible to love oneself. I think instead it’s about understanding that you deserve to be loved, and learning to accept love. The pursuit of self-love seems to me to be a red herring when it comes to what it is that we need. We need to be loved, and not because we are weak, or sappy, or clingy, or whatever, but because we DESERVE to be loved. It’s believing that, and accepting it, and accepting the love, that is the difficult part. And the part that I think most people would label “learning to love yourself”, hence the semantic tangles.

If someone can accept that other people love them, and that they deserve to be loved, then that builds and defines self-perception.

In my opinion, everyone deserves to be loved. I believe that we’re all created by God on purpose, and that He loves us completely. And because God does, so should we. But obviously that’s not immensely helpful, because that’s not something that everyone believes.

But it drives me to recognise that people deserve to be loved. And if other people deserve to be loved, then I cannot escape the logic that therefore, so do I. Even me. And I struggle with this a great deal, because no one knows the bad things about me better than me. None of my friends has a grip on how crap I can be, what an idiot I am, and how much I fuck up. So they must be wrong to love me, right? Because they don’t understand how undeserving I am? But this doesn’t work, because I still love them, and the same applies for them. So it seems that being loved isn’t something you earn by being a certain way, or getting things ‘right’ consistently enough. If my love for my friends is valid, and as far as I’m concerned it is, then they deserve it, *and* receive it, despite how crap they might be/think they are.

The impact this has on our self-perception should surely be realised. It doesn’t entirely define it, because someone else could be wrong. Someone else could dislike you because they are mistaken about something, or because they have been told a lie by someone else. And so we can’t entirely rely on others’ perceptions to define ourselves. But if people love us, people who know us well, then we can’t ignore that either.

More simply, in my own experience I know that I began to hate myself in a horrible way, really loathed who I was, when I cut myself off from accepting the input of others. I’m biased against me, and the things I get wrong seem far bigger than the things I get right. As I write this now, this still appears true to me. But what I have to counter that are the testimonies of my friends – people who know me well, people who recognise my faults and flaws, who love me very much, and say praising things about me. To them, my crap things do not out-weigh my good things, and in fact, more than that, SO much more than that, they aren’t interested in whether my crap-to-good ratio is correctly weighted before being my friend, before loving me.

So the challenging process is the acceptance. To slowly, and painstakingly, take on board that my friends aren’t wrong to like me, and that despite my own perception of myself, their perception is valid. We’re communal beasts, herd-creatures. And according to my God, we’re meant to work together, as a team, supporting one-another all the way.

Individualism is the fashion, the norm now. Post-modernism expects us to be individuals, and therefore needing others, to rely on others, is to be weak, to have failed. But I think this is complete bollocks. The reality is, we need others. The results of the Great Individualist Experiment has been to learn that we ARE weak on our own, and we’re strong alongside others. And there’s nothing wrong with being weak! It only helps to prove the case really – we’re designed to be working as a team, supporting each other, playing our part within that team, that one collective made of fantastic and fabulous distinct individuals, combining their uniqueness with others’ uniqueness to change the world.

I find this within Christianity – the well known bit where Paul talks about ‘one body, many parts’, each part different and unique, each part essential, all making up one body that works together, that stands together. But I believe that it’s evident in the world today, as well. It’s not a nice theory in an old book, but something that appears to be true from my own personal experience. On my own, I’m capable of some stuff, but I’m weak, and my self-opinion and self-perception is too vulnerable and pessimistic to be as effective as I could be. But with others, working together, I can be so much more.

So asking for help: If the above isn’t nonsense, if we’re to be that team of humans, looking after each other, working together for one another, then asking for help would be just about essential. And in the ideal team, it’s made clear that help is on offer before it’s ever asked for. Asking for help isn’t “admitting weakness”, it’s “accepting strength”. That sounds horribly corny, but I think it’s true.

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